On the front line of speech therapy – lab rats (watch out they don’t bite)


During these Stroke Association confabs we were sometimes used as lab rats for students, specifically speech therapy wannabes. For those who argue that students should not be allowed in combat, where else are they going to get front line experience? One or two students per meeting were incorporated and I got the feeling they a part of the service for the £2.

The students mixed with us lab rats, talking to the people who had strokes, patient attentive to the verbal stumbles. We all have some sort of trouble expressing ourselves, forgetting words, searching for words, pronouncing words. In all the wavering, faltering and shilly-shallying over out-loud words there were lessons to be learned about the frailty of the human brain when it has been zapped.

It really was the front line for combat in speech therapy.

One student remarked to me that when I spoke I sounded like I had an American accent. Not one to let an opportunity pass, I said “Yes, even since my stroke I spoke like this.”

Well, her eyes lit, obviously making a connection to a foreign language syndrome. But she did’t follow it up with other questions such as where are you from. That would have given her some indication what my accent should be: let’s see, French name; maybe he’s from France. We’re in Great Britain – maybe Liverpool? The Home Counties? He hasn’t mentioned a combine harvester, so it’s not Somerset. Australia? South Africa? Or, dare I say it, North America?

The lab rat bit back, playfully.

See my “lie” was actually true: since the stroke, I have spoken haltingly, forcing the words like I had an artificial larynx, almost on a burp; searching my vocabulary for the right word; pronouncing it abysmally; every sentence is Baldrick’s magnificent octopussy (magnum opus) – the best that I can do with what I have to work with, in an American accent. But before the stroke I had none of the problems.

Later, I admitted the joke at expense of the student when next I saw my speech therapist Catherine. I could swear there was a hint of smile.

Addendum: My true experience of real lab rats

Copyright: The Open University but I made this image

Back when I did public relations for The Open University one assignment had me publicising a TV programme the university made for the BBC called Lab Rats. Essentially it was a scientist and comedian who put themselves forward as human lab rats. So far, so Bazalgette-ish, except there was real science involved in this which is why The Open University made it.

One segment had to do with sperm, and which person had the fittest sperm – Dr Mike Leahy or comedian Zeron Gibson.

Copyright: The Open University

It was all to be decided in the great sperm race, television’s first sperm race. And it was to be held on a giant screen TV in a pub cheered on by rowdy supporters, which is very Bazalgette-ish.

Well, the news release got media interest all right. Among the newspapers was the Daily Star and magazines included Nuts. You know what they say: any publicity is good as long as they spell your name right.

But all the media wanted to know was: who won the sperm race? Give away the ending?

For Zeron’s media interviews I suggested he referred to result with a reference to a line Wesley Snipes had in the film Passenger 57: “Always bet on black.”


One response to “On the front line of speech therapy – lab rats (watch out they don’t bite)

  1. I hear what you are saying about feeling like a lab rat. I went to a picnic in grad school for people who had the vocal cords removed and I’m sure they felt the same way. If it makes you feel better, I do that with everyone—I notice my friends lisps and children with possible speech/language disorders. I even tried to figure out why I slurred on certain words when I drank too much. Feel free to call us on it, if it bugs you though. It’s not our intent.

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