Update: Stroke of Grace has become In Darkness Sing and has moved to JenniferSaake.com.

Thirty-nine-year-old Jennifer Saake (founder, Hannah's Prayer Ministries), experienced 6 strokes via vertebral dissection at a chiropractic office, including brain stem and cerebellum bleeds, in Oct. 2011. Jenni remained hospitalized for nearly 2 months and was not expected to live (near death experience) nor recover, but if she even survived, she was slated to live out her days in a nursing home or, best case, to maybe come home but wheelchair-bound and needing 24-hour care. At 5 years, 7 months God showed how He was writing her story from the beginning.

Jenni is currently writing more books and stays active on both Facebook and Pinterest. Stroke of Grace became In Darkness Sing in early 2018 and has moved, along with all five of Jennifer's active blogs, to one location at JenniferSaake.com.

Since Jenni's chiropractor carried no insurance and moved out of the country soon after the accident (thus avoiding any legal or financial consequences), if you would like to help contribute to the Saake (pronounced like the two small words, say and key) family's massive financial needs (medical expenses alone are estimated to cost between $1- and $1.5- Million in Jenni's lifetime), please visit Jennifer Saake's Stroke Survivor GoFundMe Page. (This support information has been added in direct response to several reader requests.) The Saakes sincerely thank you for your prayers and if God prompts and equips you to send any monetary assistance as well, this is a significant added blessing.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

All About Voice

I'm working my way through a month of photo thankfulness posts. Today I actually want to share a video pertaining to vocal progress in stroke recovery (if it takes a moment to load, you may need to refresh/reload your page or go read the rest of this post then scroll back up here to watch or catch it on YouTube) Feel free to compare this to my 18 month singing video too. (And here are some of the mouth/jaw/tongue exercises I did to help rebuild some of this!)

My voice is something I really grieved after the strokes. Yes, I could "talk" within a short time after the intubation tube was removed (about 4 or 5 days after initial events, I think), though my husband says that there was not much reason to the words I initially tried to string together, much frustration involved on both sides and a fair amount of guess work involved in deriving meaning from my "sentences". (Remember my mom "sitting on lions"? I'm thinking those first days were maybe a bit like that.)

The first time I remember realizing anything was wrong with my voice, was in the rehab hospital, after all 6 strokes and two surgeries, maybe a couple of weeks before coming home. I was talking on the phone (by then I think I was able to communicate fairly smoothly) to my family, saying evening prayers with our kids, then singing the Bible verse we always sing together before they head to bed. Not only did my voice hesitate over many of the words, but I realized how flat and unmovable my range, tone and inflections were. 

I don't know if my husband actually muted the phone for a moment so they didn't have to hear my struggle (he says he did not) or if it was just my hearing struggle and new dis-ease on the telephone, but I could not hear my family at all for the length of that song and my heart BROKE in that instant to realize yet another loss! I had quite a nice voice before stroke, had always sung in choirs since childhood, even in vocal competitions by high school, and now my voice had deserted me. (We later learned, though throat scoping and imaging, that my left vocal chord was paralyzed, and by the time I was scoped, significantly atrophied as well, and the right side weekend.)

Added to all of this, two thing music-related that I also grieved loss, were related to my hands. I used to be a "first-chair" floutist (flute player). I haven't even tried my flute in over a year now, but last I tried I had neither the breath/lung control to make or sustain much sound, nor the left hand dexterity to properly play the notes. (Originally I did not even have the left hand/arm strength to hold the instrument up into position, so just being unable to properly control keys was big progress!)

The other issue was Sign Language. I had been taken 2 years in high school and up through the very most advanced class offered in college, so I was moderately fluent in the language before. After strokes, when I discovered a tube in my throat and could not talk, I desperately tried to Sign yet no one around me knew the language, plus I had only a semi-working right hand, so 2-handed Signs were impossible and even one handed Signs were clumsy as the right hand was less impacted, but still somewhat effected by the strokes.

How this related to music is that I used to always Sign when I sung, initially as a challenge to myself to train speed, accuracy and thinking in Sign immediately, as I was first learning to interpret. Eventually this became a physical extension of praise to God when singing in church. I was often told by others how much it blessed their own worship experience to watch my graceful illustration of the words. To realize this was no longer an option was devastating!

My therapists wanted me to keep trying to Sign and sing together, those first few years, as part of brain training as well as speech and physical therapy, but the disjointed effort was highly discouraging.  To realize, last Christmas, that while I still retain ability to make the Signs for a fairly large vocabulary, I have lost the ability to read more than a sparse handful of words from this beautiful language, to understand much of anything "said" to me (thank you weird aphasia symptom!) was another horrid discovery!

Only this past Sunday did I feel confident enough to start actively Signing during church singing again, on a large enough scale to draw much notice (I have carefully done small Signs in  my lap for all these years). I have had to adapt many signs to fit my current physical capabilities, and I'm not sure how well they would actually be usable by the deaf community. But I know I have blessed at least two people and myself (and I like to think this has blessed God as well) in this undertaking.

While my voice is still no where near where I want it to be again, I try to "sing" here at home, pretty much every day. I think I have regained the vocal strength and range that I have because of God's grace, first and foremost, but also because I keep pushing the envelope, fighting to reclaim what was lost in this area.

Recently, a friend (who I have only known this year, so never pre-stroke nor early recovery) told me her daughter loved to hear me talk, could "listen to me all day." I was so startled! When I expressed my surprise, she said, "You have got to be kidding. I feel the same way my daughter does!" Apparently my voice is interesting and has the qualities of a great verbal story teller now. Who knew? Actually, even though I didn't realize how badly I needed that encouragement until after my heart had already grasp at the blessing, God knew that was exactly what I needed to hear after these years of loathing my voice!!! They like how I articulate each sound, and to this I give credit and thanks to both God and to my ST (speech therapist), Rachel - those hours and exercises apparently paid off! :D (But please don't ask me to talk after chewing ice nor eating ice cream, as my mouth still grows much to numb to even hope to speak understandably!!)

Let my also add a joyful P.S. that Mom "graduated" from physical therapy yesterday, got a certificate and everything! (I never "graduated" but was simply "released" on the promise that I continue specific physical activities, on a consistent basis, for the rest of my life!) We will both continue to attend water aerobics twice a week. She is currently petitioning her insurance to try to convince them to continue paying her monthly gym membership fee that they are planning to drop at the end of next month.

1 comment: