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Talking to myself.
Languages have always been a challenge for me. I’ve tried Spanish, German and Russian and been found wanting. Wanting some language I could master. Some would claim that I’ve never really mastered the speaking part of English, mumbling doesn’t count as a second language. For many years I took reading, writing, hearing and speaking English for granted.
I was transitioning from almost finishing a special education degree to getting into physical therapy school. I had just finished my lab finals, the next week was the lecture finals. Some of the people from the physical therapy department where I was volunteering were having a pre-Christmas party. Sounded good to me.
You should not drink and drive. I did.
If you drink and drive you should not do it with a motorcycle. I did.
If you drink and drive a motorcycle you should wear a good helmet. I did.
I came to in the emergency room (now “emergency department”) of the hospital where I volunteered. I did not recognize it at first. I never went to the emergency room or laid in a hospital bed as part of my volunteer duties. I did have an incredible headache and I couldn’t really understand what people were saying.
Over the next six days in the hospital I found that I could not read, write, understand spoken words or speak coherently. I had been worried about studying for the finals. Somehow someone figured out that I wanted my books. Looking at the pages was amazing, so familiar and so indecipherable. My friend Peter was leaving for a semester in Germany and came to the hospital to say good bye. The look on his face let me know how bad things really were. Laying in the hospital room watching people’s mouths move while they spoke and hearing sounds reminded me of watching films in Russian. It was pretty obvious I wasn’t being understood either and not because of mumbling. Because I couldn’t understand instructions I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to get out of bed without help. I was confused when the nurses seemed upset when I got up and used the bathroom all by myself. I used to get praised for that when a very young lad.
The only injury of any consequence was a “closed head injury/skull fracture” with a severe concussion. Functionally I had expressive and receptive aphasia. Words in, words out not working. There was no telling how long it might last and how complete a recovery there would be. Everything else was just fine.
It was a very interesting experience. I had worked for years with people who had difficulty speaking, had limited verbal vocabularies, couldn’t read or write. And here I was. Interacting with the external world I was pretty much like my old clients. My internal communication was perfectly normal (for me). I laughed inside my head (maybe outside too, I could make sounds). “God this is pretty funny. All the times I laughed at those things that happen when you work with the mentally disabled and this is my punishment.”
It took about six weeks for everything to get back to “normal”. One thing I remember from the recovery period. My dad was always really good with crossword puzzles. So he gave me a very simple one, thinking that it would help me feel better. I was totally stumped. I don’t think any of us felt better. Still don’t like crossword puzzles.
Everything did get back to normal. A few months after the accident I ran a marathon. I had run one about a week before the accident. The science and math prerequisites were eventually finished and I got into physical therapy school. Seemed like the brain was functioning fine.
To be continued.
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