Brainy laughs or, Keep chuckling to prevent madness

This week’s offering was born in a public men’s room at a highway diner outside of Red Deer, Alberta.

It was a Sunday evening and my wife, Patricia, and I were on our way back to Sherwood Park from a couple of days in Banff, where we’d gone to soak in the energy of the Rocky Mountains and to steel ourselves for some upcoming tricky business.

I spotted an odd sign the moment I stepped in to the men’s. It was hand written on white computer paper. It seemed very important, as if I’d better read it before doing anything else. So I put my stroke damaged free style reading skills to work to make out what it said. At turtle speed, I worked through the words. Then I shook my head and gave it a second scan, not sure that I’d gotten it right the first time.

But I had.

The sign said: As a courtesy to the next customer, please flush the toilet.

Now, I thought, why was that sign necessary? Then, before taking another step I had a second thought. If the sign was necessary, maybe I don’t want to be in here.

If I read this pre-stroke, I’d likely have paid it no attention.

But there’s something about putting extra effort into reading that makes a fella put a little more thought into the words read. It’s like investing the added time into making sense of the words has the effect of making you ponder those words more deeply once they’re worked through.

Over the past five years post having my reading skills buzzed by a stroke, public reading has led to some interesting times. Most signs and posters aren’t super text heavy. But one often encounters them on the move, so giving them a full read requires extra effort. And sometimes when I give this scan short shrift, skipping over parts or making assumptions, it’s let to some regrettable moments.

Sign art can ramp up my reading misfires, as well. A symbol or drawing that clearly means one thing to its creator is often clear as mud to me.

Recently out for dinner during a trip in Arizona I encountered unclear restroom door signage. Not an M and a W. Not a man picture and a woman picture. So, figuring I had a 50-50 chance of guessing right, I opened Door Number One.  The shrieks told me that I’d guessed wrong.

“Sorry,” I said, spinning around to door number two.

Earlier, I’d made a similar mistake in another eatery with creative restroom signage. This time I just wanted to wash my hands before dinner and had walked straight to a sink of the seemingly empty room. As I went to dry my hands I noticed a terrible thing.

No urinals.

Then I noticed that one of the stalls was in use. I had to get out of there pronto.  I started stepping toward the door, but I was too late. A woman opened the door before I reached it and gave me a confused look.

“You’re in the right place,” I told her. “I’m not.”

For me, when it comes to signage, globally recognized symbols are manna from heaven. Creativity and details are hell.  This is especially true while driving.

Traditional road signs are easy. Nice, simple symbols pretty much the same throughout Canada, the US and everywhere else I travel.  But street names, especially long one – Sir Winston Churchill Avenue – are trouble for me, often causing a missed turn or two if I don’t have a co-pilot.

That can make you feel like a dunce.

It’s the same but different for others who’ve suffered strokes and other attacks on their brains. Those whose speech is stilted often tell me they’re treated as stupid. People here how slow their words are, not the quality of what they say and they make judgments. They respond to them like they’re talking to a child. I don’t think that slow teachery talk is appreciated by kids and it’s much less so with adults struggling to get their words out.

Abnormal gaits to a person’s walking, wheel chairs and other ‘abnormalities’ seem to also have this ‘let’s treat them as though they’re stupid’ effect.

It’s very, very frustrating.  But a little humility can actually be a good thing.

It can make you just pissed off enough to try harder. It can remind you that you have to try harder if you’re going to heal to your maximum capacity and/or make up for the scars you’re stuck with.  It can even make you better than you would have been without the scars. Sometimes the undamaged waste their gifts. But for those of us who’ve had them ripped away, we’re often able to make better use of what we’re left with.

By the way, this is the first blog I’ve posted without having a trusted second set of eyes or two read through. It may show. But I wanted to test my stroke mind’s free bird, technology aided editing skills. Hapfulle their arnoot to maany typooos, ah, I mean, hopefully there aren’t too many typos.

-30-

7 comments

  1. My 1st strokeaversary is coming up in September. I found your blog through reading your recent article on stroke.org and this first post really resonated with me. Bravo, and keep up the good work.

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  2. mu fort of two strokes was December 2011, a sloW ischemic stroke that struck my brain stem. Being a nurse, I thought my career was over too! Returning to work has been so difficult, but I keep trudging away. I miss my ability to focus! Typing with both hands is so hard too! How do you do it?

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    1. My issues post stroke were a little different. But generally, trudging away is a great start! I tried to set stretch goals and really believe that they were possible to achieve. Even if I couldn’t hit the goal – like normal reading speed – I would find myself further ahead that had once seemed possible. Or reasonable.

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  3. Reading your post brought me back to a time 12 years ago when my 18 year old son suffered a stroke. He also could not read, write, or talk. It was so difficult for him. He had to leave school and fought so hard to regain what he lost. Luckily his friends and family did not treat him different but some others did. His own speech therapist used to talk to him like he was 5. It was so degrading for him but he did not let her get away with it. The determination my son had was nothing short of amazing and I can see you have the same determination.
    One thing that I learned early on was that although my Patrick could not talk he could sing. You see, music is a seperate part of the brain. So if anyone here has had their speech effected please try music.
    My son Patrick passed away 2 years after his stroke at the age of 20 from sudden cardiac arrest. Since his passing I have tried to help others who are in a caregiver role by speaking at events and telling all that Patrick went through and the many things we who loved him had to learn. From not guessing what he was trying to say to dealing with the many emotions he went through.
    I wish you the best as you continue to get your life back. Thank you for sharing your story.

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