Hard Work & Magic

A few nights ago TC awoke in the middle of the night in a frantic confusion. He jumped out of bed in search of a piece of paper and a pen as I tried to get him to explain exactly what was going on.

“The words!” he said, “The words are coming back!”

He proceeded to explain the details of the dream from which he had just awoken. The words, he claimed, were falling from the sky and lining up on top of each other. People’s names (which he greatly struggles to recall) suddenly flooded back to his consciousness. Fearful of losing the words he had just regained, he tried writing everything down as quickly as he could.

This five minute episode was extremely confusing to me. Had he just experienced a strange and vivid dream? Were there actual words that had appeared to him? I wasn’t quite sure what to make of TC’s story. I thought perhaps he had had a seizure in the middle of the night since this is one of the many things we’ve been warned of. In the morning I asked him to explain to me again what had happened during the night. Although TC himself wasn’t clear about what had transpired, he was able to suddenly tell me the names of two of our dearest friends, names he had not mentioned until now.

In the last week TC’s language has improved drastically. He will spontaneously come up with sentences like, “I’m concerned about Jack’s so-and-so,” or,”Where is the Barefoot Contessa cookbook? I’d like to make soup for dinner.”

Every time he perfectly utters a phrase like this, my eyebrows jump to the top of my forehead. Did he really just say what I think he said? My jaw hangs open as I stare at him in awed stupor.

“What’s wrong?” he’ll ask, and then immediately brush off the gushing compliments I pay his speech. “It’s no big deal,” he claims.

No big deal. Sure. While I understand his resistance to taking credit for what appears to be the magical interworkings of a healing brain, there is another very significant component at play here: hard work.

Last week we made the decision to enroll Jack at daycare. It wasn’t an option we thought would be feasible before, but everyone’s generosity has allowed us the gift of options. Jack desperately needed the opportunity to socialize with other children in a more structured setting than we were providing. I was also beginning to recognize that having Jack at home was limiting the time I could devote to helping TC work on his speech. All of the advice I have received from other aphasia caregivers is that I had better be working 2-4 hours a day at home with TC in addition to the speech therapy he receives twice a week at the hospital.

So far, this was one of the best decisions we have ever made. Jack loves daycare – so much, in fact, that he refuses to leave at the end of the day. Leaving my own bruised mommy ego aside, I take this as a good sign.

TC and I are now fully committed to a project we call “Brain School.” Once a teacher, always a teacher, it would appear. After consulting with another educator, I realized that TC and I needed to get serious about identifying precisely which skills he needs to work on and create a tangible way to assess his progress. On Day 1 of Brain School we sat down and analyzed his primary goal: to return to work. In dissecting the various components of his job, we were able to determine exactly which skills to begin working on and which ones we needed to gradually work toward. We documented his current level of ability by videotaping and scoring his work. For a data driven guy like TC, this was an incredibly motivating exercise. It also allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of exactly what it is that TC does. Although he has tried to explain it on many occasions, the complexity of his work often confounds people like myself, those who are unfamiliar with the energy sector.

Our home has become the most remarkable classroom. Anchor charts now line the walls of our sun room. I create homework for TC on the days I can’t be there to work with him. Strewn about our table are flashcards, whiteboards, and markers. The “Magic Room,” as we call it, may very well become the location of our greatest shared accomplishments. Wearing the dual hats of “wife” and “teacher” is not without its complications. I have to choose my words very carefully in order not to sound patronizing or bossy (I know what you’re thinking. Abby? Bossy? Ha.) I have to remain upbeat when the work we do becomes challenging or frustrating. I have to respect his wishes not to participate in some activities (although, I have to say, he has been a model student up to this point).

TC wants nothing more than to return to his job as an energy analyst. His drive and determination are unsurprising to those who know him well. I want nothing more than to see my best friend and spouse maximize his greatest potential in life. I believe wholeheartedly in TC’s ability to make a nearly full recovery and return to his job. I am grateful that he trusts my instincts and classroom experience to help guide him there. A little bit of magic and a lot of hard work will continue to fuel his incredible recovery.

New routine: start the day with a workout to help fire up and activate the brain. TC can’t get enough of the gym these days!

View from the Magic Room

Being an energy analyst ain’t easy! This exercise helped us identify the many skill sets associated with TC’s job.

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