AROUND THE KITCHEN TABLE
By Donald Ward
Aug. 13 marked the fourth anniversary of Colleen’s aneurysm. We
were told that things would cease to improve after two years, but nobody
told Colleen that. She is still making slow but daily progress in the
physical and mental mechanisms that were affected by the stroke.
She walks with a cane still, but she works out twice a week, doing strength and balance training and aerobic exercise. I used to accompany her until she learned to use the Access Transit system in Saskatoon, and now she goes by herself.
Her speech is still scattered and confusing at times, but
no matter how disjointed her speech, she can always make herself understood
eventually. And she can still dominate a conversation when she puts her
mind to it. We went out for dinner the other night and I don’t
think I said more than 10 words all evening.
Her reading is coming along as well. I remember reading
in Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, My Stroke of Insight, that following
her stroke at the age of 37, nothing could convince her that those little
squiggles on pieces of paper could actually be translated into human
speech. It seemed absolutely impossible to her at the time, but gradually,
as she healed, she learned to read again.
Colleen is going through the same process. She says she
but she can find her way around a menu in a restaurant, and she’s
been looking things up in the telephone book. She can navigate a computer
screen as well. I ask her to consider how long it took her to learn to
read in the first place, and that put things in perspective for her.
One thing that strikes me as particularly interesting is
that she is remembering things about the stroke itself. She speaks of
it as if she were an observer. When she was put into an induced coma
to prevent her from getting excited and re-rupturing the blood vessel
in her brain, we naturally assumed she was right out of it, but now she
says she was aware of all of us in the room with her — all of us
being our daughters Brigid and Caitlin, myself, and a dear friend, Sarah,
who passed herself off as my third daughter.
We were told not to touch her, not to excite her in any
way. But now she says that she saw me looking down on her. She saw us
all mingling round the gurney where she lay unconscious. She saw the
nurses adjusting tubes and straps, and the doctors coming in to consult — all
of this with her eyes firmly closed.
I believe her, for the reading I’ve done trying to understand what’s
been happening inside my wife’s head shows clearly that we don’t
see with our eyes. We see with our brains. Our eyes are simply the entrance
to the brain. Sightless people are learning to see through tiny cameras
that are attached to electrodes on their tongues, or on their backs.
It’s all quite marvellous.
Buy equally marvellous, I think, are some of the other
things Colleen saw with her eyes closed: strange, ethereal creatures
holding up great weights; people floating about in a brilliant void.
She drew some of them once — she just sketched them in half a minute
and it took me some time to learn that these were creatures she had seen
in her coma. I find them unsettling, even frightening, but Colleen assures
me they radiated nothing but warmth and kindness.
The result of all this is as that Colleen is not afraid to die. In fact, she chose death, but she was sent back by a gentle voice that told her she wasn’t ready yet. Another result is that Colleen is not afraid to live, which is perhaps a greater gift.