Talk with a burp; think like a flea

I’m on my way to my first speech therapy encounter with Amoret as my trailblazer/translator in a brand new building next to the George
V- Edward VIII- George VI- era Northampton General Hospital ( in other words very Bedlam-like),  a funny thing happened to me on the way.

I should mention anything remotely laughable or sad affects me in a profound way – I either laugh until I cry, or cry until I laugh –
something else the stroke has left me with, a sort of extra embellishment of emotions, no extra charge. (I’m so blessed)

On entering the lift (elevator) I was forced into a choice – up one floor, or get out and take the stairs because there were only two
stories. I took the only option available to me (remember I yaw to the right) and pushed number one. The door closed and the show began.

 Door closing the Stephen Hawking computerised voice said in metallic tones.

First floor it said in a Terminator voice (not with the Austrian accent).

I told Amoret that, at the most, with my speech difficulty, I could get job as the voice of lift. It was the minimum extent of my
vocabulary.  Then I got the giggles at how mentally clever I’d been. Nothing is more irritating than somebody who
laughs at their own jokes; really laughs until they cry, but it’s a gift the stroke has left me with so I’ve quit apologising for it. Amoret  just lives with it without complaint.

I spoke in the voice that I had at the time, drawing a breath, forcing out the words in the exhale much like people who have lost
their voice box to cancer and used to speak on a burp with mechanical larynx.

It was this voice that I brought into the room for my first meeting with my speech therapist Catherine. The problem with that voice was that it had a few defects – sometimes I couldn’t remember words – they just deserted me, leaving
me stumbling to communicate. It was a poor debut in front of Catherine but I
imagine she was used to such impediments.

Using a few words, then stumbling, I looked at Amoret with
pleading eyes for help and she filled in the blanks. Catherine suggested I try
to think of the first letter of the word, and look for a synonym.

My communication method left me with…let’s see: begins
with an X.



No. Not X or XA.


It means “hurry.” No.

It means “stampede”, like ”hurry”, or like ”frustration”,
maybe it’s like ”hurt”.

No, that’s not the word I need. It
means…(my mind is boiling with permutations of words, each tumbling into
view, then rejected, only to be filled with another candidate also less
worthy)…it means…what is the word I need?

To people watching me through this
process, I would stumble (I was good at the word “ah”), look in the distance
for the word like it would come coming galloping into view, and then go into
confusion. The minds thinks, but somewhere the brain has short-circuited to the
delivery system, so forgetting words means the result is anxiety in trying to
find a word, and that is resulting in verbal stumbles, and that is resulting in
more anxiety.

That’s the word I was looking for:

Looking back it at the situation,
I was acting the word I needed.

Now you understand when I say my life has turned into a
life-sized crossword puzzle – I’m constantly trying to find the word I need.
For someone who had lived life in fast lane – even the overtaking/passing lane
– of the English language, I found I had broken down. Catherine, then, was to me the RAC; my 4th emergency service, to mix metaphors.

She tried the engine that powers communication. I was given
lips and tongue exercises to loosen up the damage caused by a short-circuit to
the brain. Some, such as putting your tongue to your upper lip, then lower lip,
and putting your tongue to the outside of your lips at either side while
looking in a mirror looked liked an audition for leering looks in an adult
film. Add to that pursing your lips saying “oh” and grimace saying “ah,” and now
I’m doing the soundtrack.

And Catherine didn’t say the results of the stroke would be
back to normal in “no time” or any of the other euphemisms by health professionals
trying to be kind rather than honest. In the hospital I felt that when I went
home I’d be given a motivational poster like: “You can jump a thousand feet if
you can think like a flea!!!!!!” (The NHS is having cutbacks and that was
probably the first to go)

Catherine assessed the damage, provided the exercises to get
back some functionality and provided genuine sympathetic listening. I was given
the next appointment for a week’s time.

I left feeling better than I felt for the first time since
having the stroke. I was thinking like a flea.


Nobody asks about the 900 pound gorilla

No one from the NHS ever talked to me about the causes of a stroke or asked about diet.

(Of course , hospital workers are quite hypocritical – I have never seen a slim dietician. They take
up 3/4ths of a hospital corridor when they pass by.  Which brings up physiotherapists as well –



Insight - June/July 2011

 Northampton General proudly ran this picture of one in of its publications –  the head of physiotherapy inflicting her will
on an old age pensioner, touting the benefits of exercise, something that has eluded her for about an excess of 100 pounds. I couldn’t have made this up – here is the picture, and NGH is proud of it. Insight, June/July 2011)

No, I don’t smoke – I quit about a year and a half ago.
Because of Type Two diabetes I was eating reasonably in my diet – I watched
cholesterol, salt intake, read labels on salt and sugar content, exercised
twice a day enforced by a pack of dogs (read earlier post for clarity), took my
medicine religiously with vitamin supplements. Blood pressure was normal with
medicine, then, I had a stroke.

