I find one of the most frustrating aspects of brain injury is the challenge of expressing the changes my brain has undergone. I see a cognitive therapist and it bothers me that I have to clarify my issues.
One issue with which I struggle is language processing. I told my therapist that sometimes I do not understand what someone says despite asking them to repeat it. She suggested I ask them to spell it for me. I could not explain why this does not help the words or their meaning get into my brain.
I once asked a lady where she got a lovely robe she was folding in the laundry room. Master Whore on the street, is what I thought I heard. I knew that could not be right so I asked her to repeat it. I listened carefully, convinced that it was the word “whore” that was wrong. Master Borgas Street? I gave up and nodded. It was obviously not a place I could go. Hours later up in my apartment I replayed the conversation in my mind and then I said the words out loud. Duh! Where would you get a bathrobe? Victoria’s Secret!
A few days ago I was on a conference call with some members of the Brain Injury Association of New York City chapter. (Such a bad idea! People with BI on the phone with multiple other people with BI. Yikes!) The discussion concerned our choice of movies for an upcoming event, selected shorts or a full-length feature film. L mentioned a seven-minute film.
“Seventy minutes?” asked E.
“No. Seven minutes,” repeated L."70?""No. 7!"
This went back and forth until E. explained that it was easier for her to understand numbers if the other person said every digit, like seven – zero. Can you please say it that way.
Okay, said L, it is a seven-minute movie. E just kept hearing seventy.
“Seven – zero?” E kept asking.“No, seven!” L kept repeating.
It was frustrating to listen to the interaction but it made my own issue a little clearer. The misunderstood meaning had made its way into E’s brain and it was not going to change. She heard seventy and it was like she thought L was refusing to comply with her request to state each digit. As a result, she kept emphasizing SEVEN – ZERO, like she was telling L – please say it this way so I can understand you better. Eventually, she gave up and began to refer to the length of the movie as “a little over an hour.”
I am sure you can imagine what happened after that. Everyone tried to help her understand, all talking at once. It seems comical when I reflect on it. It is hilarious, even, in a who’s-on-first?-kind of way.
It makes me laugh because I'm relieved knowing I'm not the only one with this particular symptom of brain injury. I do not have the answer nor how my cognitive therapist can help me, but spelling does not make things clearer once my brain receives a scrambled message.