Many years ago, I telephoned a former client – a person with aphasia – to tell them our appointment time had changed. After several rings, the answering machine clicked on, and I heard her voice. Although it had been several months since the onset of her aphasia, she had not changed her message, and it was the before-person who told me she was not at home, but that my call was important, and asked me to leave a brief message. I hung up, and redialed. I listened again. Actually, I listened several times, attending to the tone and timbre of her voice, the lilt of intonation, the smile behind the words. This was a person I did not know: the before-person. I became a time traveller.
I knew enough about her to imagine the before-person, busy with her art, her letters, her well-known dinner parties and close-knit family. But the voice…the words…these had been hard to imagine. Flowing effortlessly through the telephone wire, they transformed my current knowledge into the two moments of her life that distinguished her own memories.
Since then, there have been many such windows into the memories of the before-persons whom I meet across the therapy divide. It seems important to me to incorporate what was, with what is. There is a common cultural acknowledgement among aphasiologists that the person is still the same – that it is only the aphasia that is different. I don’t think that is true.
Aphasia changes things. Changes people. Changes relationships. The person after aphasia is very strongly influenced by the before-person. That is why it is so important to come to know him, too.