Bloodhounds and Aphasia

Posted on July 5, 2012

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As some of you know, a little over three years ago, I experienced a stroke-like event. It was due to a hemorrhage in a meningioma attached to the right frontal lobe of my brain. Although this event wasn’t technically a stroke, it gave all the appearances of a stroke. It also left with me with many of the after effects of a stroke. I am constantly fatigued. I have balance issues, muscle weakness primarily on my left side, short-term memory lapses and a mild case of aphasia.

Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder that exhibits itself through the partial or total inability to process language. My mild case of aphasia affects me primarily in two ways. The first way is in the speed at which I can process language. My language processing speed has slowed down considerably. Thus, I have more problems with verbal communications. Written communications give me more time to process the language. The second problem I have is the occasional inability to find the most appropriate word to fit the situation. As suggested above, the pressure of a quick response demanded in a verbal communication seems to acerbate the problem of lost words.

What do bloodhounds have to do with aphasia? Bloodhounds are gentle, loyal, good companions. They are also hard working and persistent. They don’t quit until their job is done. What is their job? It is to find someone or something that is lost. Bloodhounds are the perfect mascot for the team battling against aphasia. They represent hard work and persistence that a sufferer of aphasia must exhibit in searching for lost words. They represent the loyalty, gentleness, and constant camaraderie of caregivers, not only in the midst of active searches, but at all other times as well. They respond best to an owner or trainer who exhibits calm but stern authority.

Why did I associate bloodhounds with aphasia? Recently I became bogged down in an attempt to write something. The words I needed to completely and accurately reflect my thoughts were lost. This episode reminded me of a neighbor from my early teen years. This particular neighbor raised and trained bloodhounds. He and his dogs were very good at what they did. They were in constant demand by local police to help locate missing people, especially children or dementia patients who had wandered off. At that moment I realized that I needed a good bloodhound to find the right words that were lost in my mind.

As I tried to develop this metaphor, I found that I was playing two different roles in this play on words. At times, I was the handler providing the dog with the initial clues to point the dog in the right direction, or helping the dog by redirecting him to possible new trails. At other times I was the dog rooting through the intertwined brush and rocky crevices and canyons of my mind trying to sniff out the right words.

At the end of every search, the emotions of the two players were mirror images of each other. At the end of a successful search, the trainer would grab the dog around its neck. He would rub the back of its head and neck in celebration. He would say excitedly, “Good dog! Way to go!” It was amazing to watch the joy of the bloodhound, nodding his head up and down in quick jerks, and yipping happily. It seemed as if the dog was saying, “Look at what I just did. I found the lost child or person.”

 On the other hand, when a search was shut down in failure, it was depressing to watch the bloodhound hang its head and howl with a sad cry that expressed the soulful dejection inherent in failure. The trainer would call the dog to him. He would put his arm around the neck of the dog pulling it close to him. He would gently rub the back of the dog’s neck and head and soothingly say, “That’s alright, boy. You’ll get him next time.”

Now, when I face the challenge of finding the right word, I will think of a bloodhound. I hope and trust that there will be more joy than sadness at the end of my searches. To increase that likelihood, I know it will take more practice and training.

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