Technology really has changed the emigrant’s experience. This week, I wanted to attend my daughter’s parent-teacher conferences in Brooklyn. There were five of them, and I did two on Facetime, two on Google Video Chat, and one on something called the telephone. As you might expect of a committed Whovian, I rather enjoyed communicating with people in another world by means of futuristic technology and a magic screen.
At the same time, the novelty didn’t have a distancing effect. On the contrary; these were the most connected, if you will, parent-teacher conferences I can remember. I’m still fairly new to personal video conferencing, as were some of the teachers, so we were able to enjoy sharing the novel experience. This was a nice connection to have. And because one’s counterpart’s face is right there on the screen, there’s a real focus on the interaction. One can’t politely focus on anything else in the room. That would mean being in a place three thousand miles away. In fact, it’s the material room that slips away into a virtual reality.
The only, minor, drawback was that there had been some assumptions that this magic was magic, and all that had to happen at each appointed time would be that we would press the big red button marked “Talk to a moving image of someone on a different continent, now.” So there was a degree of panicked to-ing and fro-ing, some stress, and at the end, some exhaustion on the part of the Stroke Bloke. But with this new experience and knowledge in hand, I’m sure the next set of conferences will be even smoother.
The next day, the lovely lady from the Midwest who wanted to ask me some questions about my experience as a survivor of a haemorrhagic stroke looked out of the screen and remarked, “I’ve never done it like this before.”
At last, after over twenty years, my ambition was achieved, and someone was sufficiently interested about what I thought about something to ask me a bunch of questions about it. I won’t have to set myself any more Proust Questionnaires. I won’t steal her thunder by recounting too many of the details here, but I will say that, as the partner of a fellow who has suffered with his own brain injury, guides survivors of brain injury in their journal journeys, and raises awareness about the issues relating to the brain injury experience, her questions were insightful and opened up some interesting avenues of contemplation.
One of the queries regarded the extent of my recovery to date, and where I saw myself in a year? Five years? The thing is, whereas a year ago, it was vital to have a view of a brighter future, and goals and daydreams — like going to the bathroom unassisted — now, if my deficits stay where they are, I’ll be happy. Sure, in five years I want to be achieving new things and reflecting on black and white pictures of romantic rites on remotes Scottish beaches. But today, in this moment, I’m happy. My interlocutor told me that this is not a terribly unusual or novel observation for someone who’s experienced trauma. Well, as I say, she was lovely, so she didn’t couch it quite like that. “Not uncommon,” were the words, rather than “commonplace”.
We didn’t get into why that is, exactly, but it seems that in the wake of a brush with death, one’s life can look a little different. It’s like going back to one’s home country after seventeen years. At the end of last year, I was watching Skyfall, painfully aware that I almost died without seeing Scotland’s rugged, sometimes bleak, beauty one last time. Now I’m living it and looking forward to making the most of it. The same with life. Too often, I was too busy moving on to the next thing. Anticipating the next problem. Like most people, my level of default happiness had been set, and when the developers released the new OS, that setting had been well hidden. But in Ricky 2.0, that glitch was fixed.
I’m very lucky in that. The level of my trauma was benevolently calibrated. It had the effect of fecal microbiota transplantation, rather than drowning in a sea of shit. Among the countries’ worth of people who’ve had it worse than me, arguably, are those who have experienced left brain strokes and the associated expressive problems. Yet many of the people I’ve met on my stroke journey who are coping with aphasia have been the most friendly, open and thoughtful (in both senses) people I’ve met. I asked a friend with experience of the problem why she thought this might be. She had a sobering answer.
Remember though, that you don’t see the many people who just stay home, depressed and despairing and angry because of their strokes. I would imagine that they don’t, won’t, or can’t, participate in life due to their strokes, especially with severe aphasia.