I’m talking with my neuropsychologist about next steps after what has been extensive (and exhausting) “neuropsych” testing to pinpoint the damaged areas of my brain. I won’t get results for another week but he says we should make a homework plan now to start working on my “aphasia.” Here’s how that conversation went down.
“Your aphasia, the challenges you…”
Me interrupting, “I know that word. It’s for people with serious brain injuries.”
“Like I said, your aphasia…”
What is the take-away here? I am in denial.
For those of you wondering what aphasia is, find more here. It’s most commonly associated with people who’ve had a stroke and have to learn to talk again. It’s very rarely associated with encephalitis so I’m keeping my status as a medical anomaly.
Initially, my aphasia was severe. While I lost total language at one point (future post on that experience), as words came back to me, they had an Alice in Wonderland, nonsense quality to them. I know this because my mom took notes. I wonder now if she was actually creating a dictionary if I didn’t improve. Take a guess at what I meant by “fridge errand” or “chair prain.” According to her notes, “fridge errand” means “Jenny wants dinner.”
I’ve improved to the point where I occasionally stutter or switch sounds between adjacent words “devoice doin” instead of “join your device” (trying to explain tethering a tablet and cell phone). A less obvious side effect is that I can’t keep up when people talk too fast or if there’s a competing noise or conversation. I could play along but I am getting more comfortable asking people to slow down or by controlling my surroundings so it’s not the hipster talking too loud on a cell phone that interferes with my hearing – just my broken neural pathways.
While all of this is hard to acknowledge – I am in denial after all – I realize there’s a different hurt, one I didn’t know I was holding. And it’s that my mom has walked this path. Shortly after I graduated from college, she had a stroke. Still unbelievable to me, but there’s a giant piece of dead tissue in her brain where it was oxygen starved. My mom had to re-learn to control her tongue to pronounce letters and words. She had to re-learn how to use her hands. She worked so hard. I tear up just thinking of the effort.
As I get better in some areas and struggle in others, I’ve thought of my mom’s experience and wonder what she felt during her recovery. Did I make her feel as loved and cared for as I have felt? I don’t really need to wonder. I know the answer. I was busy fixing not feeling.
I never stopped hustling her – from forcing her into the car to the emergency room, to pushing my way past the swinging ER doors to grab a doctor – there wasn’t time for triage – to hustling her to heal. I bring this up to my mom – and preface that I’m not ready to be reminded of details – but ask if I might have been kinder or more understanding to her. Not erasing my ache (that is my work) but not making it any worse, she simply says, “Now that you know, you can pay this forward.”
I think of the kind and understanding neighbors, friends and loved ones who have surrounded me. And while they can’t be in my shoes now, they are walking this walk with me – sometimes holding my hand, sometimes leading the way and sometimes cheering me on. No one expects me to “hurry up and get better” – they just keep being with me.
I can’t undo that I didn’t do the same for my mom. I was busy trying to help her get better, to fix her. Instead of offering my hand to steady her, I was busy looking for a trail map and buying hiking boots for the rocky path ahead. When that time comes to pay it forward, I pray that I may be granted the graciousness and gentleness I’ve been shown and be ready to walk with others when they need me.