Dorothy Talked

jonathanmorrisschwartz

Oh yes she did

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In 1994, I transitioned from providing speech pathology services to children in schools to old folks in a nursing home.

27 years ago, Medicare “allowed” us to see patients for a couple of hours a day so I would really get to know them well.

I was new to the geriatric population and I didn’t understand that when a patient loses their speech from a stroke it usually does not come back. With little exception, severe aphasia is permanent. But sometimes severe depression or trauma is misdiagnosed.

The rehab director asked me to see a patient who hadn’t said a single word since she’d arrived from the hospital six months prior. Her name was “Dorothy” and each time I tried to elicit some kind of speech from her she’d just stare off into space. 

I was disheartened and began to get emotional, “Dorothy, I can’t keep seeing you if you’re not going to work with me. I know you can talk. I can feel it,” I pleaded.

After a month of getting nowhere, I finally said, “That’s it, Dorothy. I’m done. I can’t help you. This is our last visit. I mean it. I really meant it,” I practically shouted and started to leave her room.

“Wait,” I heard as I turned around. “Don’t leave,” Dorothy was talking.

I was shaking. “Dorothy. You can talk,” I was near tears.

“Yes,” she said.

“Why are you letting everyone think you can’t talk?”

“I had nothing to say,” she said.

“Are you going to talk to everybody else?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said.

I brought her back to the gym and she talked. People thought it was a miracle. (I need to point out, in the past 27 years I have not had another patient who spontaneously talked after six months of complete silence.)

I kept Dorothy on my caseload, and as she explained a horrible childhood and trauma so severe I couldn’t even begin to repeat it, I realized, she never received a drop of psychological services in her 75 years on earth. 

I was not a psychologist, but just listening and letting her express herself was something nobody else had ever done in her life.

After many hours and weeks of speech therapy, something changed in Dorothy. She started smiling and laughing and enjoying her life. 

She lived two more years in the nursing home. She enjoyed those last years, going to activities, listening to the staff talk nonsense about their lives and children and divorces and affairs and desires and dreams.

Dorothy talked.

By the grace of God, Dorothy talked.

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I am a speech-language pathologist who writes about love, philosophy, romance, self-awareness, humor, local events, and everlasting life. I'm in an eternal search for meaning, joy, passion and happiness. Join me...

Ocala, FL
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