Living with aphasia and epilepsy has reminded me of a very important lesson in life. That lesson is that: “We are all different. One individual is not necessarily better than another. He or she may just be different.” What am I talking about? Four incidents in my life have reinforced this lesson. You might say that I have been a slower learner.
The first incident was an automobile accident more than thirty years ago. I was stopped waiting to make a left-hand turn and I was rear-ended by a car doing forty miles per hour. Due to the whiplash caused by the accident, the back of my head struck the head rest, breaking it off. In doing so, I suffered a serious concussion that permanently affected my sense of taste. Ever since that accident, everything has tasted salty. For more than thirty years, I have not had to salt any food at the table. For a short time after the accident, I had a memory of what food “actually tasted like.” After thirty years, the memory of “true taste” has faded away. What should have this taught me about the difference in people? We observe the world through our senses. My sense of taste is different from yours. Because they are different, that doesn’t make one any better than the other.
The final three incidents are all related to just one episode. A blood vessel in a benign tumor in my brain burst, giving the appearance of a stroke and leaving me with many of the same after effects as those of a stroke. The first of those effects is that my physical ability to get around has been diminished. Prior to this episode, I was considered athletic. Until my knees gave out a couple of years ago, I had played fairly competitive basketball and softball for more than fifty years. Over the years, I had four different college basketball coaches invite me to come in and teach their teams how to set picks. Today I need a cane to walk about outside our house. If I am going to walk any distance, I need a stroller with a seat in case I must sit down. Today I have a handicap parking hang-tag to permit us to park in those special parking spots. Was the athletic me any better than the challenged me? I am still me. I am just different.
A second result of either the burst blood vessel filling my cranial cavity with blood or the subsequent removal of the benign tumor is a mild case of aphasia. Aphasia literally means “a loss of words.” It is a communication disorder which affects my ability to use or understand written or oral language. It hasn’t affected my mental capacities, just my ability to use words in a timely fashion. I can still analyze situations as well as I did before. I just can’t respond to them as quickly as I previously did. I know what I want to say, I just can’t find the right words to express it quickly. I need more time to write articles like this, but I can still write. Was the old me better? I am still me, I am just different.
Also as a result of this episode, I had four grand-mal seizures and am now labeled epileptic. Although I am on anti-seizure medication, my wife and I must be on guard for the signs of another seizure. Since not enough time has elapse since my last large seizure, my driving privileges have been taken away from me. Does not being able to drive make me less of a person? I don’t think so now. Prior to this happening to me, I might have thought so.
Before these incidents and after effects, I know I thought differently. I now see why we need to do everything we can to “even out the playing field” in school and work situations for people with challenges. I am more sympathetic to students who need extra time on tests and assignments. They are not lesser persons. All of their capabilities have not necessarily been affected. They can be just as smart. They may just be a little slower. They may even see or taste things in a new and different way that can lend a new perspective to a problem and lead to a new and different solution. My continual salty taste has had one advantage. Coffee that tastes bitter to other people actually tastes okay to me.
For people who see differences as signs of being less of a person, I am not recommending that we need to beat them up one-side of their head and down the other until they change their mind, even though that’s what it took for me.
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