Tuesday, June 20, 2006

[Mike wearing my sunglasses on the Magee roof deck. I told him to make a "sexy face" so he puckered up and acted like Sammy Davis Jr. - or Johnny Vegas... I couldn't tell the difference.]

Important day – first day catheter-free and depends-free in three months! (Thanks so Kit - the nurse who kicks ass and loves Mike like a son... I've even seen Mike remember her name!) Instead of the catheter etc, the nurses are simply “time voiding” him – an unpleasant way of saying they take him to the restroom every 2 hours. It worked great today! No problems at all. And I think it made him feel good about himself, too.

We had a nice visit from about 1:30 until 4:30 pm. We hung out on the roof deck a bit, then did some PT with Donna from 2:45 until 3:30. At 3:30, I gave Mike a haircut as we listened to a David Sedaris short story on CD.

While listening to the story, I noticed something really encouraging about Mike’s ability to comprehend and recall narrative structures.
The first story is called “Us and Them.” In order to understand the context of the realization I had, I’ve included the text of the beginning of this short story down below. If you don’t want to read these extra paragraphs, the abridged version is: David Sedaris tells the story of a family who lived next door who reportedly never ever watched television. Sedaris found himself fascinated by these weird people. After several paragraphs without reiterating the source of their weirdness (e.g., the fact that they didn’t watch tv), Sedaris writes,

We never spoke, but I'd pass them in the halls from time to time and attempt to view the world through their eyes. What must it be like to be so ignorant and alone?

Here Mike laughed a really good big laugh.

“Why does he think they are ignorant and alone?” I asked, as though I just happened to miss the beginning of the story.

To which Mike responded almost as an aside to me, “They never watch TV.”

I just found it so amazing that he recalled this important detail even though the story had activated a lot of other information in between the presentation of this fact and the moment when I asked the question (see the original story text below). Usually Mike only has one little bucket for information activated in working memory. Anything else gets tossed out. But not this...

Anne, the speech and cognitive pathologist (who doesn’t really do speech with Mike – since his speech is fine, but works on creative ways to help Mike process information and construct new models of memories), told me that Mike was as good as she’s ever seen him this morning. Knew the month and year. Once he was told it was a rehab hospital, he said it was Magee.

She found a similar thing when reading him paragraphs of information – that when info was presented as a logical story with plotlines, Mike could recall the beginning of it for a longer amount of time than if just presented with random facts or details.
My hunch is that from years of scenework in improv, his brain privileges narrative structures. However, it is also the case that narratives are better recalled and comprehended than non-narrative structures – just in general. So it could simply be the power of narrative as much as/ or more than Mike’s talent in constructing improv scenes.

And finally, I am spending all day tomorrow at Univ of Delaware to meet my research team and prepare for fall. This means I won't be at the hospital tomorrow. So please stop in to see Mike between 4 and 8 pm and give him lots of love. The nurses shower him with it, too - but I'd love know he was getting a special extra dose.

Us and Them
From Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

by David Sedaris

…Back in New York State, we had lived in the country, with no sidewalks or streetlights; you could leave the house and still be alone. But here, when you looked out the window, you saw other houses, and people inside those houses. I hoped that in walking around after dark I might witness a murder, but for the most part our neighbors just sat in their living rooms, watching TV. The only place that seemed truly different was owned by a man named Mr. Tomkey, who did not believe in television. This was told to us by our mother's friend, who dropped by one afternoon with a basketful of okra. The woman did not editorialize—rather, she just presented her information, leaving her listener to make of it what she might. Had my mother said, "That's the craziest thing I've ever heard in my life," I assume that the friend would have agreed, and had she said, "Three cheers for Mr. Tomkey," the friend likely would have agreed as well. It was a kind of test, as was the okra.

To say that you did not believe in television was different from saying that you did not care for it. Belief implied that television had a master plan and that you were against it. It also suggested that you thought too much. When my mother reported that Mr. Tomkey did not believe in television, my father said, "Well, good for him. I don't know that I believe in it, either." "That's exactly how I feel," my mother said, and then my parents watched the news, and whatever came on after the news.

Word spread that Mr. Tomkey did not own a television, and you began hearing that while this was all very well and good, it was unfair of him to inflict his beliefs upon others, specifically his innocent wife and children. It was speculated that just as the blind man develops a keener sense of hearing, the family must somehow compensate for their loss. "Maybe they read," my mother's friend said. "Maybe they listen to the radio, but you can bet your boots they're doing something."
I wanted to know what this something was, and so I began peering through the Tomkeys' windows. During the day I'd stand across the street from their house, acting as though I were waiting for someone, and at night, when the view was better and I had less chance of being discovered, I would creep into their yard and hide in the bushes beside their fence.

Because they had no TV, the Tomkeys were forced to talk during dinner. They had no idea how puny their lives were, and so they were not ashamed that a camera would have found them uninteresting. They did not know what attractive was or what dinner was supposed to look like or even what time people were supposed to eat. Sometimes they wouldn't sit down until eight o'clock, long after everyone else had finished doing the dishes. During the meal, Mr. Tomkey would occasionally pound the table and point at his children with a fork, but the moment he finished, everyone would start laughing. I got the idea that he was imitating someone else, and wondered if he spied on us while we were eating.

When fall arrived and school began, I saw the Tomkey children marching up the hill with paper sacks in their hands. The son was one grade lower than me, and the daughter was one grade higher. We never spoke, but I'd pass them in the halls from time to time and attempt to view the world through their eyes. What must it be like to be so ignorant and alone? [here’s where Mike laughed and when I asked why they were ignorant and alone he told me that they had never watched tv] Could a normal person even imagine it? Staring at an Elmer Fudd lunch box, I tried to divorce myself from everything I already knew: Elmer's inability to pronounce the letter r, his constant pursuit of an intelligent and considerably more famous rabbit. I tried to think of him as just a drawing, but it was impossible to separate him from his celebrity…


Anonymous said...

Sounds quite promising, Danna. It's great to hear a good story every now and again and I don't mean the Sedaris one. Love, Kiki

CSM said...

Just got in from pickling and was SO psyched to read about the day's events... I cannot wait to see Mike tomorrow (I am going to stop over after he eats dinner).

Have a GREAT day at UD!! I am thrilled that you are a Blue Hen like me!!!

Love, CSM

francine said...

yay Fightin' Blue Hens! (yes, I'm one, too). Enjoy your day at the UD, Danna! and yay for Mike :) It's amazing to think how far he's come from 2 or 3 months ago!