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.
3 days ago