October 28, 2007

The Language of Clothing on the Planet Aphasia

Watching my husband trying to decide what to wear to today reminded me of the year we moved into our new house, several years post stroke. Don’s got a closet, now, that he can roll into and with this closet came his training to relearn to pick out his own clothing for the day. It was a difficult and time-consuming project that brought Shrew-Lady swooping into our bedroom almost as often as Nancy Nice Nurse. Shrew-Lady had a tendency to lose her patience while Nancy Nice took her careful, cognitive training right out of the Caregiver’s Guide to Building Self Esteem.

Don, in the closet today, was almost comical. Scratch the ‘almost’ out of that sentence---he was comical. He was trying to decide between his deer hunting shirt with a matching logo hat and a tee-shirt with a zipper front John Kerry fleece jacket. (Ya, he knows that Kerry lost the election a long time ago, but he loves the joke of wearing the jacket now.) Politics or hunting? Hunting or politics? After five minutes of this dressing dance, I had to resolve his dilemma so I could get in the closet or I would have had to go out today in my common sense, white undies. That would not have been a pretty sight. Hunting won. Politics will still be good next week and his big adventure in the woods will be old news by then. The choice was a good one, everyone was anxious to hear about how the hunting day turned out.

Stroke progress comes in many small and wondrous ways. They creep up so slowly sometimes that so you hardly notice it happening. Don has gone from not knowing a shirt from a pair of pants and not having the words for colors to deciding something as complex as which of two fashion statements would stand for his mood and sense of humor for the entire day. Clothing has become a silent form of communication for Don. I just counted; he has twenty-seven logo tee shirts and a dozen more in a box that our dryer mistreated. And then there are all the baseball style hats lined up on hooks with saying and logos on them.

Don’s “language of clothing” works both ways, too. If he sees a logo shirt or hat on someone, he’ll roll up to that person and point to the writing or picture on their clothing. The stranger usually ends up reading it to him thus forcing them to interact with an alien from the Planet Aphasia. Most people are very nice when he does this, a few are uncomfortable, at first, being confronted by a speechless person in a wheelchair but Don usually wins them over quickly.

Don's joy in reading tee-shirts is so evident that people have been known to give him shirts. It happened twice this month. Both shirts were custom-made and neither person would let me pay for the tees. They just ordered the shirts and presented them to Don when they saw him rolling around, and I’m not talking about gifts from friends. Both of these last shirts came from nameless acquaintances in places where we frequently go.

My clothing is not as vocal as Don's but I did buy a chenille bathrobe recently and it talks to me. It gave birth to purple dust bunnies all over the house and they are screaming, “It’s time to get off the computer and clean house!

Jean Riva ©


The Bee Folks - Lori Titus said...

I am so jealous of you - you have the gift to use humor to get through your trials. I don't feel that strong right now, but you give me something to aim for!

the aphasia decoder.... said...

Thank you. I didn't have it in the first six months post stroke, trust me.