A Caregiver’s Perspective: ‘I didn’t know if he would ever speak to me again’

Caregiver, Success Story

Debbie Furman’s husband Mark had a stroke and subsequent aphasia. The Furmans, from Poland, Ohio came to UMAP in 2016. Debbie, his caregiver, submitted the following essay during the final days of their session at UMAP here in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Before Mark’s stroke, I had never heard of the word aphasia. But I sure learned quickly. At first Mark was diagnosed with global aphasia. He couldn’t swallow, and they put a feeding tube in him. I didn’t know if he would ever speak to me again or ever eat again on his own.

At first we started out in a sub-acute rehab facility that provided skilled rehabilitation. After three weeks of speech therapy they taught him how to swallow and how to eat on his own again, but he still couldn’t speak. From there we went to an acute rehab facility where we spent another four weeks. They provided him with a half hour of speech therapy five days a week, and here I really began to know the deficits that the stroke caused. He couldn’t tell a fork from a frog.

He received home therapy and outpatient speech, occupational and physical therapy. He showed some progress, but the aphasia was still very severe. That is when panic kicked in, and I started my research on intensive speech therapy programs. I knew what he was getting just wasn’t enough. He needed more to kick start his brain. But first he had to learn how to walk and take care of himself on his own before I could take him anywhere. As he progressed in his physical ability, I was researching intensive speech therapy.

I had called the University of Michigan Aphasia Program and inquired about the program. I asked for references as well. I talked to two past clients, and they highly recommended the program. I also asked our speech therapist at the time, who graduated from Bowling Green University. She said she would check with her professor and get back to me. The next week she said that her professor highly recommended the program, and said it is the best one in the country. So I made my mind up and sent in my deposit to secure a place in the program.

Our first week was very grueling. They tested Mark, and he didn’t do very well. The diagnosis was still severe Wernicke’s aphasia. At first I was very discouraged by his diagnosis, but as time goes on, Mark has made great progress. No miracles are promised, but I knew he would make gains if he was pushed.

Mark is a very hard worker before and after all this happened, and I knew he would work hard to try to get his life back. Being a caregiver is not easy. To see someone you love suffer is the most agonizing thing a person should never have to experience. The unknown is also very scary. To not know if he will survive or if he will ever get better is one of the most terrible things anyone could ever experience. It has been a very exhausting, stressful, guilt-filled situation for me. I would never want this to happen to anyone. It also requires a lot of patience. I take it one day at a time, and sometimes one minute at a time. But as Mark improves, it is getting a little easier for me to be his wife and caregiver.