Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Derek Who?

I got a phone message a few week ago. It was Massachusetts General Hospital Stroke Service. I was enrolled in a long-term study in right after my stroke, and it was time for my yearly phone follow-up. Each phone call involves about 15 minutes of questions. Some are health-related; other are tests of my speech and cognitive function.

Even though any neurological exam--including these phone calls--might differ a little bit, by now I know the kinds of questions I might be asked. So before the woman from MGH called me back, I did some work. Any good student tries to prepare, right? I made sure, for instance, that I didn't forget the vice president's name. I practiced saying "Methodist Episcopal" out loud. And since I still have some trouble with numbers (linked to my aphasia), I made a Excel spreadsheet that had a column of numbers from 100 to 65 by sevens to review, in case they asked me to count backwards by sevens. Just in case.

I felt very proud of myself. The phone rang.

I answered many questions: how was my health, in general? Have I had any more seizures? What day was it? Do I drive? What's my birthday?

So far, so good. The woman asked me the name of the president.

"Obama," I say. Easy.

"Do you remember his first name?"

Of course I do.

I know, for instance, that "Derek" is not the right name.

"Um, I know it," I say.

These days, I often see words in the inside of my forehead, when I'm concentrating hard. Unfortunately, the wrong letters--D and E--are blocking my view of the right letters I need.

"Oh, I know it," I say. I'm getting worried.

I know I could say it, if only the wrong letters would fade out. But they are bold, strident. I wonder if the woman on the other end knows that there's a wrestling match in my head? I finally pin down the bad letters. The good letters pop into view.

"Barack," I say, with a sigh of relief. It's a nice name.


  1. I didn't (still don't) have many of those kinds of problems after my stroke...I sometimes "lose" words when I'm tired...but something about your post really touched me, and I got a little teary. You're a lovely writer.

  2. As I read through your wonderful post, I kept thinking, "What is his first name?!" and I just couldn't remember! Maybe it was because you had the letters D and E in there, but whatever, I simply couldn't remember! But then you said what his first name was. I breathed a sigh of relief--of course, Obama! I knew that all along . . .
    Dr Gradus

  3. When I see someone I know at church I sneak out my cheat sheet and look for their name. Guess what? I see able-bodied people look stressed when they realize they don't remember my name. I don't tell them I rehearsed. And I struggled to remember Obama's first name too. He is not a person any of us are on a first name basis with. Shazam! I'm a big fan of rehearsal.

  4. I did lots of these standardized cognitive tests too.
    Guess what? They wanted me to name your president too, and the previous president. (no I did not get either right) I answered that it had something to do with foliage. ie bush

    I wonder, how many Americans being tested after a brain injury would be able to name the Prime Minister of Canada?

    1. Touché!

      I confess that the only Canadian PM I could ever remember is Trudeau, because he shares (shared) the same name of the cartoonist Garry Trudeau. Yep, I'm an ugly American.

  5. Grace, thank you for sharing what it's like "inside your forehead." I often see my husband struggle for words and wonder what is going on in there.

    Beautiful post!

  6. There's Grace, doing a little campaigning for the incumbent. Barack certainly IS a nice name, far nicer than "Mitt." I feel a limerick coming on, pairing "candidate named Mitt" with ... well, you know.

    Hey, stroke patients are made to count down backwards by seven? My dad used to make me do that when I was a teenager. Periodic sobriety tests are required of all 14-year-olds being raised by a Turk.

    I miss you!

  7. Fantastic -- you did it! My husband has a long way back until he can nail these question. Small steps...

  8. Strong work! I prep before neuro exams now too. Frankly, I didn't always know the date before the strokes so why should I know now? I couldn't remember Barack either. Names are one of my problem areas. When I'm tired, my family has to answer to Charlie (for my husband), Baby (for my son), and Lela (for my daughter)...none of which are actually their names! Now that I'm aware that I'm doing it, it's pretty funny. :-)