January 31, 2010

Lunch in Aphasia Land

It was a cold but sunny and beautiful day when we backed out of our driveway. Destination: out for lunch and to the post office. I asked my aphasic husband where he wanted to eat and as he often does he replied by using hand gestures to indicate the turns I’d have to make on the way to wherever it was he wanted to go. Those turns with varying lengths of straight-aways all gestured with appropriate sound effects for braking and speed didn’t help me understand. I named five or six of our favorite places and each time he’d say ‘no.’

“Have we been there in the last week?” I was trying to narrow down the field of choices.


“Have we been there in the last month?”


" In the past six months?”


Oh, great that helped a lot.
“Oriental?” I asked and I got a ‘no’ in return. The same negative response came for pizza, steak, Thai, breakfast, and hamburgers. At this point Don drew the type of food he wanted using his finger in the air.

“Square food? Toast with bacon and eggs?” I asked completely baffled by this latest clue. “Am I going the right direction?"

“No. Yes. No. Yes," he kept repeating. You'd think after all this time I'd learn not to ask more than one question at a time.

“Fine,” I replied. “We’ve got a full tank of gas. I guess we’ll get there before dinner." I was headed for ‘restaurant row’ a place where there are million places to eat within a five mile stretch. Eventually he gestured for me to turn into a shopping mall.

“Pee,” Don said which translates to: “Find me a place around the back where I can use my urinal.”

“Not today,” I said as I turned in. “You’ll have to make an appointment for tomorrow. I have an opening at 4:15.” I always give him a hard time about his ‘pee’ commands and he usually laughs at my tired jokes when I tell him things like he’s reached his quota of pee times for that day or last call for peeing was a half hour ago. Once I told him there is a cork in the glove compartment, "Use it!" Sometimes I even shock myself with what comes out of my mouth. Around the back of the mall, I stopped near a sign post hoping if someone comes along afterward they’ll think the yellow circle in the snow came from a big dog with a bad aim.

I got back on ‘restaurant row’ where eventually Don directed me to turn into the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant. I thought back to the clue he was trying to give me with his finger drawing in the air. Square food? What do they have at a Qdoba's that is square? I finally decided that he’s finger drawing dyslexia and he meant to draw a circle for a taco salad which is what he usually orders. But in reality it’s not unusual for people with aphasia to come up with what I call false clues. In their brains they are searching for the right word or gesture but all they can come up with is a category of similar words, one of which is the word they are trying to communicate. Round, square, triangle---they’re all shapes and ‘square’ was the only word Don’s aphasic brain could express on Saturday when we had lunch in Aphasia Land. ©


January 17, 2010

Wayward Husband

When my brother was a toddler my mother kept him in a harness with a leash attached much like the modern version in this photo. The only difference was my brother’s leash was a lot longer and using them on a child back in the 1940s didn’t raise eyebrows like they occasionally do now. No one called them ‘cruel’ or ‘demeaning’ or thought they stifled a child’s nature curiosity. My brother needed to be leashed when my mom took him shopping. He was always getting into trouble doing things like prying up floor registers to shove the cat into the ducts. Once when he was three he got up early in the morning, stripped off his pajamas, put his Robin Hood hat on and went for a walk stark naked. A police officer brought him home to my still sleeping parents.

I was reminded of all this today when I took my husband to the bookstore. It’s one of those large yuppie places with a Starbucks inside and overstuffed chairs where you can curl up in front of a fireplace to read. It’s one of our favorite Sunday morning stops and I don’t ever want Don to get banned from the place like he was from a grocery store in the area. I knew we were headed towards trouble when we got to the door and several customers coming out held the double doors open for us. Don, in a deep bellowing voice yelled, “Oh boy! Oh, boy!” In aphasia speak that’s as good as saying, “Thank you for your kindness.”

As I often do when we go some place where he really wants to go I reminded him that he needed to use his inside voice and he sang his Okay Opera back at me: “Okkkkaaayyy! Okayyyyy! OH, oh, ooooh kay.

“Next time we’re planning to come here,” I teased, “help me remember to cut your antidepressant in half.”

He wanted a coin magazine. We found him a coin magazine. He wanted to look at a book in the art section. We found him the book. All the while he’s ‘oh, boying’ this and ‘oh boying’ that at the top of his lungs. People are looking at us. Don didn’t care. He was the center of attention and he loves that. I was thinking maybe next time we come to the bookstore, I’ll take Don’s antidepressant.

Finally I decided to take him to the coffee shop, get him a cappuccino so I could go off to the bathroom and maybe browse a few books along the way. When I came back Don had managed to table hop his wheelchair over to where two girls in their twenties sat.

“Are you lost?” I asked him.

“Beautiful, beautiful” he replied as he pointed to each girl in turn as if he was introducing a Marcia and Mary. Then he pointed to me and I held my breath until he said, “Wife.” He’s never done it, but someday I half expected him to introduce me as ‘homely.’ But his language problems still have him categorizing all women as cute or beautiful and he doesn’t hesitate to let strangers know which category he’s files them in.

