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such a normal thing to do
march 29, 2003
I mowed our front lawn for the first time this year, this past Wednesday.
We have a two-story red brick home, white trim.
There were a lot of weird brick colors we could have gone with when we had the house built back in 1991, and a lot of the other brick colors do look good, you can see all kinds of images in them, but we decided to go with a classic look, deep green lawn leading up to a tall red brick house.
Each early Spring, the Bermuda grass lawns in our neighborhood start to lose their light brown shade, as the weeds come back. Here in Dallas, this time of year, that means hen bit, a modest, upward-growing, jade-green weed that spreads its arms apart, holding at the end of each a tiny, pretty purple floweret.
Like most weeds, it's highly opportunistic, spreading within a few weeks of its return throughout the neighborhood lawns.
Even though hen bit looks pretty, and would probably be thought of as a harbinger of Spring as much as the robin if we lived in a lawnless world, since it grows where it's not wanted, it's pulled up out of the ground by hand, and as you do so, you can feel it go limp, lifeless within your finger-vised palm.
Each Spring, whoever is responsible for lawnmowing in each household in our neighborhood, as they roll up their garage door each morning to go to work, or to the store, or to visit friends, or to speech therapy, glances around to see who has mowed and who has not, as a way of determining when they should mow.
As it happens, this Spring we were the last to mow our front lawn. Usually we're in about the middle, but it's been busy.
As I mowed, Mary edged.
To me, that's a very comforting sound, to hear a lawnmower's engine rising and falling, to hear an edger sputtering along. When I was a child, in Greenwich, Connecticut, the one sound I remember most, throughout my childhood, is the sound of chainsaws, off in the romantic distance, cutting down trees. I would prefer that trees not be cut down, but when you're a child, studying your face in the bathroom mirror, trying to decide if you look good or not, and if it helps if you scrunch your eyebrows during the self-examination, or sitting on the floor of your bedroom, endlessly tossing a tennis ball against the floor, to where it bounces off the wall, back to your small hands, the sound of a distant chainsaw somehow completes the moment. A chainsaw sound told me people were in charge of their destiny, they could make things happen, and that one day, even I, a child, would be old enough to control my life.
When Mary had her stroke, in April of 2002, I was driving back and forth from the hospital, feeding our cats, sleeping for a couple of hours, not eating, because I couldn't, paying bills, trying to learn more about strokes on the Internet, and I let our lawn go. So our neighbors, Jim and Peggy, mowed our lawn for us. I never asked them to, they never announced that they had, I just pulled around the block one day, a thousand thoughts in my mind, and saw the lawn was mowed and edged.
Now here's Mary, almost a year later, while I roll the lawnmower back into our garage, out by herself along the sidewalk, for the first time since her stroke putting a nice, beveled edge on the lawn.
Afterwards, back in our home, sweat on our foreheads slowly evaporating, she said, "I really enjoyed that. We were doing that together, and it was a beautiful day."
I think she enjoyed it so much, in part, because it's such a normal thing to do.
Mary is beginning to get back into the ordinary activities of life.
She's driving more, me in the passenger seat, and talking more. A couple of weeks ago, she astonished me and her speech therapist when, in response to a question as to how the weather was outside, she said it was 'blustery'. A month prior, she would have searched for the word 'cold'. Before that, she might have just hunched her shoulders, holding her upper arms with the opposite hands, to pantomime.
We saw her doctor at Baylor earlier this week, who is so pleased with her progress he's taking her off the methalyn, and imposing a new rule where each time Mary speaks, she must now say at least four words. After April 15, it goes up to at least seven words.
Although most of us often use only one or two words when we speak, especially if we're replying to a question, someone recovering from aphasia can get into the habit of answering as simply as possible, using 'Yes', 'No' and 'Okay' as crutches. (While Mary was still going to Pate, during the early stages of her recovery, she told me one day on our long drive home that she had discovered the only word she really needed to know, because it could be used in almost any conversation, was the word, 'Fine').
Requiring Mary to use at least four words each time, and then seven, and then, probably, twelve, is to get her used again to forming sentences, and speaking them. "One of the hardest problems for a stroke patient," the doctor told us, "isn't relearning how to say individual words. It's recovering the rhythm of your speech, so that when you do talk, it sounds natural." Requiring Mary to give lengthier answers is meant to cause her to fall back into that normal rhythm the rest of us take for granted. Each time she gives a one- or two-word answer, I smile and hold out four fingers. I've noticed the change in her speech already, after only a few days. I know from my e-mails there are a number of people with aphasia, or caregivers of people with aphasia, who read my Latelys, following Mary's recovery. I strongly urge you to try this method. It works. (Someday I hope to put up a special multi-page section on SENTENCE, probably under MARGINALIA, which thoroughly discusses all aspects of stroke and recovery, including informational pieces on strokes and the resultant aphasia, our experiences of what works and what doesn't, articles aimed at caregivers, and exercises the aphasia patient can do to speed recovery).
We're blessed by having a very caring, flexible speech therapist, who has gone out of her way to find different ways to help Mary in her rehabilitation, including getting her into a group therapy session that meets twice a week. Through her efforts and contacts, the first week in April Mary will begin doing volunteer work at the hospital's gift shop, a terrific idea, in that it will allow Mary to interact with a wide range of strangers, which is sure to improve her talking skills.
Every week, I see Mary getting better and better, speaking more and more, often casually, without hesitation. Sometimes, when she's in the middle of a sentence, prepositional phrases rattling out of her mouth, I want to cry, I want to hold her sweet face in my hands, but I don't want to interrupt, I don't want to stop the flow.