Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sad Saturaday

Here it is four o’clock in the afternoon and I’ve worked myself up into a major depressed state of numbness. I should be cleaning house for our company coming on Monday. But I can’t seem to move. Don’s favorite brother and sister-in-law are coming over to show us pictures from their camera safari trip to Africa. Also coming is our niece and her mother, another sister-in-law who is ten older than me. Our sister-in-law is also a caregiver to our niece who has MS. It shouldn’t be that way, should it, an elderly mother having to care for a daughter who was once independent, married and full of life.

Don starts speech class in a few weeks and as I usually do I decided to keep track of all the speech he is able to get out without prompting in a day's time. Doing this today wiped out my previously good mood. Here it is late afternoon and I’ve counted only sixteen words! In the pre-stroke era Don would have said that many and more words in a quarter of a minute.While I was helping Don finish up his shower this morning I did notice a sign of progress (if you want to call it that and I do). He was doing things that he usually counts out---putting on deodorant and baby powder with a puff---and instead of counting to ten he was only counting to five. It’s such a small thing to the outside world, but not really in the brain healing business. So I grabbed on to that straw and I hold it near because the small things are all we’ve got.

When Don is in the shower one of the words that always come up is “handicapped.” I think he says it then because the shower ritual is where he needs the most help during the day. Today I said to him, “You could try to be politically correct and call yourself ‘disabled.’” That suggestion was meant with an emphatic “NO!” Don thinks of himself as handicapped and there won’t be any cleaned-up version in HIS life. Message received loud and clear.After shower time we loaded the dog in the Blazer and took him to the pet store where dogs are welcome to do their own shopping. We can only do that when the budget can afford to blow an extra twenty bucks. They put all the good smelling treats, flavored rawhides and expensive toys down low where the dogs can grab them. Cooper knows the drill. He shops the pet store like he’s in a contest to see who can get the most merchandize in a basket before the buzzer goes off. It’s like he’s got a calculator in his head or he can read the bills in my wallet. When he hits twenty bucks, he has this satisfied look on his face that says, “Man that was fun. Let’s go home now.”

After the pet store, we picked up a few groceries and some take-out food---we had lots of opportunities for Don to get out spontaneous speech. And yet it was only sixteen lousy words. One word was “sh#t” said when a teenager walked by the car. I still don’t know what sin she was guilty of. Maybe just being young, cocky and oblivious to looking in the direction of senior citizens was as enough to get the ‘sh#t’ score out of Don. After playing twenty-one questions I gave up trying to figure it out. This is my life. It’s gone from stimulating conversations to figuring out which of fifty different meanings Don’s aphasic brain hangs on a single word said in different tones, with different inflections.

Some of the other words Don spoke today were: “Pee” for the obvious reasons. “Yes/no” sung over and over again like a song. “Cooper,” “doggie,” “hey!” and as stated up above, the numbers one through five. It’s all so sad! How many hours have we spent doing speech homework over the past five and a half years? Hundreds? More like thousands. Why couldn’t Don’s aphasia have fallen in the category of transient aphasia? The Aphasia Association says that fifty percent of all people with aphasia do have transient (aka temporary) aphasia that will disappear quite quickly after a head injury. There is nothing transient about Don’s aphasia. My head has accepted that Don will never hold meaningful conversations again but my heart still mourns that loss from time to time. My heart still wants to get out of the mommy mobile once in a while and just be me again with a friend by my side instead of a responsibility. I just want to be Don and Jean again and not speech student and queue master.

We get the occasional signs that it could happen, that speech could come back, but every growth spurt is followed by a quiet time when words are as shy as made-up fairies playing on the dewy forest floors of Ireland. The words come. The words go, and after awhile you don’t know what is real and what is just your vivid imagination wanting to believe in a fairy tale where only good things happen.

Jean Riva ©

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Energizer Battery

Every so often I get a bug up my butt about taking better care of my skin. I had great skin when I was younger but old age brought me teenage acne. Not a bad case but once in a while I’ll look in the mirror and scream, “Holy cow, those blackheads are bigger than my nipples!” And I’ll make The Promise right there and then: Cross my heart and hope to die, I’ll wash my face every day until it cries.

Last week I made The Promise and also bought some products. Oh, not the hundreds of dollars an ounce yuppie stuff. No, I know I’ll break the promise before I get to the bottom of the jar plus I don’t buy the argument that they work any better than the cheap stuff. I bought ‘P Cleaner’ by Neutrogena. I think it’s supposed to be ‘Deep Cleaner’ but there is a price tag strategically placed so that the customer really has no idea what they hell she just bought. I do know that when you put it on, it dries blue and makes my husband laugh. He’s not used to seeing girlie things. This is how we started out the first day of the New Year.

We ended last year with a bang. I shot and killed the dog. Not literally but I sure wanted to and would have if I could have found the key to the gun cabinet. What lead up to the dog being---well---in the dog house is Don wanted to call a friend to wish him a Happy New Year. We rehearsed and rehearsed because that’s what we do on the Planet Aphasia before dialing the phone when Don is going to talk. He had his lines down pat and he only had one thing left to do. His hearing aid as most of them do, I guess, whistles when the phone’s handset is placed on his ear so he took the aid out and handed it to me. I in turn set it on the television set. Cooper had chewed a hearing aid a couple of years ago, so we’re pretty careful not to set them down at his level. I didn’t count on the fact that the damn dog could climb the arm of the chair to get up to the back of the chair where he could easily reach the waxy, plastic treat with the $1,500 digital component inside.

We were lucky the last time. I was able to dig it out of his mouth before he completely destroyed the components inside and it only had to have the outer shell rebuilt. This time it looks like a wad of chewing gum with a wire sticking out of one end and an empty battery door out the other end. No saving it this time. We have a 50/50 chance on it being covered by his hearing aid insurance. They will replace each side for free one time only. We can’t remember if right or left was destroyed the last time but considering that most people use the same ear when talking on the phone, our odds are probably closer to a hundred to one.

I feel like my life is a gigantic board game. We got a cost of living check for 2005 in the mail for $900 last week and this week we have a new hearing aid to replace. We sell something big on eBay and the city says they forgot to send us a quarterly water bill last summer and there goes our eBay money. Draw a card and go back three places. Draw a card and go directly to jail for using a firearm on a dog who thinks hearing aids and Q-Tips are a delicacy akin to sushi. I swear someday I’m going to jam his little poodle tail down my ear, get it all waxed up, then watch him drive himself nuts chasing his tail around in circles. Big sigh here. I guess I should wait until after Cooper passes the tiny Energizer battery. Jean Riva ©

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