OK. What aren’t you telling us? Maybe I had more than a few hot dogs and spare ribs, but my cholesterol levels were good according to my
GP’s routine blood tests every quarter. There wasn’t an inquest as to why I had a stroke. Nobody asked about lifestyle, diet, hard drugs, trips to Africa, metal piercings or family history. The stroke was just the 900 pound gorilla in the room (not the hospital dietician), and not one medical authority wondered how it got there.

There was talk about how we would deal with the effects of
the stroke, the medicines I’d take, the rehabilitation I’d have, physio and
speech therapy, and in all these discussions I remember the great medical minds
saying:  “You can recover,” “You’ll be back to normal” more than once. But no talk about where this stroke came from – the causes could be the prevention.

In any event, Amoret was thinking the same way. Together
with my oldest daughter they conspired to keep me alive and well.

On my team: my oldest daughter who says diet will help me
recover from a stroke and prevent another one and provides scientific proof
(research papers) that show you are what you eat; Amoret, who says I must take
better care of myself and who squeezes my hand to say “stay with me.”

This means no white bread, whole wheat instead, the same with pasta, and plenty of herbs, passanta,
plenty of chicken (red meat once every seven days) and fresh fruit and
vegetables. I drank only tea (black; I know it’s against the law without milk)
where once I had consumed 8-10 cups of coffee a day.

(Once in my early reporting days in Baton Rouge Louisiana I went through city and parish [county]
government  offices every day in search of stories. It involved getting a paper demitasse cup of lethal and strong Community Coffee in
each office and sipping it while questioning people. You can’t just ask:  What’s going on? You have to “smooze” the stories
out of them; get them talking. I once counted I had 24 separate cups of coffee in one morning. It’s no wonder I loved my job – I was wired!)

(Under this family good food assault, what once was an acceptable 6.2 cholesterol reading eventually dropped down to 2.4 in a matter of weeks)

I checked my blood pressure every day – I’m calm now that Mrs Doubtfire is out of my life.

I didn’t need the government’s faceless cartoon characters telling me to “eat five a day and exercise or you’ll turn into a fat arse and we’ll
have to look after you” or something like that.

The dogs have new devoted energy towards me.

Now, the work on my speech can begin.  I’ve got my first visit to the speech therapist scheduled and I’ll soon be wise-cracking again.

Mrs Doubtfire tries to correct my aphasia

Mrs Doubtfire sweeping away aphasia

I had already designed a stroke recovery plan for myself on being released from hospital, but the NHS has experts they inflicted on me.  They were called the Intermediate Care Team and they insisted on coming into my home.

Maria was my occupational therapist – she was alright. She figured
out I needed a hand-hold in the shower and wrote in my photocopied logbook:

“Client has recovered well. Independent in mobility and
transfers. Raise with physio to review mobility and right-sided neglect.”(Neglect!
It’s not like I am forgetting to do it)

A couple days later came Shona, the Rehab Technician or physio. You could tell she was coming because there was loud
bass on her car stereo. You could hear her coming from a block away, and she
parked front of the house and then did something in the car for five minutes,
letting all the neighbours know of her presence (and probably gesticulating the
way rappers do with their fingers askance, akin to the sign Crocodile Dundee
did with his fingers to calm wild animals).

On gaining admittance to my home,
she set about her profession with zeal instituting a “Mobility Care Plan. (NHS
Confidential: Personal Data about a Patient- 6347229196) Identifying falls risk
using Falls Risk Assessment Tool  (FRAT)
template.” (Don’t ask me! Some orders from the hospital no doubt) “To allay
anxiety and instil confidence.”

We’ll see.

Stand up. Sit down. Raise that arm up. Turn left; now right. Sit down. Drum your fingers on the table. Faster! You
need to do these exercises. Do them three times a day. If you get tired, rest a bit.

“Reduce environmental risks e.g. loose rugs, obstructing furniture.” Walk upstairs. Get in the bathtub. Sit on
the toilet. (You can keep your trousers on. Thanks.) Sit on the bed. Stand up.”
While walking make sure to turn face slightly towards the right to compensate
the visual disturbance. Wife to prompt this.” (The torture masters in the
hospital could have told me this)

And last, the third member of my Intermediate Care Team is Linda, Deputy Sisster (you’ve misspelled sister. I
know, it should be sister, but she spoke with a strong Scottish accent). Imagine
Mrs Doubtfire with fangs – she is first to induce utter frustration at my
condition and hatred for people like her, thusly:

Deputy Sisster: Are you getting
along fine since your stroke?

