A Strike out of the Blue

Dublin’s 40 shades of green are swiftly and softy warming to myriad shades of mellowness; the virigina creeper that clings to and clambers up dozens of the city’s elegant buildings morphs at one end from saffron yellow to chilli red at the other. We’re having an indian summer, the Irish say, and they laugh, ‘we’ll take all the summer we can get’.

I am here because Mum has had a stroke. Each day I drive through this warm city wallowing in the kaleidoscope of mid season tones, I notice its coat of many colours has changed again, subtly, but changed; the green less acid, the yellow deeper, the red burnished.

So many emotions flow. Deep sadness that mum is ill. Determination that we get her well. Fury, indignation, outrage that one monster sickness should barge its way in just as another steps aside. Depression had ranted, nagged, niggled for almost two years. Was the interior blow to her brain too big to give depression the space to stay. I would like to think as much. But the same strike (I did not know where the word, in its context of cerebrovascular health came from: a strike out of the blue; a stroke) has stolen so much.

Mum sits obediently by her bed in the rehab ward when I arrive. Only when I get there can she move with greater independence, our arms linked. Heads bowed to gossip and whisper and laugh. She is not allowed to walk without help – but she can walk. To all intents and purposes she looks well, pale and thin certainly, but less ill than many of the other patients in this rehab facility for people whose brains have been broken by trauma. Many are wheel chair bound, some cannot articulate to speak, a few battle to eat and swallow safely.

Mum’s stroke has manifested with an extraordinary subtlety and exquisite cruelty; she can no longer read. Not because she cannot see – though her vision is impaired post stroke – but because the injury has blown a hole, the consultant said, in the bit of her brain that correlates to language and reading. And memory. Yesterday he said, ‘she will not read as well again. Ever’. It’s the first time I’ve been grateful for mum’s short term memory loss; I hope by today she has forgotten what he said – with necessary, professional terseness, none of his words dressed up to look less bald.

Words, books, have always been mum’s salvation and especially as a buffer to the worst days of a depression. She was able to step into somebody’s else’s story when her own became too difficult to bear. When she just had to put it down for a bit.

But I will not believe mum won’t’ read again. I have watched her improvement over ten days; her quickening of letter recognition, and once the letters are strung together her swift retrieval of the pattern’s attendant word. And she can – bizarrely – still write, beautifully.

I have to be able to read again, she says, imploring.

The doctor says she won’t.

I want to weep. But I set my jaw and I tell mum, we can fashion crutches, we can set up props, we will have you reading again, perhaps not as fast, perhaps not War and Peace, but reading so that you can lose yourself happily when you need to.

Mum smiles at me and then she gestures to the lady in the bed next to her, who can read but who cannot speak or walk, ‘I feel so sorry for that lady, whose name I cannot remember’.

And I gaze at mum, stoic, outward looking, courteous, kind and I think, ‘this is my well mum’.

This is my well-sick mum.

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12 Responses to “A Strike out of the Blue”

  1. Was Living Down Under Says:

    I’m not even sure what to say – but couldn’t not say anything. I hope it does all come together and that the doctors are wrong! Hugs to you – caring for an elderly parent is never easy – especially if home is far away.

  2. Ad dy Says:

    I am so sorry to hear this. Medicine is advancing all the time and they can do so much these days that they couldn’t a lifetime ago. I pray your mum will recover soon and be able to read again. As always your write so beautifully even on a subject that is so tragic.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      thank you so much Addy, you’re right, medicine advances as such a rate, and technology, have been amazed at the apps available to support a patient with mum’s diagnosis, acquired alexia

  3. docmomma Says:

    Diane Ackerman wrote a memoir about her husband, who is also a writer and wrote books after his stroke despite all the dire prognoses. It’s titled “One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing”. I hope your mother beats the odds as well.

  4. daisyfae Says:

    So very sorry. Hoping that she will find her way to the written word again. When my Mother lost most of her eyesight, she was devastated that she could no longer read – it was her only true joy in life. We helped her set up a “books on tape” system, and she was able to check out many recordings from the library. It helped fill the void, but she preferred written words to spoken words.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      I know what you mean daisyfae, preferring the written word to spoken. i have discovered audible at amazon so mum has books to ‘read’. it’s oddly the other written words that are tricky, signs, for example, ‘what does that say?’, she’ll ask. it says, no parking. we so take it for granted that we will just absorb the written language around us.

  5. Catherine Says:

    I am also not sure what to say but couldn’t not say anything, I do hope that there is some improvement in your mum, determination is everything, I hope she is able to read soon even on a small level. Look after yourself.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      thank you Catherine, that’s really kind. i too hope she will be able to read again, even on a lesser level.

  6. Ellie Says:

    Oh no! I am so sorry to read this. I’ve read your blog for many years, how sad that you mum now has this to cope with and recover from. Do you read Kate’s blog, Needled? She writes about knitting mostly these days, but she also writes about her very serious stroke and her recovery. She is in Scotland and might be an online resource for you?? Here is a link: http://katedaviesdesigns.com/about/

    I myself had a brain tumor discovered and removed five years ago. When it comes to neurological insults, the first weeks are absolutely key in terms of recovery and restoration, and after the first weeks, the entire first year. Yes the brain is plastic and can both recover and rewire but there are limits, depending on the nature of the injury and damage. It is a sad truth that here in the US the type of treatment one receives for and after a stroke varies entirely by region. I don’t know how it is there, but if you feel your mum isn’t getting the care she needs, don’t be afraid to fight for her.

    I am profoundly and permanently physically disabled as a result of my brain tumor, but am yet living a full and rich life. It isn’t always an easy journey, but it can still be a good one.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      Ellie, thank you for a heartfelt and encouraging comment. your point about the first weeks, months, year has especially struck a chord, my gut told me that aggressive therapy early on was key. we are lucky with mum’s therapists, certainly whilst still resident in rehab. we hope to be able to sustain it as an outpatient. I am so sorry to hear of your own acquired brain injury but I am heartened by your positivity and that you are still able to lead a fulfilling life. thank you for the link too. thoughts. rm x

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