Senior Women Web
Image: Women Dancing
Image: Woman with Suitcase
Image: Women with Bicycle
Image: Women Riveters
Image: Women Archers
Image: Woman Standing

Culture & Arts button
Relationships & Going Places button
Home & Shopping button
Money & Computing button
Health, Fitness & Style button
News & Issues button

Help  |  Site Map


Page Two of Broca's Aphasia

The night nurse switched on the light. Time to go down for my MRI. But what time? Where? How to get there? Christa had taken my watch, along with my keys and wallet, but there was a large clock on the wall, showing that it was almost five o’clock in the morning. I had only slept an hour or two.

A husky young man pushed a gurney into the room as the nurse disconnected my IV. Then I awkwardly slid myself onto the gurney for the ride down to the first floor. We arrived in the MRI suite, a chilly, humming place two floors below ground level with heavy metal doors, its walls plastered with high voltage warning signs. A cheerful young woman informed me that I was about to hear noises like I never heard before. She helped me move from the gurney to a long metal tray a bit like the ones they use to load the big shells into the eighteen inch guns of a battleship. She strapped me down tight, put plugs in both my ears and encased my head firmly in some kind of helmet. Then she gave me a little rubber squeeze bulb on the end of a wire.. “If you have any problems, just squeeze this bulb, and I’ll stop the scan.”

For the next thirty minutes, in spite of the ear plugs, I was bombarded with bumps, grinds and various loud noises while my tray moved slowly in and out of a smooth white tunnel just large enough to hold my shivering body. I was afraid to squeeze the little bulb for fear that it would fire me out of the tunnel like the man fired from a cannon in the circus or eject me like the pilot of a jet fighter. I could just see the top of the woman’s head in a kind of rear-view mirror in my headgear. She was sitting inside a sound-proof control booth at a safe distance from the magnetic monster that held me in its clutches. Then, after the longest half hour of my long life, it was over, and I was gratefully on my way back to my room on the sixth floor.

My new day nurse, on whom I developed an instant crush, told me her name was Heather. She was tall and slender, graceful in her sneakers, micro-fiber slacks and sweater, with a ponytail and a little pair of granny glasses perched on her long, straight nose. I noticed the little diamond solitaire on the third finger of her left hand. I was definitely returning to my normal girl-watching mode, a good sign of health.

In spite of the IV, I felt hungry for breakfast. Heather’s orders were “NPO” until the speech therapist could come and watch me successfully swallow a cup of water, and the speech therapist was seeing patients across Biltmore Avenue at St. Joseph’s — no telling when she would return to Mission. But a student physical therapist, a petite young woman named Antoinette with a heart-shaped face and blond hair done up in a businesslike bun, did arrive with her trainer. He was a tall, dark-haired, fiftyish man with a Slavic accent. He cracked a lot of jokes, hospital humor, I thought, to help Antoinette relax.

They invited me to go for a walk with them after first making sure I could stand on my own. No problem, I was way ahead of them. Of course, I was bent on impressing Antoinette with my manly strength and vigor. Antoinette insisted on putting a thick web belt around my middle so she could hold me upright and keep me from falling. I didn’t say anything, but, as I towered over her, I mentally compared my two-hundred-plus pounds with her one-hundred-minus and resolved not to fall on top of her. We walked one lap around the sixth-floor corridor and then found an exit staircase for the grand finale, one flight of stairs unassisted, down and up. Then I was declared fit to navigate on my own, and my brief relationship with Antoinette and the Russian ended, just as Christa appeared outside my room, giving me a big hug and a kiss and recapturing my heart from the hospital sirens.

When the speech therapist finally showed up, a woman with perfect teeth we went through the same rigmarole as the day before: Did I know where I was? Yes, I had that one taped. What was the date? Oops, the date had gone and changed on me since the last time. I failed that one. Open wide and say aah. The penlight shining in my eyes again. Then came tongue exercises, which I really got into, imagining myself grimacing like a Maori warrior while my eyes bulged and my tongue protruded, way out, down, up, left and right. And on and on.

What finally emerged from her sounded like a sales pitch for me to come in to Mission Hospital all the way from Waynesville for speech therapy sessions after my discharge. No thanks, I’ll see how I do on my own. Somewhat grudgingly, I thought, she gave Heather permission to feed me before she left to find her next prospect.

The hours dragged by slowly after Christa left me that afternoon. I spent most of the time staring at the damned clock on the wall or looking out the window at the rain. Heather gave me a thick “Stroke Education Packet” and encouraged me to study it. Reading was tough at first but gradually got easier with practice. I learned a lot about what had happened to me.

According to the doctor, it was probably a TIA, which stands for “transient ischemic attack,” a kind of mini-stroke. I already knew something about those. My father had gone through a whole series of them before he died at eighty-eight in a “memory unit” down in Florida, finally unable to recognize his wife. Bad news for me, but it could have been worse.

My TIA had affected only the left hemisphere of my brain, including the speech and language center, “Broca’s brain.” A blood clot, formed along the lining of my left carotid artery, had broken off sometime while I was asleep on Tuesday night and traveled up to my brain, blocking the blood flow and causing the symptoms I had. Later the tiny clot had dissolved, blood had flowed again, and — thank God — my symptoms were slowly disappearing.

As I rode home from the hospital with Christa on Friday, I was cautiously happy. The storm clouds had disappeared daring the night, and fall colors vibrated in the bright afternoon sunlight, the leaves holding tenaciously to the hardwood trees following the long drought. I felt as if we were floating a few feet above the highway, buoyed up by relief.

I still had a slight touch of “Broca’s Aphasia” — knowing what I wanted to say but unable to find the words, very frustrating for a writer — but after a few days, I fortunately returned to what I had been before the stroke, an average, absent-minded seventy-two-year-old, no better and no worse, just a little bit older and wiser. My MRI showed no permanent brain damage and my cardiology workup was normal. My blood pressure was on the high side and I needed medication for that: a coated adult aspirin and a five milligram ACE inhibitor each morning. I was now somewhat more at risk for having a full stroke. I should not drive a car until my primary care doctor approved it. But, otherwise, I was fine, thank you. Just fine.

And, best of all, I could still write.

Return to Page One<<

Born in Sewickley, PA, a small town on the Ohio River, fifteen miles downstream from Pittsburgh, John Malone says he has “ Ohio River water flowing in my veins.” He was educated at The Hill School, Yale, University of Pittsburgh and London School of Economics.

John retired after thirty years as a career officer in the World Bank, including eight years living with his family in Africa and S.E. Asia as the World Bank’s representative in Ethiopia, Indonesia and Malawi. Living in Waynesville, NC, nestled between the Blue Ridge and the Great Smokies. He's had a longtime marriage to Christa Waibel and they have five children and eight grandchildren.

John welcomes your comments:


©2008 John Malone for
Follow Us:

+ Increase font size | - Decrease font size
Reset font size | Help

Follow Us:


About Us | Sponsors | Site Map | SWW Gift Shop | Letters | Feedback

SeniorWomenWeb, an Uncommon site for Uncommon Women ™ ( 1999-2024