Enough about my stroke….how about I talk about my dog, Annabelle Blanche!

My dog, Annabelle Blanche, is such a joy to me! I got her when I was 23. There was a lot going on in my life. I was in my second year of graduate school, taking 18 hours of classes. I was not only taking courses for Social Work, but also I was doing a second master degree for Public Health.  On Monday and Friday I went to Tuscaloosa, an hour away from Birmingham, to take my classes for Social Work. I had a part time job, waiting tables at a BBQ joint. I also had a very active social life. (Side note: Okay, so I really went out to the bars to drink a lot.)  Having a dog on top of everything else was hard. I even asked the breeder if I could give her back…she said no! I can’t imagine my life without her now.

Annabelle Blanche is a Boston terrier, but she isn’t my first Boston terrier. My family has had various Boston terrier’s my whole life. My first Boston was Brutus. Actually, Brutus was my parent’s dog and he was around before I arrived. One of my first words was “sit” because I thought that was Brutus name. Our next dog was Bandit. Whenever the mail guy put the mail into the slot on the door, Bandit would tear the mail. One of my Father’s contracts for a job had Bandit’s bite marks on it. Next was Blossom, our first girl dog. She had a sire named Bama Braves Bobbin and the two gave birth to Brutus II and Buster. Of course, the two dogs went to people in my family. Later in life, my father had Beatrice. He called her Bea. Now the only other Boston terrier in the family is Babs, my aunt’s dog. She is a lot like Annabelle Blanche, just smaller.

I’ve always had a dog in my life, but Annabelle Blanche is the best dog! She sleeps under the covers, is always ready for you to throw the ball to her, and she likes for me to throw a Frisbee in the park. The best part is that whenever I am on the couch, she will snuggle up next to me, her face against my face. I really do love her. 

 PS-because my Mama is going to ask: This post took 2 hours. It was an hour and half last night to compose, 15 minutes at speech therapy today, and then 15 minutes to edit based on what I wrote in speech therapy!



My latest prognosis

I have been going to speech therapy twice a week. Julia (my speech therepist) has updated me on my progress. Clearly, my speaking and writing is getting better. However, I still have more to do, especially with my writing and explaining abstract concepts. Julia has been working with me to make my speaking and writing more fluent.

Over time, my diagnosis has changed. I used to have Brocca’s aphasia. Now, I have anomic aphasia. The dictionary says: “this term is applied to persons who are left with a persistent inability to supply the words for the very things they want to talk about-particularly the significant nouns and verbs. As a result their speech, while fluent in grammatical form and output is full of vague circumlocutions and expressions of frustration. They understand speech well, and in most cases, read adequately. Difficulty finding words is as evident in writing as in speech.”

Basically I think this means I still have trouble saying what it is I want to say (vague circumlocutions) and that some of the stuff that I do say, isn’t exactly right (expressions of frustration). I also still have trouble with grammar in both speaking and writing. Overall, my prognosis is that I now have anomic aphasia which is better form of aphasia than me having Brocca’s aphasia. 

Aphasia is hard

I have been thinking a lot about my aphasia this past month. On Friday night, I went to a fundraiser for Washington Improv Theater. I was talking with an acquaintance about my stroke. He was excited because I have no paralysis. I told him that it’s good being back at work, but I still have trouble writing. We discussed how hard it is for me with emailing people. That is a lot of what it is that I do in my position at work. I was explaining to him that last week I was looking at some of the emails I wrote to people before I had aphasia. They were funny, I took care of what I was supposed to take of, and very rarely did I have trouble explaining things in the email. Now that I have aphasia, the messages that I write are very short. I have two masters and yet, it’s like I’m writing like a fifth grader. He was telling me that it must be very hard and that it would give him a lot of frustration if he couldn’t write. All I could say was that it is hard and I do have frustration with writing.

