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How I Regained My Speech, Starting with Two Little Words | The Tales of a Stroke Patient | Joyce Hoffman

Author Joyce Hoffman
Author Joyce Hoffman

This no-talking situation was really starting to get to me, big time. I thought, What if I didn’t say another word for the rest of my life? What if I had to motion to things constantly and nobody paid attention? What if there was an emergency and I couldn’t call for help?

The what-if questions were making me anxious and depressed. I didn’t have one thought about what I should do. But then I realized something that shook my innards to the core. I was becoming invisible to others. And that feeling of invisibility, that I couldn’t go on this way forever, became my modus operandi to do something about it.

About three weeks into Rehab X, it was just about lunchtime and I had concluded my morning therapy. The Transport guy delivered me to my room and I nabbed a CNA to help me into bed. I was going to take a quick power nap before therapy would resume again. I could smell the food in the hallways but by this time, I had gotten used to not eating. I just applied another layer of Vaseline to my cracked lips–the same hand to squeeze the tube and apply it–when an LPN walked in unannounced.

“You must be so sick of not eating,” she remarked.

I couldn’t say anything, but I nodded my head in agreement. And she stood there as if wanting to chat. Waiting, as if wanting to spend time with me.

“You look like you could use some extra pillows.”

She left my room and returned with two pillows. Well, this was a nice gesture. It was the first time anybody thought of my needing anything without my gesturing for it. She arranged the pillows on my bed–one for my head and one to use as an armrest. And she sat down and told me what was going on in the world–I’m a news junkie, but I don’t know how she knew that–and a funny story about her daughter who found a bird, semi-nursed it back to health, and let it loose in the park.

She sat with me for about fifteen minutes and then got up, saying she was sorry she couldn’t sit longer. And then it happened, just like that.

“T-h-a-n-k y-o-u,” I said, albeit very slowly. I was talking, or so I imagined.

The nurse took an audible breath and said, “What did you say? It sounded like ‘thank you.'” I had a witness so I nodded yes. I DID talk, didn’t I! Then she went out in the hallway to broadcast it to others.

Much later, I found out from the speech therapist what possibly happened. Not all types of aphasia, the lack of producing and/or comprehending speech, can be allocated to one type of syndrome. With my case, the syndrome that it would most likely approximate was Broca’s aphasia, the syndrome in which speech production was usually more severely affected than speech comprehension.

But she had another less academic theory. “I didn’t read this anywhere, but maybe what happened is you were so relaxed that speech, unsolicited, came out of you.” I could buy that explanation. It sounded so common sensical. And I had the extra pillows to prove it.

Quite frankly, I didn’t care what the theory was. I was talking, and it wasn’t long until I said what was on my mind. The words weren’t pretty, but they were honest.

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