crossed wires

Communication abilities (dogs, babies and old people)

A baby can incoherently babble, and a dog can growl or nip, but don’t speak the same language.  An old person afflicted with dementia are sometimes beyond the power of speaking, and unable to communicate at all.  Even people who have undergone a horrific accident and are now unable to speak coherently still try to communicate, only it is not physically possible.  No matter what the situation we are in, we must all have thoughts going on in our mind while we are still breathing.

My personal experience with a TBI, even when in a comatose like state, heart monitors or brain monitors are hooked up, and when it shows activity, you know that the person feels something; excitement, joy, anger or confusion.  The heart monitors raced when my then boyfriend held my hand and spoke softly in my ear and when my good friend played music of a band that we had just seen in concert a few weeks before I was in my car accident.  I showed agitation in the pool at the children’s rehab center that I was staying in, and other times during that week before I “woke up” (fully and came out of my coma).  I know what it’s like to not be able to communicate verbally or express to others what you need.  The therapists at the children’s rehab hospital made a communication board for me, it had the words ‘bathroom’ ‘yes’ ‘no’ posed in stop and go signs.  It also served the purpose of a lap desk, so I could manipulate objects, or try to write on it.  I was searching online and couldn’t even find an example of a communication board, everything has gone ‘digital,’ so technologically advanced.  When I was in the process of waking up, the therapists gave me paper and a pen in order for me to write, only my handwriting was nearly indecipherable being so big and messy.  And my parents told me later that I didn’t like using the communication board, I tried to express things verbally or through a sign language that I  made up.  A lot of communication is non verbal, leading by intonation, or tone of voice and through body language.  While in the comatose state, a therapist would have me smell different herbs and I would make faces or scrunch my nose up if I thought the smell was bad or too powerful.  My speech therapist had also taught me to blink once for yes, twice for no.  That seems to be a universal communication code, because while talking to residents in the nursing home, I have also used this technique, and I can tell that the nonverbal residents are familiar with this.

Older people have the same communication problems as people that have had a traumatic brain injury.  Due to some of the conditions that the residents in a nursing home are in, especially on the floor of the nursing home on which I work, the Special Care Unit, have lost facial expressions and voice intonation, in addition to some cognitive abilities.  It took about a year for me to regain those actions.  Or just finding the words to express what that person needs is an issue for many.  On the other hand, babies or dogs can’t verbally communicate.

Babies must use body language, clapping and smiling with their toothless faces, or crying to be comforted by only their mother.  Dogs on the other hand, are not like people, and have no way communicating their wants, needs or feelings.  If a dog were bothered, there’s no gentle way to tell the person to ‘Get away, I’m not in the mood’ other than verbally growling or nipping.  What if that dog was a rescue dog, and didn’t know how to properly make a soft growl at a baby as a warning, so he nipped at that baby?  Maybe I’m just trying to make up excuses for my dog.  But now he’s learned his lesson, when baby comes around, he just jumps off the chair and heads towards the table looking for more Cheerios to devour.  Even though there’s a communication clash and wires get crossed between beings, we can eventually be understood if we are patient and calm enough to look at all of the components of communication.

Sorry baby Elana about Chazz scaring you and pawing at your face!

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About Danielle!

A young professional Longwood University alum, with a traumatic brain injury having previously worked in the Therapeutic Recreation field with the elderly at nursing homes in Fairfax, VA. Now as a TBI advocate, trying to help others learn more about TBIs is involved in support groups, as well as very involved in my church.
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3 Responses to crossed wires

  1. I’ve spoken to several people who came out of comas who told me how much they remember from what they heard and smelled while in that state. “Unconscious” is different from “not conscious,” then. Right? Best to you, Danielle.

    • Danielle! says:

      Hi Sally! To clarify, I remember feelings during the time I came out of my coma, not so much directly after when I was laying in bed at the very beginning. I don’t remember about the heart rate monitor or the brain wave monitor (I don’t even know if the latter exists or if they’re both the same), I just know what was told to me. In my opinion unconscious and not conscious is pretty much the same thing. You would need to talk to each specific person to see what they mean. When I say coma like state, i mean semi-conscious was when I was coming out of my coma, being placed upright in a wheelchair and going through therapy. Being able to hold someone’s hand and scrunch up my nose when smelling some strong smelling herbs is being not conscious but still aware. I was still being measured on the Glasgow coma scale, but I was in a more alert stage of a coma during the months when I was going through therapy. There is no absolute difference between the two. I may have muddled up this already gray area by trying to clarify, but that’s what it is, a real gray area. Although I do know definitely when I came out of my coma- it’s when I could hold a conversation with a person, and more than just a word. And I remember it. It’s when I fell off the bed (if you read my C’est la vie blog entry) Hope that’s more clear.

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