But it’s not just writing and emailing people at work. I’m having trouble talking to people as well. On Saturday I was marketing Team Z at Half Marathon. I was there from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the packet pick-up. Thank god my friend and marketing person’s Abe was there as well. There is no way I could have done it without him. I would start to talk to a person about Team Z. But inevitably, I would get to place where I would have to go all around the subject at hand instead of just saying what it was I was talking about. I would then say “Abe, tell us more about” whatever it was we were discussing. I am sure that the person I was talking to did not know that I was having trouble…but I know.

It’s not just that I have aphasia. It’s the fact that I have trouble talking to people and writing to people. Before having aphasia I was on an improv team, I could talk to anyone, and I was confident when I was talking to people on stage. But now, I know that I am having trouble talking and writing. It is so very frustrating to me. Will I ever be like I was pre-stroke? Will I ever be normal?

PS: I was talking with my Mom tonight and she asked me how long it took for me to write this essay. I took an hour to write two paragraphs and then I sent it to Julia, my speech therapist. We discussed this piece in one session and then I went back to try the essay again. Overall, this piece took about 2 to 3 hours. I’m actually very proud of it!

So that happened….

Hello all!  This is Alaina. People have been asking how I’m doing. I thought I would let you know on the blog. 

It’s been 3 months and 2 weeks since I have my stroke. I had an internal carotid artery dissection. You can find a link here. Here is a text box.

I go to speech therapy….a lot.  Julia is my speech therapist. I’m doing a lot better speaking. I still get caught up in the abstract. It takes a while for me to have “stories”.  I also have troubles with pronouns and prepositions. It’s the “little” verbs that get me as well. I talk all around the words for put, or get, or reach.

I still have longer to go writing. This is part of the reason why I’m writing the blog post. Just writing this blog post stinks because there is so much more I want to say, but it’s hard for me to explain what is in my head. Julia and I took three days to write this post….seriously….THREE DAYS.

November totally sucked…I definitely had more bad days than good days. In December, I’m aiming for more good days than bad days.  Right now, it’s not going so well…mainly because I realized that writing is really hard for me.  But we all know me, once I know what the obstacles are; I know I will want to defeat it!  

At least the speaking is getting better! Three months ago I couldn’t tell people about the picture below.  I kept saying it was “overflowing”. And I said a lot of “good Lords”, because I couldn’t tell Julia the story. Last week, I did much better.


September 6, 2011: So, um….we’ll start with this….gracious.  The overflow right there is overflowing. And they got…not overflowing, it’s ummm flowing…that works.  Cookies, good Lord, yes. And this is falling, falling on them right now.  And this one is not doing anything.

December 5, 2011: So I would imagine it’s a wife and a mother and she is doing the dishes, and the sink is overflowing. She is washing a plate. There are two teacups and another plate on the counter. Outside it is sunny…umm…there is a boy and a girl. Ummm, the boy is on the stool and he is going for, ummm, what is it? Cause he’s giving one to the girl. He’s reaching! He’s reaching for the cookie jar. He’s gonna give the cookie to the girl and I would imagine that he is gonna keep one for himself. The stool is falling backwards.

I miss work. Unfortunately, it’s taking a lot longer than I thought to go back. Right now, I have no idea when I will go back. There are a lot of different things that need to be taken care of before I go back to work. At least I got my parking pass when I went to have lunch at my job last week.

Other than speech therapy, I am doing other activities…like running and dating. I’ve signed up for a ½ marathon in March. I’m not sure yet if I will race or walk. For now, I will just take it very, very slow. I’m also on OkCupid. For those of you not in the know, it’s a dating website. It’s a bit like speech therapy…I am practicing communication by emailing and instant messaging people. It’s help that the guys send emails and instant messaging back to me. For the few guys that I’ve been on a date with, I usually tell them about the stroke…after we’ve discussed Alabama’s football and my dog, Annabelle Blanche. So far, no one has run away.

Lastly, for those of you in Alabama for Christmas, I will also be in Alabama for Christmas. I hope everyone has a nice holiday.

“Remarkable Improvement”

::: a blog post by Theresa Henton Prejean (Alaina’s longest bestie!) :::

I have two words to describe my recent trip to see Alaina: remarkable improvement.