Me, with aphasia, trying to get a
word out, strangling consonants, finally spitting out the answer: Yeah.

Deputy Sisster: Try and pronounce
it correctly. This way: ye-ss.

I wasn’t sure I heard her
correctly. Was she trying to correct my speech? She was!

Deputy Sisster: Try it now – ye-ss.

She was most certainly trying to correct my speech! Me, who had delivered the news for CNN  among others, taught people how to speak to
the media, to do interviews that made sense, how to perform on TV and radio for
The Open University, and as a pasttime called in to radio talk shows to practice outrageous American accents. Now, with the stroke leaving me with aphasia, this blue-uniformed Mrs Doubtfire, was trying to correct my speech.

Amoret could see the frustration and anger in me and tried to diffuse it explaining my background and saying I
had a problem in speaking, not saying much. She explained I was American and I
talked that way:  ”yeah”.

I never will forget her response:  ”Well, I’ll get him talking – he may even wind
up with a Scottish brogue. Ha, ha, ha”.

I couldn’t speak. True, I had aphasia, but I wanted to speak. I wanted to let out the most foul swear words I had at my disposal and I have a
copy of Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue and in French, Merde Happens, and the
list my media students found informative when I was teaching. So there’s no
shortage of rude words I could hurl at her, but I couldn’t speak. The
rage built up inside until my face turned red and it felt like, cartoon-like,
steam came from my ears. Words would not come out because of the aphasia thing
and all I could do was turn away from Mrs Doubtfire and face the wall and
ignore her. I know, very petulant, but it felt good at the time and gave me
some control over this nightmare woman.

But aphasia did not take away my body
language and I folded my arms, turned my face to effoff (as my friend Guy
put it) and sputtered something unintelligible when I really meant you “pauncy
puke-stockinged foul deformity.” (Shakespeare had a way with words) I refused
to have anything to do with her.

Amoret got rid of her and we complained to the Intermediate Care Team supervisors by telephone. She never came again
and if she had, I wouldn’t have let in her in the door. I never heard from the
Intermediate Care Team again. The neighbourhood was quiet again.

Going to the dogs – literally

When I got home from the hospital after suffering the stroke, I got a good tongue lashing.

Let me introduce you to four main characters from my life. They are challenging, entertaining and demanding. They are three rescued Border Collies and a lapdog. They were all tongues flapping in the wind – so happy to see me they couldn’t restrain themselves. Their bodies were snake-like, writhing in the quest to reach me. I had never been away from them overnight before.


Jake: a Cavalier King Charles. He’s been around since my youngest daughter was two – that’s 12 years, a long time for a lapdog. And he
probably was destined to lead a lapdog life – bad legs, bad heart, bad lungs. But he’s been with us so long because we decided three years ago to rescue Border Collies. Now he thinks he is one. He has a “bad” sheep stare and herds the other dogs as well as keeps up with us, unflagging, on our 2 mile walks every day.


Elsa is the momma bitch, although she never will have puppies, she is boss of the pack. She was a nervous, elfish creature that we
couldn’t help but love. She was from Ireland where they did unspeakable things to her during her nine months of life when we got her. She didn’t do puppy things like chew toys or bones and we had to pick up to get her in the car.


Several months after Elsa, we adopted an 8 week old puppy from a rescue centre. Bess integrated well because she had no past baggage and
gave Elsa “mum” duties as a purpose in life. To this day she still acts like a mum. Bess’ goal in life is to fetch tennis balls, all of them.


Life was sweet, and then came Bailey. He was returned to a rescue centre as being too aggressive and Amoret brought him home (she did
ask!). Bailey has the most agreeable personality and when we got him at about five months old his “aggressiveness” was chewing on things, as puppies do. He would do anything possible to please you. I describe him as just like Doug in the movie ”Up.”

But I digress. This pack, my pack, is a part of my recovery.
It wasn’t recommended by my stroke support team (SST it’s probably known by – I remember when it stood for supersonic transport like the Concord. I’ve found the paperwork – they were called the START Team, followed by the Intermediate Care Team).

I thought of recovery plan all by myself and I’ve had a stroke. Twice a day I’m out with the dogs, walking through woods and parks –
walking and thinking. That’s what I need.

My pack doesn’t care if I lean to the right.

My pack doesn’t care if I sound like I am strangling songbirds when I speak.

My pack doesn’t care that I can’t whistle.

My pack doesn’t care that the arm used to scratch them moves randomly and unevenly.

My pack doesn’t care that I sometimes drool – just like they do.

They love me just the way I am, and that’s just what I need.