Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Speaking out after a Stroke

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Speaking out after a Stroke

Article excerpt

Byline: MAREK KOHN

THE MAN WHO LOST HIS LANGUAGE by Sheila Hale (Penguin, pound sterling14.99)

IF only it were like the microphone cutting out; one simple link failing between speaker and audience, everything else still working as it should.

When somebody is deprived of speech by a stroke, being sure that only the power to speak has gone becomes as important as it is impossible. Loved ones want above all to believe that the person they knew is still there. But instead of the answer they want, they are often left with questions that are beyond them, and beyond medical science, too.

Sometimes those questions appear in awful flashes, moments when the damage suddenly appears to have cut some of the cords that anchor the competent mind. Sheila Hale had the utmost confidence that her husband, the art historian Sir John Hale, had not had his intellect subverted by the stroke which left him unable to speak.

One day she found a book on neuropsychology by his bed, and asked him where it had come from. His gestures showed that he did not grasp her question: her reaction was close to panic. Her confidence was not misplaced-though. He could understand the book, as far as his education permitted. But he could not understand simple questions.

One specialist told Sheila that medics aren't keen on strokes because they are "messy".

The aftermath of a stroke is like that of a fire in an office, a brutal insult to orderly arrangements of information. Yet highly detailed information can be generated from the mess. Different patients have different "deficits": some make telegraphic utterances, others speak fluent nonsense; some can't understand words that they hear, but can say them, others can understand words they cannot say or write. By comparing deficits, psychologists can piece together the machinery of language. Among the strangest deficits displayed by people after strokes is a lack of awareness that there is a deficit. John Hale made conversation, and even jokes. But it was all in the expression. Though he believed he was uttering words, about the only sound he made was "da woahs", repeated where previously he would have spoken in sentences. …

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