When I last saw her, she was just one week post-stroke. Upon my return trip on Tuesday, October 18 – about 8 weeks post-stroke – I couldn’t believe the dramatic improvement in her speech and communication skills. We had a wonderful week together and it was fun to have her all to myself this time. I accompanied her to her one-hour speech therapy appointment every day and I was surprised at how draining those sessions were–even for me! Alaina is in wonderful hands with her speech therapist, Julia Ball.

On Day 1 of my visit, Alaina and Julia did some worksheets reviewing words that have several meanings. Alaina had to form a sentence using the word in the correct context, and that was when I realized how fun speech therapy could be! We had some good belly laughs in that session and I was struck (again) by how well Alaina is taking all of this – she really can laugh at herself! Which is good, because she comes up with some hilarious word choices! On Wednesday and Thursday, Julia incorporated some of Alaina’s work from HRSA into the speech therapy sessions. On Wednesday, we spent the whole hour with Alaina giving us her job description in plain speak. It was enlightening because, as much as we’ve talked about her job before she had a stroke, I never understood it this well! It also reminded all of us – and perhaps most importantly it reminded Alaina – of just how important her work is to the lives of newborn babies and their parents.

On Thursday, Julia brought in an article that pertained to Alaina’s job and asked Alaina to read a portion of it and summarize. The article she chose was perfect because it was recent and very relevant to what Alaina had been working on at her job. Alaina was very excited to see it. She read through the document silently and highlighted a few lines. When Julia asked her if it made sense Alaina replied, “Yes, I want to keep going!” That made me laugh because it didn’t look like much of a nail-biter to me but you could see that glint in Alaina’s eyes that said, ‘Not only do I get it, but I care about this stuff!’

Friday was our favorite day of speech therapy. Julia asked another aphasia patient to come in and meet with us so that he and Alaina could have the benefit of talking with one another. “J” is also 32 years old, and though he didn’t have a stroke (he had a brain injury), both he and Alaina have the side effect of aphasia.They shared their stories and I have to say, as an observer, it was a very surreal and profound experience. I teared up more than once and was really grateful that I got to sit in on this. “J” is very sweet and likeable and you could see the relief in his and Alaina’s faces when one would mention something that’s been hard or frustrating and the other would nod in agreement. I thought, “This guy really does know how Alaina has been feeling, better than any of us.” That’s why Julia coordinated their meeting and it’s something they will continue to do as part of both of their speech therapies.

There were three points that Julia made this week that I found helpful:

1) She reminded us that Alaina doesn’t have a “mental” problem; she has a communication problem. I know this has all been explained before but I appreciated hearing it from her mouth. Everything that was in Alaina’s brain before her strokes is still there. Aphasia only affects the communication part of the brain (I hope that’s right)…and that’s what Alaina is re-learning in speech therapy.

2) She reminded us that communication takes a lot more of Alaina’s energy now than it did pre-stroke. Before the stroke, she didn’t have to think about choosing, forming and saying the right words so she had all this surplus energy to do other things with (as we all saw). Now, it’s no wonder she is pooped at the end of the day because her waking hours are a complete mental workout.

3) She said that even if Alaina sat on her couch all day, the aphasia would improve at least some on its own. But the huge leaps of improvements that Alaina has made in such a short time are due to how hard to she is working.

By no means was speech therapy the only thing we did all week. We had dinner with someone different every night and my love for Alaina’s friends just continues to grow! I’m so grateful (and I know I speak for Alaina’s family when I say this) for the continued care, attention, and invites Alaina is receiving. Please keep them coming! Those were some of my parting words to her this morning when she dropped me off at the airport (yes, she is continuing to drive and I believe she is safer than any DC cab driver)…I said, “Keep taking your friends up on their invitations!” Not only is it good practice for her speech and communication skills but someone as social as Alaina needs the interaction. The balance is that she needs rest too so sometimes she might just do more listening in a conversation but she is always grateful for company! I’d be remiss if I didn’t say thank you for the meals that continue to flow into her apartment. What a blessing these are and what great cooks y’all are!

