February 29, 2008

Excellence in Teaching

One of the professors at the college where Don had been going for speech therapy for the past six years just got an award for excellence in teaching. We were invited to see her "presentation speech" because, she said, the clients who work with her students are such an important part of the speech pathology department. I'm glad we were invited. It made me tear up in several parts when she talked about things like putting ourselves in the shoes of people with aphasia and apraxia and imagining what it would be like to have so much to say and not be able to get out anything out but the 'F' word. Teaching compassion along with the analytical aspects of being a speech pathologist is one of the components they like to stress on that campus, she said.

A year or two ago this same professor had done a half hour interview of Don and me to submit---along with other client/spouse interviews---to a project someone else was doing that involved creating videos to go along with text book material that future speech pathologists study from. She included some clips of those interviews in her presentation today. Don's and my clip involved answering the question, "What is the one piece of advice I'd give to future speech therapists?" I answered to treat their clients like they would anyone else they meet for the first time, to not talk down to them. It was interesting to see Don on the video when I said that. His first "yes" was a normal tone but then he repeated that "yes" several time with increasing conviction each time. Then the professor followed up with a question asking if that happened often that people talked down to him. I replied that many people seem to equate having a language disorder with being mentally challenged. Don, then punctuated my reply with a very angry, "Oh, yes!"

Excellence in teaching: in a big way, I think Don deserves an award for excellence in teaching. He taught many student speech pathologists that clients with aphasia and apraxia can have strong personalities underneath the disability. He still teaches this to the people he interacts with in the general population. And we were told today that part of that video of Don and me made the final cut to the text book project, so Don will continue to teach far into the future.

Jean Riva ©

February 22, 2008

Third Friday

We went to the fish fry at the old people's club today and as I looked around it occurred to me that the coffee waitresses were living in an episode of The Golden Girls, an old TV sit-com. The whole place was sit-com material. Three-hundred-and-fifty people lined up like pigs at a feeding trough or waiting in line to pay a ridiculously low price for all-you-can-eat. I mean, what's the story behind why a bald guy standing in line was wearing rubber boots up to his arm pits in Michigan's February snows? And why doesn't a woman 80-something know by now that Bermuda shorts aren't appropriate attire for days when the winter wind is strong enough to tip cows over in the fields? And who let the young guy in who was wearing a jacket with a big bat on the front and the bloody letters "VA" on the back? And why aren't I smart enough to stay inside on a day like this? It's not as if Don's wheelchair is fitted with studded snow chains.

I've written about 'the club' before in an article published at Associated Content. That was last year before I learned about 'keyword density' and making things search engine compatible so consequently that article doesn't get much traffic. Even so, it's still one of my all-time favorite pieces of content. It touches on aphasia and the loneliness it brings plus it's laced with happy memories from more carefree days before the stroke, and people have said it has some funny moments. If you haven't read Table Talk yet I hope you'll click here because that article is getting cob webs on it, sitting back in the archives of unread AC material.

Jean Riva ©

Painting: The Debauchery of Prince Regent by James Gillray

February 16, 2008

Forty-Eight Hours in Hell

I don't know what people used to do before automatic washers and dryers but right now I'm in love with mine. Ours got a real workout in the past 48 hours. Before I explain our two days in hell, let me first say that I spent all of last week deep cleaning our bedroom, getting it ready for the six hundred dollars worth bedding that I bought with my prize money from the writers' award. The room looked and smelled as fresh and clean as a sea breeze…but it didn't last long.

First it hit me in the middle of the night and I thought it was food poisoning. Everything in me poured out the appropriate place but at such a speed and so often that I did nothing in between but shower, clean up the bathroom and bedroom and washing bedding. The next day when I wasn't on clean up duty or poop duty I stayed in bed, too worn out to even eat or cook for Don. Thank goodness for cereal. Otherwise he would have starved to death. All day I was thankful that Don didn't eat the chicken I erroneously thought gave me food poisoning. And I was also thankful that the most expensive part of the new bedding---Pendleton wool bed covers---had safely escaped the carnage when the shot-gun flu took over my body.

Then last night it hit Don in the middle of the night but he had it pouring out of both ends. It was scary being that he's right side paralyzed, too heavy for me to lift and I had a hard time getting him into sitting position as weak as he was. Death by choking on the flu---that's not a good way to go. By the time I got him in the shower that crap had soaked though two mattresses pads---one the thick foam kind---and had run down the new bed skirting, hitting the carpeting. I was doing the dry heaves dance as putrid odors filled up the master bedroom and bath. If the sheets hadn't been brand new I would have thrown them out. Instead, I ended up standing in the moon-lit snow rinsing them out with pails of water. Since I was in the dog pen, it shouldn't have shocked me that my boots ended up with poop on both the tops and the bottoms. Oops.

I had just finished cleaning up and getting the washer started about five-thirty when it hit Don again, only this time he luckily just vomited all over the bathroom floor. I told him that 'close' may count in horse shoes but a foot from the toilet wasn't good enough when you're spewing multi-colored vomit. I may have screamed it. I may have said it jokingly. With only a bottle of Mr. Clean as my witness I can't be sure.

Finally, I got Don back to bed, the bathroom cleaned up---again---and I was just drifting off to sleep when Don woke me up saying "thank you." I didn't know whether to laugh or cry but I do know that gods of aphasia have a funny sense of humor. Don must have lain there ten minutes trying to get those words out.

So far today, Don is keeping down water, tea and toast which I couldn't do my first morning out. If we get out tomorrow, I'm buying my washer and dryer a box of half off Valentine's Day candy just to say 'thank you' for being there for me—my white knights in the middle of the night. ©



February 14, 2008

Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom…

Don's manual wheelchair has two speeds: pokey and barely moving. Yesterday, Don and his chair were stuck in the latter gear while I was trying my best to rush us along so we could get to UPS before they closed. The wheelchair wasn't the only thing stuck. Don was in one of his aphasia driven singing moods.

