Mary McMullen, left, is relying friends like Diantha
Rau to assist her recovery from two aneurysms.
how to speak again
Mary McMullen has
a message for us in this holiday season. While she honors Christmas, she
wants us to honor every other day too, to know that even the most ordinary
day holds more miracles than we can imagine.
Its Christmas today. It really is the best. Not Dec. 25,
she said in an interview last week.
Making her way back from two life-threatening aneurysms, McMullen is learning
to speak again. And while her words get tangled sometimes and she struggles
to communicate her meaning, she has no trouble communicating her passion
Mary is a gift of joy to the world, said McMullens good
friend Diantha Rau. Shes just so grateful to be alive.
A Yellow Springs resident from 1975 to 1995, McMullen recently moved back
to the village to be around friends, including Rau and Janet Jenks Ward,
who are helping in her recovery. At one time, McMullen worked in the area
as a mental health therapist until she moved to Philadelphia to care for
her ailing mother. There, she worked as a therapist and social worker
until one day last February.
It was a good one, McMullen said of that day. Then ouch!
That was it.
A blood vessel burst in McMullens brain, causing her to become confused
and have difficulty speaking. A nurse at the mental health agency where
McMullen worked called 911, and made a decision that McMullen believes
saved her life to send her to Temple University Hospital rather
than the closest hospital, thus providing her with more up-to-date facilities
and staff expertise.
Tests revealed McMullen had a second aneurysm, and doctors performed surgery
the following day. The prognosis looked bleak McMullen was given
only a 5 percent chance of surviving surgery, Rau said, and, because the
aneurysms were located in the speech center of her brain, a far smaller
chance of ever speaking again.
But miracles happen.
For instance, a few weeks ago McMullen surprised Rau by pulling out a
young adult novel and reading the words out loud.
I sat there and cried, Rau said of the moment when she saw
her friend, a lifelong poet, once again enjoying the sound of language.
And McMullen has continued to progress. Just last week she revealed that
she was now reading a collection of nature essays, including one about
Turtle. Thousands and thousands. McMullen said showing a visitor
the book. You dont know. I can read!
McMullen spent six weeks in the hospital following her surgery, then participated
in rehabilitation therapy. While family members supported her initially,
they later seemed to lose interest, said McMullen, who felt alone and
unable to progress without people to talk to. At that point, she wrote
a letter to Rau, asking if her friend would help her move back to Yellow
Last week, Rau held up the letter and read it out loud to her friend.
The two laughed together at the tangled sentences. But, Rau pointed out,
McMullen did get her point across.
There were themes, Rau said. I figured it out.
After Rau located an apartment in Yellow Springs for McMullen, Janet and
Gene Ward drove a truck to Philadelphia to pick up McMullen and her belongings.
McMullen said she talked all the way back to Ohio.
Since that time, McMullen has filled her days with cooking, driving her
car in the country and pushing herself to get better. An insurance snafu
has blocked rehabilitation efforts here, Rau said, adding that she believes
the problem is being worked out and McMullen will begin more rehabilitation
But McMullen improves steadily anyway, said Rau, at least partly because
she interacts with people here. McMullen said she enjoys walking downtown
and chatting with friends or acquaintances, and if she encounters someone
who doesnt know of her aphasia the technical term for difficulty
in using language shell pull out a card that explains it.
ñOr she might just explain in her cheerful, streamlined way. I
say, look everybody, brain! she said.
We take verbal communication for granted and think if someone isnt
saying the words, theyre not thinking right, Rau said. But
Mary is very cognizant. You might think shes spacing out, but shes
not. And shes clever. If she cant get her point across directly,
shell search for another angle.
Most likely, shell find it. While some might get depressed living
with such speech difficulties, McMullen weighs the frustration of not
being able to speak as she would like with not living at all, and knows
that, following her brush with death, she came out the winner.
Today, she said, pointing to the blue sky outside her window.
Look out window. Pretty today. Its today, it really is. Christmas,
not Dec. 25. Its today.