Trapped Thoughts

Aphasia. The only word that stood out among everything that the doctor told me about my father on my first visit to the hospital. Everything else simply washed over me.

I know that I am familiar with that word. But at the moment that the word was applied to my father, my memory failed me. But after a few minutes spent with my father, the word came alive in my mind.

His medical certificate said he has total aphasia. But just before he was discharged, the doctor declared it is only expressive aphasia he has.

Expressive Aphasia. He cannot recognize letters and numbers anymore. He cannot read. He can write legibly using his left hand but his inputs are nonsensical. His writings of letters and numbers do not form even one coherent word. If they do, it is purely coincidental because it is not what he intended to write.

Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder that impairs a person’s ability to speak, read and write but it does not affect intelligence. Or so the literature says.

Using an alphabet table, he continually points to different letters and not the letter we told him to point to. I remember the time he wrote a four-digit number. After a few minutes of grunts and shouts from him, I finally guessed that it was his PIN for the ATM card where his salary was deposited. I tried to convince him that it is a bad idea for me to try using those numbers to access his ATM account because he might have miswrote his PIN. But it was like talking to a brick wall which shouts and throw things around.

So off I went to an ATM machine. His written numbers were wrong. So off I hied myself back to his hospital bed and got a sheepish grin from him. Basing on the literature, I guess the correct combination of numbers are locked on his brain and his fingers couldn’t find the right strokes to accurately symbolize the numbers in his brain.And his vocal facility also went on a hike.

Throughout my 40-day stay there with him in the hospital, his language, oral and written, stayed stuck. He makes a sound, “tu”, to pertain to anything and everything. Only the tone and the volume varies. But his girlfriend said that what I was seeing was a vast improvement compared to his first 20 or so days.

He does recognize people. I couldn’t fully say he lost his memory basing on his facial and vocal reactions whenever someone refer to a past event or person or place. But he might just be making the required nods, grunts, and smiles without really remembering since he cannot counter back with a story of his own due to his language disability.

His early days with my family at our house were difficult. He has always been a hot-headed person. Some say that it is the stroke that makes one so. But they do not know my father. If their postulation is correct, then it just made my father doubly so.

Add to that the fact that my husband, my sons, and my sister’s partner has never met him personally prior to my bringing him home. Daddy was used to getting his own way all the time. He was used to having people at his beck and call who fears his bark. But how would the people in our home know what to bring him if he cannot effectively put across his request?

My sister and I repeatedly tried to teach him the simplest head and hand movements to indicate “yes,” “no,” “drink,” “eat.” But he persistently used his own gestures which varies every time he asks for the same thing.

One morning, he called to one of my sons, asking for something. My son cannot understand his gestures. It was like the game 20 Questions but the respondent persistently resisted using the universally accepted gestures for “yes” and “no” which made the whole exercise doubly frustrating for everyone. All three of my sons, my sister, her partner, my husband all had their turn. They even wheeled him around the whole house. He searched through drawers, cabinets, and even the refrigerator. He wrote various letters and drew various figures on a paper. The whole day dragged on without coming near to a vague understanding.

It was towards sunset when someone got lucky and guessed right. A pill. From there it was easy to guess what medicine he was asking for because as far as we know, he only takes Neozep, Tuseran, and Amoxicillin. I think it was my youngest son who got a lead via a coil-like figure that my father drew.

I grew up seeing him everyday on the breakfast table reading a broadsheet. He even brings it to the bathroom. He sometimes continues reading at stoplights and traffic jams. He also loves reading bestseller novels. It was his copies of Harold Robbins, Tom Clancy, and Robert Ludlum novels I started getting hooked on when I was seven years old.

In his later years abroad, I learned that he liked watching international news and financial channels. I also learned he was subscribed to several international magazines like National Geographic, PC World, fishing and car magazines.

When I brought him home, I installed cable so he could watch some of his favorite channels. He also has a penchant for scribbling notes. His grammar is impeccable. His handwriting is beautiful.

It’s been almost five years. He only listens to the radio once in a while. He has shunned the TV. Along with newspapers. He continualy resists physical therapy. He continually resists reading and writing exercises.

I couldn’t imagine an existence without words being expressed whether written or verbal. Even for the quiet and loner types, like my Dad, it is unbelievable. The thoughts one thinks, the memories one reminisces about, the reactions one has on things he sees and hears – all left unarticulated and trapped inside one’s mind. It is a horror of epic proportions, for a lover of words like me.

But then, as with all things, I guess with a defeatist attitude, he has accepted that state. I do not know if he really understands what I say about his condition, his attitude. If he does, then why does he resist help from others and even from himself?

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