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A Late Bloomer’s Resolution
by Therese Park

 

I am a late bloomer in the school of aging. Looking back, it’s no surprise, because I was never an advanced reader and wasn’t good at math. I still don’t like math that much. My accumulating age makes my head spin.

But I am quick to notice my friends’ deepening wrinkles and graying hair and dentures. Once I called a cashier “Old lady” and was embarrassed when she turned out to be four years younger than me. I would have been furious if anyone called me that.

But recently, my age and the business of “aging” suddenly caught up with me, like unpaid bills, and I had to balance my life account.

It all happened about a month ago when I walked into a patient room at The University of Kansas Medical Center as a Korean-English translator. The speech pathologist met me in the hallway and explained that the patient had a stroke three days earlier and that he had lost ability to communicate in English, along with his short-term memories. She said that the kind of stroke he suffered wouldn’t affect his ability to speak his native language and the events that happened in his childhood, but only the memories of his later days.

In his room, I recognized him: he has lived in the Kansas City area as long as I have and spoke near perfect English. In fact, he was one of a few Korean-English translators whom I had run into a few times in courthouses or hospitals. But now, his watery eyes wandering about the ceiling, he didn’t seem to be aware of his condition or why people were encircling him.

Our session began with the doctor’s questions, which I told him in Korean. “Mr. Kim, do you see your daughter in the room?”

The patient’s head turned very slowly toward the young Asian woman standing in the corner with puffy eyes, and he stared.

“What’s her name?”

His lips trembling, he pronounced a Korean name.

“Do you remember what happened to you three days ago?”

He didn’t reply. After trying a couple of times, he closed his eyes and soon drifted to sleep.

I wondered whether he pretended to be asleep, so that he didn’t have to face what might have happened to him? I had no clue. Our session had to end.

On the way out, I picked up a couple of brochures on stroke from the nurses’ station and read them, standing in the hallway.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Brain cells depend on blood to supply oxygen and nutrients, and when the supply is cut off or drastically reduced, cells begin to starve or die suddenly. The degree of damage depends on the location in the brain and the length of time blood flow is obstructed or reduced. About 70% of stroke patients recover and lead a near normal life, but the rest suffer permanent damage, including partial paralysis, speech impediment, and cognitive deficits.

One kind is a hemorrhagic stroke, in which the blood vessels break. This is usually associated with hypertension or high blood pressure. Learning to relax or avoid a stressful situation might reduce the chance to be a victim of this type of stroke. The second type is an ischemic stroke. This happens when a small blood clot blocks the flow in the blood vessels. The brain is most vulnerable to such chaos, because it cannot survive without a timely supply of oxygen. To prevent this type of stroke, one must exercise, stay away from saturated fats, and restrain from smoking.

Driving home with the newly gained knowledge, I was determined to fight my foe. I can’t lose my second language at any price, because I worked so hard to learn it. It would be a nightmare if the clock suddenly turns backwards and I find myself waking up in a hospital room surrounded by people babbling something I don’t understand. It would be sad, too, if all my short-term memories are wiped from my brain, like a computer file that vanishes with an accidental click of a mouse, and I can’t recognize my loved ones or remember their names.

I resolved to defend my second language and my fond memories of my loved ones with all my might. I will walk daily, eat sensibly, and enjoy the sunsets.

 

March 6 , 2005