Posted Monday, 26 June 2006, 1:35 pm
A story from 1979.
In the home I grew up in, in Redwood City, California (Aerial Photo), the garage was of the fairly standard ‘unfinished’ style—bare studs in the walls, no sheetrock covering them. My parents had made a makeshift attic in the rafter space, by laying boards out between the rafters, and it actually created a very serviceable space.
In order to reach the attic, you climbed a jerry-built ladder, consisting of small boards nailed at intervals up one set of studs. Worked fine for the most part. sometimes as you were climbing it, you could feel one of the steps ‘giving’ a bit, as the nails pulled ever so slightly as you put your weight on them. Never more than say a quarter of an inch—at most. no problem, you’d give it a little kick in and you’re back in biz.
As we learned unfortunately, everything has its breaking point. In 1979, my mom was climbing the ladder, and the board she’d just grabbed for came loose as she put her weight on it. She fell to the concrete garage floor, cracking her skull sharply.
She nearly died from the trauma. She developed a bruise on her brain, and was initially given straight 50/50 odds of living (which is doctor–speak for "we have no idea whether she’ll live"). After about a week in intensive care, she came out of her coma, but couldn’t talk. Asking her a question, she’d make some unintelligible noises. But her eyes were alert, and she was clearly frustrated. So we gave her a pad of paper. You couldn’t really make much out from the scrawl. After several days, I tried writing a simple sentence on a card and asking her to copy it. That was a little better—you could make out the words for the most part—but they were jumbled. The syntax was all wrong. It was very peculiar. You could see that she understood what was being asked, no question about it. But formulating the concepts as words to utter was apparently badly disrupted.
Eventually, she came home from the hospital. Gradually over time, she began to speak—very very simple things initially. Very hesitant—you might ask her something, and it would take ten or fifteen seconds for her to form/think through uttering the words. As more time passed—months, years—she slowly regained the ability to speak, but it really took many years before there was no more noticeable hesitation in her speech—I’d say easily ten years.
As we learned much later, what had happened was that the bruise on her brain had destroyed the ‘speech center’ of her brain. Completely killed off. And what took place over those years was her brain ‘teaching’ other parts of the brain to take over those functions again.
Pretty remarkable what the brain is capable of.