It’s Gratituesday! I’m thankful today for a chance to visit my parents. The need to get here nagged at me for nearly two months. Now I’m finally standing in their home and seeing their faces, giving hugs, talking, basking. My heart can relax a little.
At last, I can put experience together with all the information I’ve gotten by phone, text and messaging about Mom’s latest medical adventures and get a full picture. Part of me feels relieved and part of me feels more worry.
Mostly, I find I’m becoming better acquainted with another medical phrase I thought I could put behind us.
- Expressive aphasia – you know what you want to say, but you have trouble saying or writing what you mean
For a writer that would be called a massive writer’s block.
For someone who’s had a stroke it means not being able to communicate as well as you’d like, if at all. It can lead to frustration and depression and anxiety. But it can also be a source of laughter and bonding. I suppose it depends on the attitude of all involved as well as the medication cocktail the patient taking.
My mother manages to laugh about most of her verbal roadblocks. But frustration and perseverance work themselves into the picture as well. She’s human, after all. (Even though I’ve often thought she was wonder woman.)
A few days ago one of my sisters and I decided that carrying on a conversation with Mom, sometimes, is like playing the game of “Catchphrase” or “Charades.” Lots of gesturing, guessing, backtracking and logic leaps. When communication becomes clear and we all understand what’s been said I feel like cheering, or ringing a bell, or declaring a winner.
But when words won’t materialize in spite of how much her brain knows what it wants to say you can cry or you can laugh or you can hope the words show up eventually. My sister and I still aren’t sure what the flowers in the front yard have to do with the piano in the living room, but in Mom’s mind they are somehow connected.
The thing is, those connections got rerouted, detoured, and dead-ended last summer with her first stroke. Then a couple of months ago, with her seizure that occurred in the same area as the stroke, all those connections experienced even more deconstruction and rerouting. All the repairs and healing that happened over the past nine months took a sideways step or two, if not a step backwards as well.
- Post-stroke seizures – When stroke injures part of the brain, it leaves a scar, which can then trigger abnormal electrical activity that can start a seizure. Up to twenty-two percent of stroke patients experience these types of seizures.
Reminds me of a pothole repaired over and over again. Extra bumpy and almost as bad as the pothole itself.
Sometimes it’s not merely communication that takes a hit. In Mom’s case there’s also some memory loss. All sorts of traffic jams happen just within her own brain. Fixing lunch can take a long time because each step of the process requires incredible focus and follow-through. Her mind gets sidetracked between the silverware drawer and the refrigerator two feet away from each other.
Breakfast this morning, cereal and some fruit, ended up involving six or seven spoons of various sizes. I think my presence in the room threw off her routine, or made her nervous.
I suppose it’s like watching a young child learn to walk. Part of you wants to take their hand, catch every fall, help every step, even though you know the process of figuring it out builds neural pathways and muscles that make real walking possible. Letting Mom thrash through some of the mental tangle helps connections reform, gives her a sense of accomplishment and courage to try again, and develops new pathways for logic and sequencing. Eventually the communication will improve more. At least, that’s the hope.
But oh, my heart hurts watching this woman who once took care of me, and all my siblings, struggle so much with basic tasks. Tasks she already relearned last year.
And yet today, between the two of us, she sewed two simple aprons. Mostly I watched, threaded the machine, made a few suggestions, pointed out where the scissors were hiding. It took much longer for her to do it herself. I could have whipped them out in fifteen minutes. But the sense of satisfaction she gained from the effort did us both good.
I’m afraid I’d be a “helicopter daughter,” hovering and not letting her do for herself.
Mostly, I’m simply grateful and I’m enjoying the few days I have to hang out here. It’s a peaceful, calming, mountain view spot. But best of all it’s where Mom and Dad continue learn and love.