by Audrey Holland on March 23, 2011
It is difficult to be an experienced Speech-Language Pathologist living in Tucson, where we get speculative reports on the changing condition of our beloved and cruelly injured Gabrielle Giffords. Flurries of words, all sounding positive about recovery, but rightfully not predicting the truly unpredictable, leave me feeling snowed under. I long to hear the simple truth of “we don’t know”, nuanced with all the hope, empathy, and optimism that should accompany them.
Therefore, it was a relief to me to attend a group session of persons with chronic aphasia – the language disorder that so frequently accompanies brain damage in adults – where I finally heard the right message. The group leader, Fabiane Hirsch, of The Carondelet Aphasia Program (CAP), had just finished showing a video clip of her interview on the subject of Gifford’s injury. Fabiane did a far better job of being cautiously optimistic than most speakers in Gabby’s behalf. After the group’s well-earned compliments on her performance, these 15 or so individuals who live with chronic aphasia shared their thoughts on Gabrielle’s recovery.
They got it just right. Ironically, they got it just right even though their language has been savaged by their brain damage. None of them spoke with a a glimmer of the “perhaps this will all go away” patina that many glib normal speakers have been using. Instead, they started with accepting that there is a long road ahead for Gabby. They made it clear that they hoped she would not have to join their group, but they also welcomed her to it. They knew. Their empathy sang out through the sparseness of their words. They affirmed that life with brain damage could still be good. We prognosticators should learn from them.