(I’ve been wanting to share this story with you. It’s a bit long but I feel it is worth telling.)
In 2004, my Dad suffered a massive stroke. Thankfully, he survived but it left him with the right side of his body paralyzed, thereby impairing his mobility to a huge extent.
That in itself is difficult enough, but I believe the worst part of it for my Dad was that the stroke also severely constrained his ability to communicate. You see, Dad loved words — he read a lot, wrote essays and articles for local newspapers, and had the easiest time speaking in public (he was a politician and a teacher and had a local radio talk show). He also loved to sing.
The stroke put a stop to all that. While Dad’s brain was unaffected (he can read and can recognize classmates from high school), it had become ‘disconnected’ from his ability to speak. As a result, his vocabulary basically became limited to yes, no, and OK. He often got them mixed up, too and would say ‘no’ when he meant ‘yes’. It caused a lot of confusion on our part and much frustration for Dad. He would yell and curse at us because we could not grasp the message he was trying desperately to get across.
We encouraged him to write. But unable to move his right hand and finding it too difficult to form words, he no longer bothered to try.
Things slowly got better over the years. Dad is now able to correct himself right away if he says ‘no’ when he means otherwise. When he agrees with us or we correctly guess what he needs, he says ‘OK’ over and over. There has been a lot of improvement in his mobility, too, so he no longer depends on us to do most things for him and there are fewer occasions for miscommunication.
To practice his enunciation, we prompt him to repeat words. He imitates his grandchildren when they say things like ‘hippopotamus’ or ‘Swiper, no swiping!’. He sometimes sings along with them, too, although he is always a couple of beats behind because he listens to their lyrics first.
Still, it has generally been merely a pattern of prompts, repetitions, routine and lucky guesses for us and Dad.
Then last January, on the eve of Dad’s 76th birthday, my sister and brother-in-law saw a piece of paper on Dad’s nightstand. Scribbled on it was this:
It was written by my Dad.
My Dad! For the first time in 8 years, Dad wrote something! And he did it without prompting or anything to copy.
Imagine the calls, text messages, tweets and ecstatic Facebook updates that ensued. Dad may have written down the simplest computation, but for us it had more significance than e=mc².
I called him the next day and he sounded so proud of himself. Since then, my Ma reports, Dad has been writing a little everyday, mostly names and the days of the week. We’re hoping he’ll soon ‘graduate’ to writing down phrases and complete sentences. We don’t really know at this point if he ever will but this has given us renewed hope. It’s been eight years after all. I’m sure Dad already has so much to tell.
(Note: I use the word ‘we’ and ‘us’ in reference to our whole family, but it is really my mother, my eldest sister and my brother-in-law who have been doing most of the ‘heavy lifting’ in caring for my Dad. If these were an awards show, I’d be thanking them, too, until the music drowns me out. )