I've sat down to write this post probably at least a half dozen times. My focus keeps changing. Saturday it was going to be about how I finally got every Christmas item up this year, first time since the strokes. Sunday morning it was going to be about how I learned I do have aphasia (loss of language) with my second language and all the emotions I was processing with that realization. Sunday afternoon it was going to be a prayer request for a woman I actually witnessed stroke on Saturday evening and didn't know it until Sunday morning! Somewhere in there I planned to talk about shoes and share some Christmas Thoughts and Prayers. Today, I think I better post a series of posts tonight as tonight's blog would be WAY too long otherwise! (If you are reading this via Facebook, I'm not getting on FB at all for a few days, taking a little break, but this should still auto-post there for me this evening.)
According to the Mayo Clinic, "Aphasia is a condition that robs you of the ability to communicate. Aphasia can affect your ability to express and understand language, both verbal and written. Aphasia typically occurs suddenly after a stroke or a head injury..."
As many of you who knew me before the strokes know, my second language was American Sign Language and I used to be rather fluent. As shocking as the discovery has, coming into my 4th year of stroke recovery, I found out on Saturday night that I no longer have a grasp on this language my heart has so embraced since high school! My husband says I used Sign Language quite a bit in ICU, sometimes appropriately, sometimes Signing gibberish (and with only one usable hand, at that!) When I did start speaking (minutes after the intubation tube was removed), I guess I spoke nonsensically for a bit (remember how my mom was "sitting on lions"?) so the crazy Signing seemed to fall right in line with the rest.
I think Wikipedia actually gives a better explanation of my case, "Aphasia (//, // or //) is a disturbance of the comprehension and/or expression of language caused by dysfunction in the brain. This class of language disorder ranges from having difficulty remembering words to losing the ability to speak, read, or write. This also affects visual language such as sign language. Aphasia is usually caused by brain damage, most commonly caused by stroke. Brain damage linked to aphasia can also be caused by other brain diseases, including cancer, epilepsy, and Alzheimer's disease."
Saturday night I had my first opportunity to observe Sign Language interpreters in action for the first time since my strokes. I was floored, confused, grief-stricken, to realize I hardly caught a single word they were saying, certainly could not begin to follow the flow of conversation. I felt physically ill, like I had been punched in the gut, had the rug pulled right out from under me! This has been part of my life, my identity, since I first fell in love with the language at age 8. Like walking, eating, driving, teaching my children, one day the skill was there, then suddenly, it was no more. A very delayed realization this time. But a significant loss to be grieved, all the same!
How have I gone so long without this discovery you ask? I can think of about three of 4 reasons...
One reason is simple opportunity. I have tried to Sign many times since my strokes, but just like with spoken language (yesterday I saw talking about a "white" item of clothing when my daughter stepped in and asked if I really meant "red" and yes I did, my youngest asks similar clarification questions on a near-daily basis, while my husband, oldest son, and mom usually figure out what I was intending without having to ask very often) when I don't even realize I'm doing it wrong, and I'm spending no time around the deaf nor interpretive communities, I have no reason to realize a problem.
Even if I were in the Sign Language word, my Signs all have to be so modified now for one-handed use, that anyone trying to read my Signs might give me grace and mistake my lack of fluency for simple lack of skill.
When someone is asphasic in speech, maybe able to utter only a word or two, they can still frequently sing with competency, because music and conversation are housed in different parts of the brain! I was delighted to realize, that once music started, if the interpreters were staying exact with the tempo of the song and doing true word-for-word translation (rather than conceptual interpretation of a phrase) I could follow a vast majority of their Signing. Another reason I think it has taken me so long to realize this deficit in my brain is because pretty much the only times I have ever attempted to sign, other than the finger alphabet that I did daily as hand therapy for a couple years, has been set to music, like hymns or praise music at church.
While I've Signed to others, I have rarely had anyone Sign to me since the strokes. The few times my husband has tried, I could not read the Signs and just figured he was "doing it wrong." Hmmm Sounds like I owe Rick an apology!
So there it is. I guess I have gone fro being relatively bi-lingual back to pretty much just my birth language. I wonder if, given opportunity, this skill-set will ever return? Oh, I hope so! What a shocking late discovery!