I did my voluntary session today, as normal. I ring around some people, just to say hi and chat. I usually refer to these people as “clients”, although there is more to it than that. Over the months you get to know people, they get to know you, so they become friends. In fact, I deliberately use the word “client” to remind myself that ultimately, this is professional. If they decided they didn’t want to speak to me any more, for whatever reason, I wouldn’t have a choice but to not call them any more.

I’ve been doing this for almost a year now, and it has happened a couple of times. You can’t take it personally – one of the clients said after only a couple of calls that she would prefer to speak to a woman. Reasons can be that fickle. For the mst part, however, you build a relationship with somebody which, like any relationship, grows over time.

I had a first today. One of my clients I’ve only spoken to intermittently for the last few months. I knew she was ill, and at one stage she told me she’d had a spell in hospital. Today I phoned and was told by her husband that she’d died last week. I mean, I was very shocked. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been – the work is by definition with the elderly, this lady was in her nineties, plus I’d known she’d been unwell.

But I’m afraid I did find it quite shocking. I remember saying how sorry I was to hear that. I used to really enjoy speaking to the client and told the husband so. But it is only really now, after the news has had a few hours to sink in, that there was other stuff I could and should have said. The obvious thing should have been to ask the husband how he was holding up. I mean, he must be a similar age, I suppose, and they had probably been married for many years.

I did at least tell the Age UK woman all about this, so hopefully she will have had the presence of mind to call the guy at some point, but I know only too well how stretched the charities are. At the very least I must learn from this.

Lost for Words

I might have talked of this in the past. Way back in the years before the stroke I used to love going over to France and just soaking up the atmosphere. I loved the culture, the language…

Since the stroke I have very much gone into my shell. Of course, travelling there now presents new problems, and certainly, in the early days, my wife was very keen on not going abroad, in case anything happened to me whilst we were over there.

I’ve come out of my shell again somewhat, in the time since the stroke. Social Media is great for allowing people to keep in touch with each other, remotely. I started off by joining a group of French ex-pats living in London. They talk about “London” and “British” things, which I know only too well, but they talk in French. I’ve kind-of expanded to follow some groups based in the geographic areas that I know best – Normandy and Brittany. Obviously these groups are based in France so are, by definition, French-language.

I do have a fair grasp of the French language, but I’m not perfect. I have French friends who are professors of English, who will readily correct everything I say (if I ask them)! But it occurs to me that one of the effects of stroke must be pretty similar. Certainly sometimes, there is something I wish to say in French. I can say it in English but I am constrained to say it in French, and I don’t know how to do that. So I try to think of another combination of different words, which has the same approximate meaning. If I’m on the ball, I can think of such a formula – it is like a key turning in a lock. Otherwise, I have to resign myself to not saying anything, very frustrating, because I just don’t have the words.

The reason I mention stroke is because one of the possible effects is on speech, and is called aphasia. Aphasia is a very over-arching term. If you think about the process, something comes in, gets detected and processed by the brain, which then formulates a response and sends it out via the muth. Aphasia is a loose term covering all the parts of this process. I’ve seen this most regularly in that very last step – getting the mouth to say the desired thing – but that is just my personal experience. Despite the words not coming out, there is perfect comprehension. I was lucky – I have experienced a slowdown, but in my best Spinal Tap analogy, I have gone from 100% to 99%. I would be impressed if you could notice it, most of the time, even my wife can’t, although I know I’m not as quick, certainly, as before. It is just finding the correct word – although there are many words to choose from, there is normally one one which evokes exactly the right meaning – must be very frustrating when you can’t, to the point of just giving up. I saw that in my dad, who had dementia, although, unfortunately I wasn’t switched-on enough to recognise it at the time.

I don’t know. A lot of the time we struggle to describe the effects of stroke to people who have no experience of what it’s like. I mean, that’s got to be a good thing, right? That most people can go through life without that experience? But maybe if you ever tried to learn a foreign language, this gives an idea?