::: 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.