Why write about Aphasia?

by | Sep 14, 2015

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines aphasia as the “loss or impairment of the power to use or comprehend words usually resulting from brain damage (as from a stroke, head injury, or infection).”

Some of you may know about aphasia because it has afflicted a friend or family member who suffered a stroke; others may have only heard about it recently through the announcement of Bruce Willis’s retirement from acting; and others may have seen the recently released documentary Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down that describes how the former Arizona congress woman survived an assassination attempt and has spent the last ten years slowly learning to speak again.

There are different forms of aphasia depending on which part of the brain is affected. For example, in Broca’s aphasia people have difficulty saying more than a few words at a time. By contrast, in Werncke’s aphasia a person can produce streams of words that, to the listener, don’t make sense. I deliberately say ‘to the listener’ because it is believed that aphasia suffers are not intellectually impaired, it is just their ability to communicate that is. The single most important treatment for aphasia is speech therapy for which there are well-established protocols. For individuals who have experienced a severe stroke or brain injury (Gabby Giffords was shot in the head) the therapy may take years of intense effort and will power. In the case of mild strokes, or strokes where there is a rapid intervention, speech can sometimes be recovered quite quickly.

My story Cinderella in The Inquisition and Other Stories is a contemporary short story about a man who has aphasia as the result of a stroke and undergoes speech therapy. Why would I write such a story? If you look at the medical definition of aphasia one could boil it down to the condition of not being able to say what one wants to say. And when viewed in that light it is a human condition that most of us experience at various times in our lives. For example, in a relationship—it could be an intimate relationship or a professional one—there might well be an occasion when certain things have to be said, and one doesn’t; and one then pays the price for not doing so; sometimes for a very long time. In Cinderella, the protagonist, while recovering from his stroke and undergoing speech therapy introspects about an episode in his life when he should have spoken up. His aphasia is a metaphor for that failure.


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