I'm Sorry, Man

The picture here is from the first page of Beowulf--not the CGI version that was produced with Angelina Jolie but the oldest surviving piece of English literature. It's a testament to how important words are, and for how long we've struggled as people to get our meaning across.

Imagine, then, not being able to find your words. Imagine speaking in truncated sentences, stopping in the middle, fumbling. This is a finding called non-fluent aphasia. Sudden onset of speech difficulty is often listed as 'slurred speech' in stroke education, but that is actually dysarthria and comes from loss of control of the muscles of the mouth and tongue to some extent. Aphasia is a stroke that somehow involves the higher cortical functions of language, and patients literally cannot find the words they need.

A gentleman came in with this last week. It had first happened in Mexico, on vacation, and then resolved somewhat; it had returned four hours before arrival and it was his only presenting symptom. Histories like this make me sad. It was no doubt what he had. There was an upside--he had very few deficits. But imagine not being able to find words anymore.

Imagine being mute not from some physical ailment but from literally not being able to get to that word or phrase that is dying to come out. It happens to all of us (ironically, for me the other day when I was trying to remember the word 'dysarthria')--but this is different. He stopped in the middle of almost every sentence, and he made grammatical mistakes normally heard in an ESL class.

His main question? When can I go back to work? He worked in business, had meetings all day. Not soon, dude. Not soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

psss, Beowulf is old, but it's not the oldest surviving English lit. It's good stuff, though :)