Saturday, July 14, 2012

Day Twenty-Three - Strokes

I visited an old friend today. Ed was one of the first patients I worked with when I had started a new rehab position five years ago. He had just been admitted from the hospital after his stroke, was paralyzed on his right side, and was unable to speak. You could see the fear in his eyes when I met him; none of his words were coming out of his mouth and he was unable to move. Our rehab team (physical, occupational and speech therapy) swooped in to help Ed start his recovery.

Ed's stroke occurred in the motor area in the left hemisphere of his brain, resulting in Broca's aphasia. Usually, people with Broca's have good comprehension, but struggle to express themselves verbally. Ed and I started with yes/no questions, picture-pointing tasks, and Melodic Intonation Therapy. His progress was slow, but steady; he was able to request items with single words like "drink", "bathroom", and "cold".  His wife Eleanor was an interesting lady. She was very intense, asked many questions, and frequently screamed at the nurses if they did not get her what she wanted. She liked me, fortunately. I think it was just the fact that I listened to her and empathized with how hard Ed's recovery was going to be for both of them.

I was fortunate, given the limited rehab time that is often given to patients post stroke, to work with Ed for almost six months. He continued to make measurable progress. We had progressed to short conversations. He shared some of the details of his life. I found out he had been a mechanical engineer. He had three sons and four grandchildren. Ironically, two of his grandchildren attended my middle school. He is a recovering alcoholic. He told me his marriage was challenging, and that he had considered divorce. His wife had thrown the telephone at him, hitting him in the head; it was at that moment that he had the stroke.

Ed could be challenging himself; he would become frustrated with his inability to express himself quickly and would swear at the staff - his words came out so clearly then! Even after his health care plan stopped paying for therapy, I would stop in to see him before or after my shift at work to have a conversation, or to set up his TV to watch a baseball game. He became like a second father.

I worked at the facility part-time after school. The facility decided after I had been there a year that they wanted to hire a full-time SLP. Since I was not available to take the job, they hired someone else. I was sad, because I really loved working at this place. I filled in here and there when the new SLP was on vacation or unavailable, and continued visiting with Ed. One day, when I stopped by to see him, a nurse on the floor told me that the family had moved him. The administrator would not tell me where he went. It would have been blurring the margins of my jobs to talk about this with his grandchildren; I knew eventually, I would see his son to ask Ed's whereabouts.

Ed's only granddaughter was graduating this year, and I ran into her dad, Nate after the ceremony. He gave me a big hug, and told me where his dad was living now. His mom was in an assisted living facility as well. Today, I stopped by to visit my old friend. His speech continues to come out in short bursts - he uses three to four words phrases, but they are clearly articulated. He told me about his wife, his grandchildren, and how much he missed the old facility. He kissed my hand and told me how glad he was to see me again.

I know I say it all the time, but I am so blessed to do the work I do. I meet the most wonderful people, and get to have a positive impact on their lives. I know that they have an even bigger impact on mine. I plan to see Ed again next week.

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