The summer was moving right along and the days were creeping closer to my 2L year. The date was now August 15, 2008 – exactly one month after being sent home. Yet, at the recommendation of my neurosurgeon, I was sent back to Yale for neuropsychological testing.
While I have never told anyone this before, the entire process of neuropsych testing was my lowest point. Law school exams had suddenly felt easy – the stakes now were far too high and I was terrified the entire day. And while I was unable to appreciate at that time the significance of what the testing meant, I somehow knew it was a major point in my recovery if I wanted to resume the life I knew and get back to school in a few weeks – because I was going back. Maybe I was naïve or I was just stubborn, but I somehow believed this was not just a fleeting thought.
So, what is neuropsych testing? As defined by the Yale Medical Group, neuropsychology is a “clinical service that provides in-depth evaluations of various brain functions including attention, impulse control, problem solving, memory, language, visual perception, sensory-motor skills, intelligence and emotions.” The entire process is designed to test mental ability and I was being tested to see “where” I was on a cognitive scale.
After the initial introductions and the ice broken, my parents got up and left me…alone….and helpless. I felt like a dog being left behind in a kennel – “please, no – don’t leave me here!” Well, I reasoned that the sooner he can examine me and I can get this over with, I can go home and daydream some more.
The questions came fast…and furious. It’s insane though – as he was asking me the questions, I heard every word asked and understood what he was saying, but could not establish the connection between the question and my response. That was the entire problem and what the doctors were afraid I had permanently lost. I gave my best effort to answer, but my speech was slow. The report noted that it was “effortful” and further that my responses contained paraphasic errors. Throughout the morning, the doctor and his assistant would read an entire page of text to me and then proceed to ask me questions about it, such as “what was the theme?” or “can you repeat the sentence I just read to you?”
I gathered myself for a moment, tried real hard to respond but could not get the words I was searching for out of my mouth. Once again, I felt like a complete failure. I loved the timed questions though. I recall one series where I was told a word and I was asked to provide a word that is similar. Yes, this is something you likely practiced in third grade, but today, my goal was to practice synonyms.
During my lunch break that day, I was so distraught and upset with myself, and the person I had become. I called home and just cried to my family. The sound of concern in my parents’ voice was palpable and I instantly knew that their worst nightmare had come true – I was not doing well and the doctors’ fears were being confirmed. Nonetheless, being unable to be there and provide a smile and a pat on the back, they consoled me and encouraged me to go back in there and do my best, just as I had always done. And with that, I returned to the testing area for the remainder of the afternoon. But today – and possibly forever more – my best was not good enough.
I later learned that after my phone call, my parents had a life-changing experience whereby they knew everything was going to be alright for me.
Do you believe in fate, destiny, do you believe that things happen for a reason, do you pray when things get difficult, do you believe in God? I do.
After we dropped Chris off, we could do nothing other then think about the testing and the latest chapter of his ordeal. The word aphasia was always whispered, and now the fear was that the diagnosis was going to be official. After Chris called that afternoon and cried through his lunch break, Karen and I became extremely emotional and sad and cried for him. At that moment, our son Stephen came home from his high school football workout and said he was starving. I composed myself and decided to light the gas grill and cook him some lunch. While cooking, I began to pray. I prayed for a miracle…I prayed that Chris would be okay…I prayed that God would give me this cross to bear and take it off of Chris’ shoulders…I prayed for a sign that he was going to be okay.
Moments later, I heard a slight flutter in my right ear. Glancing to the right, I saw that a ladybug had landed on my shoulder and was just sitting there. If you believe like I do, she was my sign. That ladybug sat on my shoulder from 12:45 until I got into the car to pick up Chris at 3:30. As I got into the car I “released” her and as she flew off, I had an overwhelming feeling of confidence and peace. In my soul at that moment I knew he was going to be okay.
Back to the testing room, as the sun began to set, the responses to the questions were not coming any easier to me and I was still struggling, if not performing worse. I had just let myself down when I had the opportunity to shine and prove everyone wrong. But I guess everyone else was right.
The report notes that “the nature of his language deficits (e.g. non-fluent spontaneous speech, word finding difficulties, poor confrontational naming, impaired oral and written expression) in the context of relatively preserved oral and written comprehension and intact sentence repetition abilities is consistent with the syndrome of a non-fluent, transcortical motor aphasia.” And there it was – everyone’s worst fears right on paper. Widely suspected but not confirmed until today, I had aphasia (a condition affecting brain injury and stroke patients’ ability to use or understand words).
How would I get through this and where do I go from here? The ride home felt like an eternity and I had never felt so defeated before in my life. How did this all happen to me?
A few days later, a copy of the report was provided and my parents broke the news to me…
…I was not going back to law school.