Living with aphasia

The dryer

This incident happened in October 2008 after the operation on the infected plate on Laura’s head, described in the fly-by.  I was struggling to reconnect the clothes dryer to the exhaust because Laura had insisted that I move the dryer to clean out any dust that had collected behind or underneath.  She was convinced that it had become wet and moldy and that mold behind the machines was what she smelt when she went through the laundry room.  She would not listen when I said that I had just vacuumed in back of the washer and dryer.  Whether it was the tumor or the treatment, Laura had started to smell bad odors everywhere, including me.  She wouldn’t let me kiss her goodnight anymore, not even on the cheek. So, I was already in a bad mood when I started having the problem of reconnecting a short exhaust hose in a very awkward place.  Laura heard me cursing and came over to offer help.  I asked her to push the dryer back as I lined up the vent with the hose.  When I said “push,” Laura pulled and everything I had struggled to line up went out of alignment.  I yelled at the top of my voice, “I said ‘PUSH!’”  Later that same afternoon I came in from cutting the grass to find that there had been a similar incident with Anne Mei’s getting cross with Laura over some misunderstanding.

The music lesson.

Laura never expressed herself with physical violence.  She never even raised her voice in anger. Rather you would begin to feel a heat, and if you didn’t feel the heat, she’d catch your attention to make sure you became aware that you were in the pot and the burner had been turned up to high.

I remember one time, about a year after diagnosis.  We were sitting together on Louise McClure’s futon, listening to Louise give Anne Mei a violin lesson.  I am a compulsive reader. As I had done so many times before, I was reading during Anne Mei’s lesson.  All of a sudden I felt heat emanating from next to me.  I looked over at Laura.  She was glaring at me.  What?  She looked at the open book in my hands.  And?  Then, by the look on her face and her body language, I understood.  I was reading and she couldn’t.  How could I be so insensitive as to be engrossed in reading for myself right next to her?  I closed the book and put it out of sight.

After the violin lesson incident, I tried to remember not to read for myself near her.  But even in the morning when I opened up the paper just to scan the headlines to tell her what was in the news, she would get angry if I did not immediately begin reading them to her, and took any time to pick out what might be of interest to her.

The Milkmaid.

About a month after the violin lesson, on the Sunday after the news that stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) had not stopped the tumor, Anne Mei and I drove Laura into New York to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  We had learned about the convenience of parking at the Museum when I tore my hamstring two years before.  Laura, however, refused to use a wheelchair as I had.  After we had seen a few galleries, Laura started trying to tell me something she wanted to see.   Anne Mei had expressed an interest in seeing Degas, about whom she had heard during her summer art camp. Being a thick Mick, I thought that’s why we were there.

Despite her aphasia and vision problems, Laura had been able to study The New Yorker, and remember what was showing at the Metropolitan.  She just couldn’t get the words out to tell us.  Laura started to draw squares with her hands, saying I’d seen it.  Neither Anne Mei nor I could figure out what she was trying to tell us.  We went down to the lobby by the main entrance to meet Laura’s sister Julie, who was coming down from Connecticut to join us. I went over to the set of posters that I thought advertised all the current special exhibits.  I told Laura what they said.  No luck.  As we were going to meet Julie, Laura started talking about “eyeglasses,” but pulling her ears.  I said “earrings?”  Yes.  You want to see earrings?  No.  Jewelry.  No.  Then, she said something about that’s why we went to the movie.  You want to see a movie?  No.  Finally, Anne Mei gets it.  “The Girl with the Pearl Earring.”  You want to see that painting?  NO!  Vermeer?  Yes.  Just then Julie arrived.  She, being Laura’s sister, whipped out The New Yorker.  Of course, Vermeer’s Milkmaid was at the Museum on special exhibit.  Eureka!

“That’s disgusting.”

At 10:30 on the night before Thanksgiving 2009, after helping her to bed I told Laura that I was going to go out to the living room to do some taiji. I really needed it after that day’s brouhaha. She said, “That’s disgusting.” At first I was confused. I was forgetting that her brain cancer caused not just aphasia, but dysphasia. What she wanted was for me to stay and talk with her more before she went to sleep.  I did.

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