For me one of the strangest and most worrisome after-effects of stroke was a condition called Left Neglect: My left eye could see but my brain did not acknowledge the sight in the left portion of my vision. I called this blind spot my Bermuda Triangle. It was a place where things disappeared.
My Left Neglect introduced itself during an in-patient speech therapy session several weeks after the stroke. My therapist presented me a sheet of paper with scenarios written on it and quizzed me about how I would handle the described situations. I told him the sentences made no sense. He determined I was not seeing any of the words on the left side of the paper because of Left Neglect.
This was the first time I cried speech therapy. It was not the last time but the most memorable. I was terrified that I would not be able to read again.
I’d read tons of books in my life. I read for knowledge, I read for entertainment, I read to become a better writer.I couldn’t imagine life without books.
My speech therapist presented me a brightly colored strip of thick paper to use as a guideline as I read. He drew an arrow on it as my reminder to look far to the left. This simple kindergarten fix plus my therapist’s enthusiastic encouragement worked wonderfully.
He did other little, but highly effective things that addressed my Left Neglect. He asked my family to sit on my left side whenever they visited. My daughter came to visit daily and would crawl up on left side of my bed with me to play solitaire on her computer. My therapist encouraged this as it forced me to look in all directions on the screen in order to play the game.
By the time I left in-patient status, I was reading fairly well with the paper guide. The gift of an electronic reader from my family made a huge difference.
As an out- patient, my therapist and I continue to focus on conquering my Left Neglect using computer and card games as tools. She also focuses on enhancing my memory as well as battling occasional bouts of impulsivity. Many of the computer games she assigns address multiple symptoms. Toward the end of my first year of outpatient therapy, we switched gears and began to emphasize regaining my writing skills. She began small, asking me to write short stories about pictures from magazines. These writing assignments tested my organizational skills and encouraged my imagination
Vision wasn’t the only thing lost.
On my first social outing after leaving the hospital, I discovered my personality had gone into hiding and my usual gregarious social skills had vanished. I felt bombarded by faces too close to mine, by too many hands reaching out to me. Overwhelmed by questions and hugs, I couldn’t get to the safety of our car fast enough; Couldn’t get to the quiet serenity of home soon enough.
Things were different but not better the next time I ventured out. This time, I felt as if I were in a glass bubble amid my friends but separate at the same time. When anyone spoke to me their mouths moved, but I had difficulty understanding their words. I literally had nothing to say to anyone.
My speech therapist and had to practice having conversations and rehearse conversation initiation.
It has taken a year and a half, but I finally feel like the old Vic, you know the slightly smart-ass one; The one who can both dish it out and take it. The fearless taker-on of challenges. The challenges are, by necessity physically smaller now. But that’s okay I grow stronger and more able with every passing day. I amaze even myself with what I’ve learned to do with one hand. Lida(little dead arm) is not as lazy as she once was. Her fingers are still numb, but the shoulder and elbow are working relatively well.