Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sunday Stroke Survival: Argh! Said The Pirate!

It's always been my way to make even the most tedious things fun or funny. I mean if you can't have fun it's just hard work or just down right b-o-r-i-n-g. At other times, it has staved off fear or discomfort like with my cancer treatments. I lost all my hair, so I wore absolutely wonderful silk scarves and humongous earrings. This was my gypsy fortune teller garb. Yes, I even drew on mysterious eyebrows with a pencil and supplemented my eyelashes with falsies. It kept everyone guessing plus it kept my exterior point of view active. At the time, I was foretelling my future. I was going to live and beat cancer.

I created rhymes for cadence for my #2 daughter's rehab stretches as a child. I've even done a few ditties for my own PT exercises. If not exactly fun, it gives my mind another focus. My physical therapist now knows when I hum or use a sing-songy voice, what he's doing is hurting me. It's the way I cope and get through what has to be done. When I can no longer do this when coping with the's way too much pain.

I was ever so thankful to get past the monotone speech phase of my relearning how to talk with aphasia as you can imagine. It was a double scoop of ice cream with sprinkles kind of days when little by little I got my intonations back. I still don't have all of them back, but I can get my point across. It's part of who I am and how I communicate. Whether I physically don exterior costumes or not, my attitude has always been a big part of my voice of who I am.  I can drip sarcasm with a roll of my eyes, cut someone to ribbons with insults and have them believe them as compliments until after I'm long gone, and I can give you a big part of me and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's true. And, all it takes is the way I express myself with words and what you perceive on a nonverbal level. For someone with aphasia, this kind of "play acting" is important as communication skills also because the words are not always there. Anything that breaks you out of the rut and frustration of trying to communicate with others is a very useful tool.

 So is it any wonder that I would use a pirate garb complete with a parrot for speech therapy?  In the beginning, regaining my ability to speak was mostly repetition. It was seeing the word in my mind, moving my mouth into the correct positions to form the sounds, and putting enough breath behind it to actually have a sound form as I repeated what my speech therapist wanted me to. Granted, in the beginning, the words didn't come out as they should have. In fact, sometimes they still don't.

Can you guess why the pirate garb? What does a parrot do? They repeat what is heard. They have to hear it several times to get it right also. I guess, I could have taped a scratched, vinyl record to my chest, but that didn't seem as much fun. Besides, first I'd have to explain what a vinyl record was to some. Nope, no fun at all. But a pirate? "Argh! Matey, walk the plank!" That's fun. The parrot squawks, "Walk the plank. Walk the plank."

I had typed in that this was my second speech therapist, but I deleted that. My speech therapy team gets confusing when I try numbering them. My first speech therapist was just after my stroke and is again my speech therapist (so she's 1st and 4th), my second speech therapist was in the rehab hospital, and that makes the therapist I'm speaking of was my 3rd? Right? I dunno.

Priceless, was the look on my speech therapist's face when I showed up for one of my appointments with her. Silk scarf wrapped around my head, heavy hoop earrings, a patch over one eye, and a parrot pinned to my affected shoulder. The fact that she usual worked with children was beside the fact. 
I had just regained some of my shoulder movement back too. Heck, I was proud of it and milked it for all it was worth. I was even showing off. Of course, it wasn't a real parrot. It was one of my youngest daughter's TY beanie parrot. My husband had pinned the feet and tail to my vest. When I moved my shoulder up and down, the wings flapped out up and down. Yes, he (my hubby) was my greatest partner in fun, life, and my biggest cheerleader. If there was anything we could do to bring out a smile in others, he was for it.

Anyhow, the  therapist had that question if her eyes...WTH? You know the look I'm talking about. So I bounced my shoulder up and down saying "repeat, repeat." Although it came out more like "ripet, ripet" at the time. Finally, she got it. I tried the "Awck" sound for parrot speech, but it truly got garbled and lost in translation, and monotone. But hey, I should get brownie points for trying, right?

We had done the repetitive speech modules so many times I was looking for a fun way to breathe life into it. Actions and pictures speak much louder than words especially for the aphasic. You guessed it, I was bored repeating the list of words every week. I had to figure out a way to make it a fun thing to do. The shock value alone on my therapist's face helped bolster me for another couple of weeks of repetition work. After that, when I got bored and needed a jolt to continue all I had to say was "parrot" as a cue for her to change up my therapy. I wasn't really surprised to see that she found a parrot puppet to work with the kids. I'm happy to share. Especially when it helped me also.

Therefore, I can love others!
Woah! That sounded a bit self-serving, didn't it? Yeppers, it's true. I love myself. Therefore, I can love others. I help myself. Therefore, I can help others. But I do what is necessary to keep myself motivated. This is a in it for the long haul situation. That's what stroke recovery is for all but 10% of us survivors. We have to keep going if we want to get any measure of recovery. We have to depend on ourselves to keep egging us forward to achieve our success stories no matter how great or small.

Just to make myself clear. This is not to say that repetition speech training is bad. It's actually a good thing. I talk almost normal at times because of it. It may just be my Abby Normal side raising its head, but why not instill fun into the mundane. Yes, learning to speak again IS hard work, but nobody says it can't be fun also. But for me, if I can't bring therapists kicking and screaming to think outside the box, I'll do it with laughter. It does do me any harm either.

Nothing is impossible.


  1. {{{{hugs}}}} this parrot says. ;-) Keep at it, Jo! Whatever it takes.

  2. Hi Jo - it's great your experiences are helping the speech therapist with her ideas for the kids she guides and encourages .. .and we all enjoy to learn by playing ... great idea .. cheers Hilary

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