ASHA 2010 had several presentations by people who suddenly found themselves on the other side of the table, so to speak: speech-language pathologists who themselves were suddenly faced with what it was like to live with aphasia or cognitive impairments, or both. This kind of narrative has always been important to me, since the stories of empathic transitions resonate deeply with who I am. Years ago, I read A Leg To Stand On, by Oliver Sacks, in which he speaks about what it was like to sustain a terrible fall while hiking alone in the mountains, resulting in profound sensory loss in his leg, and a course of rehabilitation. His most recent book is a similar “I as Other” narrative, about his visual impairments subsequent to an ophthalmic tumor.
Carole Sellars, a speech-language pathologist specializing in pediatric traumatic brain injury, found herself with an occipital lobe tumor that altered her cognition, communication, and life. At ASHA, she presented with her daughter, Jennifer and her SLP, Evan. Their story is amazing in several aspects, not the least of which is her astounding recovery and return to work. But what is most compelling is her personhood, which is reflected in her retelling of the story.
Apparently, she was subject to the most terrifying visual hallucinations in the early stages of recovery. She recalled one day, lying in bed in her room with her husband by her side. Suddenly, his hair began to grow, to change and evolve in colors like blue and pink, and to form long and entwined dreadlock-like structures. Part of her knew this was a hallucination. Another was terrified. And in the fearful place, she found a weapon against the darkness: her humor. She looked at her husband and said, “I love what you’ve done with your hair.”
How many times the people with aphasia I know have found that same weapon.
It is very powerful against everyone’s dark places. People with aphasia: I bow to your prowess with the sword of humor, that cuts through the darkness.