Yesterday Don and I had a half hour 'conversation' about something he really wanted to tell me but the only words he could get out during the entire time were: feet, baker, dad, and gone. And, of course, 'yes' or 'no' as answers to my questions. When my questions got too far off track to what he wanted to tell me, he'd repeat those four words as if saying them over and over again, with increasing the volume, would bring me perfect clarity.
Those of us who routinely deal with someone with severe language disorders know that we start our guessing games with generalities, trying to pull out more details in hopes they will lead us where we need to go to understand what our care recipients are so intent on telling us.
"Is this about something you just read or saw on TV?" ---- No.
"Is this about your dad?" ---- No.
"Is it about someone you know personally?" ---- Yes
"Relative?" ---- No
"Friend?" ---- No
"X-coworker?" ---- No
"Neighbor?" ---- Yes
Thank God, we had a meaningful clue! Then I listed all the places Don had ever lived and found out that the neighbor was from his childhood. I did a mental groan because the stories from before I knew my husband are harder for me to pull out of him than the stories from time frames when we have some shared memories. But he is stubborn and so am I and I've learned since his stroke that there is no way we're going to avoid this aphasia/apraxia driven dialogue. So I sat down for the siege, knowing nothing in the world is more important to Don at that moment that getting me to understand the connection between those four, tiny words: feet, baker, dad and gone. It was at that point that Don did a gesture with his hand, like drawing a knife across his feet and he repeated the word: gone.
Over the half hour I was able to figure out that a neighbor kid of his from when they were both approaching their teen years was held down by one guy while another axed off his feet. Don somehow knew the people who did this to the kid and he told his dad which resulted in the bad guys getting hung. Why this story was on Don's mind is still a mystery. I asked him if he saw something on TV that reminded him of the event and he said, "No." I was afraid to dig too deep into whys and wherefores for fear it would take another half hour to figure it out. But I was curious. I still am and if his brother was in town I'd probably call and see what he knows about the story.
It occurred to me afterwards that if Don had told this same story in his pre-stroke days he would have drawn it out with rich details and made the story last the same half hour that it took to tell it now in his post-stroke language disorders way. He was a gifted storyteller with a million stories like this one and he hasn't lost the desire to share them. The difference, though, is that now the 'listener' does so much work to draw the bare bones of the story out that it's mentally exhausting. All of us who have been there, done that know exactly what I mean. ©
P.S. Some of you might remember that I entered a writing contest a while ago that had a $5,000 prize. I didn't win---didn't really think I would---but here's a link to the article I wrote for the contest. I'm proud of the way it turned out. Disaboom: a Web Company Making a Real Difference to People Touched by Disabilities.