I met a man almost two years ago named Jack. We met at an aphasia therapy group organized by the Speech Pathology Department at Idaho State University. I was one of 8 participants for a 2 week program designed to help people who have Aphasia.
The National Aphasia Association defines our condition this way:
What is aphasia? Aphasia is an impairment of language, affecting the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write. Aphasia is always due to injury to the brain-most commonly from a stroke, particularly in older individuals. But brain injuries resulting in aphasia may also arise from head trauma, from brain tumors, or from infections.
Aphasia can be so severe as to make communication with the patient almost impossible, or it can be very mild. It may affect mainly a single aspect of language use, such as the ability to retrieve the names of objects, or the ability to put words together into sentences, or the ability to read. More commonly, however, multiple aspects of communication are impaired, while some channels remain accessible for a limited exchange of information. It is the job of the professional to determine the amount of function available in each of the channels for the comprehension of language, and to assess the possibility that treatment might enhance the use of the channels that are available.
That first day, everyone had to introduce themselves which was tough because people had difficulty expressing why we were there. People had varying degrees of communication issues.
When Jack introduced himself and his wife, he concluded saying “I can drive!” People chuckled in a knowing way. When you have a stroke and/or a brain injury, people often cannot drive including me at that time.
One day, I needed a ride, and Jack drove me home. He was very proud of his new car, a Kia Soul. Jack seemed so “normal” to me. I was envious. It seemed that his “issue” was a slight speech impediment.
Months later, my wife and I ran into Jack and his wife at a Boise State University football game. I was happy with my stroke recovery, and I asked them how they were doing.
In a nutshell, their life was so challenging. They lost longtime friends who just became invisible. That is common when you have a stroke. More troubling was their children who lived out of town. The adult children insisted that Jack could not drive again and they wanted them to sell their house and go into a assisted living facility. The “kids” said that Jack “might” have Alzheimer’s even though there was no diagnosis of that.
I was appalled that their adult children from out of town insisted that they had to sell their car, they house, and most of their belongings to go into a 600 square foot “apartment.” I said “Why would you agree to do that?”
He shrugged his shoulders and grimaced a bit, and said something like this, “I just don’t want to fight anymore. It's just easier to let it go.”Jack’s kids swooped in from out of town and hijacked his life. And they hijacked his soul. And they left.
When you have a stroke, it seems that your soul might be the only thing left.