I am losing words, although I am not losing concepts. I hope that I am not losing concepts. If I am losing concepts, I am not aware of it. If I am losing concepts, how would I know?The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury
As my faithful reader knows, on November 29, 2021, my life changed in an irreversible and disastrous way. I had a stroke. In fact, I had two strokes, because what started as an ischemic stroke, ended up as a hemorrhagic stroke. My sister tells me that I did not die, but I was close to death, so close that I feel as if died. There was a period of time when I had nothing happening in my brain—no thoughts, no dreams, no synapses triggering, nothing happening—I was, in short, brain dead.
But the doctors kept me alive.
I entered a rehabilitation clinic for three weeks, and they focused on physical and occupational therapies. I learned that physical therapy concentrated on mobility and occupational therapy focused on everyday activities. In short, my feet and my hands. They also have me worked with a speech pathologist, but that wasn’t their focus. In three weeks, I only remember three or four sessions with her. I suffered from a speech impediment all my life—people were asking me where I’m from or what accent do they hear—but the stroke gave me an excuse. For the first time in my life, I had a reason I “talk funny.”
After the rehabilitation clinic, I returned to my apartment. My sister Roni stayed with me until the end of January, and then I was alone. I walked to my mailbox to check the mail, and I made my medical and physical therapy appointments, but other than that, I never left my apartment. I have groceries delivered. I think I went a bit mad. I know I did. I was mad in both definitions of the word. I was mad that this was happening—woe with me—and I was mad as slang for insane. I lay in bed too afraid to sleep, because you don’t dream after a stroke, and that makes sleep feel risky, even deadly.
But the worst of it was still coming, or worst to me: I lost the ability to write.
I lost the ability to read. I knew the words on the page, but when I tried to wiggle what they were telling me, I failed. And that converted to writing. I sit at my computer and boot up my writing software, but nothing came. I sat at my computer for an hour or two, but my word count added only twenty, thirty, or forty words. I knew what I wanted to say, I could see the words in my mind, but I could not type them.
After months of this—the best part of a year—I decided to analyze the problem: Why can’t I write? Spelling was a big part of it, but this was something worst than forgetting the correct spelling. I could hear the word in my brain, but I had no clue how to form the letters. I didn’t even know how to start the word. Before the stroke, when I didn’t know the spelling of a word, I made the best guess with the intention to fix it in the rewrite. But now the best guess spelled nonsense. And it wasn’t just uncommon words that I had trouble with, but common, everyday words.
Another problem was I forget words. I would be typing on well, but then I get a word that no longer existed in my mind. Say, I’m writing Sally was_____, and the next word, which I can’t think of, is generous. I know the meaning—a giving person—but I can’t think of the word generous. I knew there is a word that means want I’m trying to say, but what it is, I hadn’t a clue. All writers, I suppose, have blanks, but the problem was, it happened to me all the time.
There were other problems, but these problems as the two biggest ones. The solutions for both were practice, practice, practice. I kept reading the same short story over and over again, twenty or thirty times, maybe more times, and with each reading, I understood more of the story. If it worked with reading, perhaps it works for writing.
And it did work!
I am not out of it—perhaps I will never be out of it, totally—but now I am writing what I intend to write.
Do I have any readers left? I know some people following me on the blog and my Facebook page before this event, but how many of them survived this crisis? I have two minds about this question. On the one hand, every writer wants to be read, understood, and discussed. So of course I want my readers to be out there on the internet, eagerly waiting for my posts. But on the other hand, it’s too much hope for, and for my part, I don’t care. My job is writing. So if I have readers out there, I make you a promise: I am going to continue to write, and I will do the best job that I can.