"Boom, boom, boom boom," he belted out all afternoon, doing his best impression of Dean Martin without the martini glass in his hand.

Don has a good voice, he really does, but one word songs get to you after awhile. "Boom, boom, boom, boom." How many times can you hear that 'song' before you want to take your finger pistol out and blow that 'boom' out of his mouth in hopes it will fall back to earth with the letters in a different order? A 'boo', 'moo' and 'ohm' once in awhile would be nice. Is that too much to ask from the gods of aphasia?

He can't say much but one of his working phrases is, "I love you." It shocks me when it comes out because before the stroke it wasn't something Don said very often. He was a big, macho guy and not given to sentimental talk. Now, the phrase comes out in the weirdest places. For example, yesterday we were having lunch at a near-by restaurant and I was wearing my mother hat, saying things like: "Don, don't try to kiss the waitress with food in your mouth. Remember the time you got ice cream in her ear?" "Wipe your mouth." "Okay, you've hugged the waitress three times already. That's enough for this trip." I usually wait until the object of our conservation is out of ear shot when I say these things, but I must say them. He's got impulse control issues since the stroke and if you let him go unchecked, he tends to cross over that line between 'friendly' and 'creepy.' So as I sat there watching for his next indiscretion, and worrying about me crossing over that line between being a 'nagging wife' and a 'caring caregiver', that's when Don looked at me with puppy dog eyes and the gods of aphasia let him say, "I love you. Boom, boom, boom, boom."

Today, Don has a two word song on his mind. "Valentine's you. Valentine's you." Thank you, gods of aphasia, for giving Don a new song to sing on this very special day. ©

[image above: 1909 post card]

February 10, 2008

Curing Your Mid-Life Crisis

Am I the only one who is impressed by the people who can sum up a movie or book’s plot in just one sentence? I went to the internet movie data base today to look up Billy Crystal’s comedy, City Slickers, and their plot summary line reads: “A mid-life crisis plagued man and his friends find renewal and purpose on a cattle driving vacation.” If you’ve ever seen this film, you’ll agree that this sentence pretty much covers the gist of the 112 minute movie. I wish I could do that, define the whole the plot line of story with such brevity.

It’s too bad people rarely put epitaphs on tombstones anymore. Okay, so I admit that reading headstones in old cemeteries might be a strange hobby, but I’ve probably had stranger hobbies in my life. I guess even back in my twenties I was impressed that some of those epitaphs could sum up a person’s whole life with just a few short sentences, like the one-line plot summaries used in the review business. Here’s a few of my favorite epitaphs:

“Here lies the body of poor Aunt Charlotte. Born a virgin, died a harlot. For 16 years she kept her virginity. A damn'd long time for this vicinity.” Death Valley, California

“Here lies an Atheist, All dressed up, And no place to go.” Thurmont, Maryland

“Here lies the father of 29. He would have had more, But he didn't have time.” Moultrie, Georgia

“Here lays Butch. We planted him raw. He was quick on the trigger, But slow on the draw.” Silver City, Nevada

“She lived with her husband fifty years, And died in the confident hope of a better life.” Burlington, Vermont

“Here lies the body of a man who died. Nobody mourned - nobody cried. How he lived - how he fared, nobody knows - nobody cared.” Oconto Falls, Wisconsin

If epitaphs were fashionable again, have you ever thought about what you’d put on your tombstone? Would your perception of yourself in epitaph agree with something your family or friends might say? For me, they probably wouldn’t. Would anyone’s? I wonder. I might say: “Here lies quirky Jean Riva who spent her life marching to the beat of a different drummer.” My friends and family might say: “It took 60 odd years for Jean to share her thoughts, but when she started she wouldn’t shut up.”

In most movies and books there are several lines that will stick with you long after the film has ended. They might be something thought-provoking or funny or a spark a genuine emotion that speaks to your heart. For me, it’s often the light bulb moment when a character vocalizes a morsel of enlightenment that just happens to be the whole essence of the story. In City Slickers, that “ah, ha!” dialog happened about half way through the movie and then again near the end. The first dialog was between an aging old cowboy, Curly, and Bill Crystal’s character, Mitch.

“Life is about one thing,” Curly said, holding up one finger for emphasis.

And what is that?” Mitch asks.

“When you figure that out you will begin to live,” Curly answered and rode away on his horse.

When Mitch repeated Curly’s line---life is about one thing---to his friends later in the movie, one of them also asked, “And what is that?”

Mitch replied something like: “I can’t tell you that. It’s different for each of us. It’s up to each of us to figure that out for ourselves.”

Isn’t that a powerful statement---that life is about just one thing? The premise that our whole life boils down into finding that one meaningful thing that keeps us happy and engaged and moving forward is intriguing, isn’t it. If a person was into passing on mystical advice per their tombstone art, that’s epitaph material if I ever heard it. Where’s my marble carving tools? I think I’ve found a new project…..

“Go and find your smile,” Mitch’s wife had told him near the beginning of City Slickers and when he came back from his vacation in Colorado, he pointed to his glowing face and said, “Look what I found.” So, boys and girls if you are still reading this essay, this is your assignment: go out and find that one thing that puts meaning in your life and your smile is sure to follow. Life is brief. Think about what you’d want your epitaph to say someday, then spend the rest of your life living up to those words. It’s the best cure for your mid-life crisis.

Jean Riva ©

Painting: The Horse Rustler by William Herbert Dunton 1878-1939