On the way home I decided that rather than a leash hooked up to the back of Don’s wheelchair maybe I’ll see if steering wheel locks will work on wheelchairs. If they do I could say, “Sit, stay!” knowing when I come back my wayward husband will be right where I left him. ©


January 9, 2010

My Facebook Page

It's a new year and with it came a promise to myself to get more active on my Facebook page. I’ve never particularly enjoyed or understood Facebook. I want layouts and colors to play with. I want more room to ramble. And I don’t like strangers showing up in lists of suggested friends. That’s creepy! But Facebook is Facebook so I decided to take the proverbial bull by the horns and figure out why it’s so popular.

After opening my Facebook page, I sat in front of the computer screen a full five minutes before my fingers made contact with the keyboard. And what came out after that long contemplation?---something thoughtful or deep to put on the ‘what’s on your mind’ line? No. My fingers typed: Why don’t angle worms freeze to death in the winter?

Where those words came from, I don’t know. I get loony that way from time to time, but the words were “shared” before I could think of something less lame to say. I waited. I waited fourteen hours and none of my 23 friends had an answer for me. No reply of any kind came back! Not one person was concerned for my mental health or for the worms outside in the frozen Michigan winter, for that matter.

I’m not a patient person so googled my question and to my shock there really is an interesting answer. “Angle worms,” according to John Johnson, “will begin hibernation with its tail in its mouth. It will then eat itself through winter right down to the last digestive tube. A 3-inch angle worm will decrease down to 1/4" over those months. Leaf worms, on the other hand, hibernate together in a large mass which looks like the inside of a golf ball.”

I’d share my new found knowledge with my Facebook friends but angle worms have survived for centuries without human sympathy for their dietary needs in the winter which leads me to my the other New Years Resolutions. Lose some weight. How I can type that resolution with a straight face while munching on a piece of Hershey’s dark chocolate is beyond explanation, but doing so has given me an idea: We can learn from the angle worms. We can live off our own body fat. So tonight when I go to bed I’ll attempt to sleep with my toes in my mouth. If I can extract some fat off my body to sustain me though the night I will finally have a reason to like my Facebook page. After all, it was because of Facebook that I came up with this bright idea. ©

John Johnson's full article on angle worms.

January 5, 2010

Another New Year, Another Resolution to Break

I started keeping diaries when I was seven or eight years old and I didn’t stop my daily recordings until I was in my late twenties. I guess I thought I’d grow up to be someone famous like my ancestors---James Otis Jr., Mercy Otis Warren, or Amelia Earhart---and in the distance sea of humanity someone would care about the na├»ve and disjointed ramblings of my youth. I’m nearly seventy now and I’ve barely read about the American Revolution let alone done anything as history book noteworthy as James Otis, a patriot and friend to Thomas Paine. Nor have I ever been pen pals with someone as famous as Abigail Adams or written anything as important as the first history book on the Revolutionary War like Mercy Warren did. As for Amelia, aviator extraordinaire---God, I’ve been afraid to get on an airplane every since I did it once and survived the ‘trauma’ back in the 60s. And the most adventurous thing I’ve done in recent years is to walk down our hilly driveway after an ice storm to get the mail. I’m such a disappointment to the little girl still deep inside me.

Even after I stopped writing daily diary enters I’ve still been relatively faithful about doing a list of New Years resolutions at the beginning of each year with a few paragraphs added updating my life’s journey This is my 2010 entry:

I woke up New Years morning with a dream still hanging on the edge of consciousness. I was lost and looking for an apartment where I lived. Being lost has been a life long reoccurring dream for me. Sometimes I'm in a school and I’m late for class. Sometimes I’m lost in the streets looking for my purse. Sometimes I’m lost and looking for a door out of a house of mirrors. There’s a dozen versions of my ‘lost’ dream. They say that being lost in a dream is really about the anxiety of leaving something familiar behind or about losing something of value. I can buy those theories as an explanation. But sometimes I have dreams that keeping me thinking all day long: Where the hell did that come from!

What made my New Years dream so different from the generic versions is what I was carrying around. While I was lost and looking for where I lived I ran into someone who asked me to baby sit their newborn. I said “yes” and then ducked into a copy center, stuck the baby in a copy machine and made myself a living, breathing baby of my own. Always a detail person, even in my dreams, I put a check mark on the forehead of one of the babies so I wouldn’t get the copy mixed up with the original then I continued on my way, looking for where I lived. Okay, I don’t know why I’m recording this for my infamous hereafter but what the heck, I’m old so I can get away with doing irrational things.

Now on to my New Years resolutions, most of which are pretty universal: Lose weight, get more physically fit, and finally get an accurate count on the number of legs on that centipede who lives under our filing cabinet. In addition I’d like to get back to blogging more often because I’ve always found writing to be therapeutic, and I’d like to stop hanging around a particular political forum that has been taking up a lot of my time this winter. Being there is like being thrown into a modge pit full of angry Hell’s Angels and that’s no place for an elderly woman carrying around a cloned copy of a newborn baby with a check mark on her forehead.

Happy New Year!