I did want to mention too that we went for Alaina’s weekly appointment at the Coumadin Clinic on Wednesday and that was a frustrating morning. Alaina was really hoping her number would be between 2-3 but it was at a wretched 1.9 … so this means those twice a day stomach shots have to continue until they get the coumadin dosing correct. This was very frustrating for Alaina–understandably so–but she shook it off pretty quickly, which always impresses me. Let’s all pray that at least this piece of the puzzle can be sorted out sooner rather than later so Alaina will have one less thing to worry about. Though I should say that she is excellent about taking her medications and getting herself to all her appointments on time. It’s a lot to keep up with but she is doing terrific.

A note on texting: Alaina is doing more of it but each text takes much longer than it used to. She asked me to proof most of the texts she sent while I was there and the corrections I made were really minor, as in “there” to “their”, plural to singular, etc. I am very encouraged by how well she is reading, writing, texting and speaking. (She’s not done much typing I don’t think.) She says she still has a long way to go but I think she’s being modest…she is not quite where she was pre-stroke but she is definitely in better shape than she was 8 weeks ago. If this pace keeps up (and I’m sure it will) I can’t wait to see what the next 8 weeks will bring!

I could go on and on about how great of a week we had but what I will take away most is how much we laughed and giggled. In many ways, it felt like I was just visiting the friend I’ve known the longest (30 years to be exact) and stroke or no stroke, that will always be a gift to me.

Thank you and therapy

I wanted to say “Thank You” for all your support, prayers, guidance, and everything else you have done for me over the past 6 weeks. I mean it, you guys are all so freaking generous!

As most of you know, I had a stoke 6 weeks ago. No stroke is good, but as a healthy 32 year old, I was certainly shocked that it happened to me. I had just done the Luray Tri 2 weeks earlier. For now, the doctors do not know what happened. Maybe it was just my time to have a stoke…who knows? I am so grateful that I do not have any physical disabilities. Alas, my brain didn’t do as well. I have aphasia. For me, it’s the speaking and writing that are the most difficult. Julie (my speech therapist) is helping me write to you all now. It’s my therapy today.

This is a long and slow recovery, but I will be back.

FYI-for the Federal folks, because of this long and slow recovery, I have no more sick or annual leave days left. If you have any extra hours or days that you would be willing to donate to me that would awesome. I would be so grateful. You can call Stefanie Coulter at 301.443.0136 or Stefanie.Coulter@hrsa.hhs.gov for information.


Five weeks later!

I got to see Alaina this weekend! She was in the greatest spirits … Despite it being before noon on a Saturday!

Some news:
1. Doctors have taken her off the stomach shots.
2. Marlene feels super comfortable with Alaina driving her around in the city and even up to Baltimore, with supervision for now. Marlene said, it was a lot safer than alaina trying to explain left/right/left lane, etc from the passenger seat in the heart of DC.
3. Alaina’s going for walks up to two miles by herself to keep her activity level up, but at a healthy pace.
4. Lots of folks have contributed to the “dinner schedule” and have been feeding Alaina and Marlene well! Big thanks there!

Alaina and her mom drove up to Baltimore to participate in a great community service project called Operation Oliver. They were joined by members of the Harris-McDonald family, as well as myself. It was a four hour cleanup project of one of the run down neighborhoods (as featured in the TV series “The Wire.”)

It was great to see her still giving back as she always has, and making it a family effort. I am happy I am now only living an hour away officially, and can spend more time with my best friend … If I can get into her schedule 😉

Alaina has made tremendous progress in five weeks and is growing her vocabulary daily. Therapists are recommending that those who interact allow her to try and tell complete series of thoughts in sentence/paragraph format. While at the community service project, I saw a camera crew walk up to her and start interviewing her. My first reaction was to casually walk up and see if she was going to need help … But she nailed it all on her own.

She continues to be a rockstar. Please continue to send great vibes her way!