Writing comes as naturally to me as breathing, petting cats, swimming, and riding my bike. I can’t imagine myself not being a writer. It’s what I do.
I had a 3-week period in the hospital when I wasn’t even able to read. The brain can’t process a change like that—people who lose the ability to read due to a brain injury usually have to be told by someone else that they can’t read. They will look at print and not understand why it doesn’t make sense, but the brain will not put together the idea that a person can no longer read. It’s too much a part of a person’s identity.
If the people around me knew I couldn’t read, they didn’t talk about that in front of me. I had a poster on the wall past the foot of my bed that made no sense. I kept trying to read it and kept getting different things from it. One day I just read it—it was about handwashing, and realized I hadn’t been able to read it before. It was still months before I could count back change.
My right hand was almost completely amputated when I was hit. It was classified as a complete amputation because the radial artery and the radial and ulnar nerves were completely severed. The radial nerve was a perfect reattachment, but the ulnar nerve was complicated by the fact that the ends were shredded and there wasn’t a flat attachment site. The surgeon had to trim away the shredded ends in order to have surfaces to join. I had to put a soup can in a sock, then put the sock over my wrist and hang it backward over the edge of a chair for three 20-minute sessions every night in order to stretch the nerve and scar tissue so the wrist could bend normally.
The feeling didn’t all come back in the ulnar nerve, but thanks to some great therapy, the motion is there. I can pierce my little finger with a needle and barely feel a thing. There’s a big numb spot in my wrist that feels like someone put a battery tab between the bones and it needs to be pulled out so there will be contact.
Writing is a challenge. I can write a few sentences with a pen before my writing gets hard to read. I can use a “dished” keyboard designed for people with repetitive stress injuries, but not the flat keyboard that comes with most laptops, or the “bubble” style popularized by Microsoft in the 90s. I’m using my laptop right now with an outboard dished keyboard.
People often ask me why I don’t use voice-to-text software. It seems logical to them that I could simply speak the words and it would be no different from typing them. The fact is, it’s very different. The gifts for speech and writing in separate areas of the brain. They’re neighbors in the language center, but they’re not roommates. Think about yourself and the people you work with—there is a reason why politicians have speech writers, and it’s not just delegation. People who get elected as leaders are usually good orators. Good orators are not necessarily good writers, and many great writers are awkward speakers. I am an awkward speaker.
The other problem with voice-to-text is that I cherish silence. I can’t write with music on, not even when my neighbors are making noise. I need peace and quiet for the words to flow. My voice shatters that silence. It would take a long time to get used to that—longer than I think is worth the effort.
Voice-to-text software is not an ideal solution for me. I would have to be a lot worse off than I am to give any serious effort to conversion.
I don’t even voice text. Most of my friends do, and they don’t even have limitations that make it necessary. I tried it and spent more time correcting my messages than it would take me to simply type them into my phone with my thumbs. Texting is tiring and I will often tell a furiously texting friend to call me or switch to email so I can use a real keyboard to reply. One of my friends was completely mystified by that—what difference does it make? I am a touch typist who can churn out 80 words per minute with few mistakes, even with this damaged hand. A real keyboard makes a big difference.
I’m so grateful that I regained my ability to read. For 3 weeks in the hospital, I couldn’t read a word. The brain can’t process the loss of this skill and I remained blissfully ignorant that I couldn’t read until the morning when the poster in my room suddenly made sense. I laid there trembling with the knowledge that I hadn’t been able to read. I can’t imagine having to rely on audio books—I can’t bear them. My attention wanders too much while listening to get anything resembling a story. I can’t go back and find the place where I last knew what was going on, the way you can when your attention drifts while reading. I also read very fast and can’t slow my attention down to a normal vocal pace. Even TV is hard to tolerate if my hands aren’t doing something.
On that note, though, I love video captioning when it is done well. Automated captioning has a long way to go, but professionally captioned TV shows help me get more from the programs. Without captions, I’m forever skipping back to replay things I missed or misheard. They make short work of heavy accents, and when the clock strikes 10 and I’m on quiet hours at the condo complex, I can turn down the volume without missing a thing.
Are there any assistive technologies for you that you’ve tried and liked, or didn’t? Did anyone give you a hard time about it?