“No one asked for your Peanut M&Ms”

By Julie

We’ve all been there. You type out a text message or an email and then hit send only to realize a moment too late that your words have been changed by the evil autocorrect function on your device. Most of the time the results are harmless, or better yet hilarious, but occasionally they are terrifying and leave you in a cold sweat while you await a response from the person with whom you are corresponding.

Autocorrect once made me call my boss “Satan” in a group email with at least a dozen of my colleagues CC’d (his name is Stan). Worse yet, I once accidentally called my adorable nephew a horrible racial slur while exchanging text messages with my sister. Luckily, in both cases, all of the involved victimized parties were very understanding and had a sense of humor about the situation. That’s the thing about modern technology – we have all been there, so we all get it.

But imagine trying to function in society with your brain constantly auto-correcting the words you are trying to say, or the words others are saying to you. That is life with aphasia – a communication disorder that impairs a person’s ability to process language. In the weeks and months leading up to his cancer diagnosis Travis began to suffer from both expressive and receptive aphasia. With numerous speech pathologists in my family I had a vague familiarity with the term, but it still never occurred to me to label his occasional forgetfulness, word mix-ups, or inability to understand what I was saying to him, with any particular medical terminology.

The aphasia came on slowly over the course of about two months, and then suddenly over about 72 hours struck in a way that forced us to pursue immediate medical attention. Cows weren’t cows, they were fish. People were squirrels. All inanimate objects were chairs. In hindsight, it was so clear that something was wrong, then came the brain tumor diagnosis.

Post surgeries, Travis’ speech has begun to improve. He has worked tirelessly with researchers and his speech pathologist over the past five months to regain a lot of the functions he initially lost. Where there are still gaps I use context clues, logical semantics and my extensive knowledge of the man I’ve lived with for the better part of a decade.

It’s easy to adapt at home with many of his auto-corrected phrases even becoming a humorous part of our everyday conversations. Where Travis used to regularly quip, “no one asked for your opinion” when I would give him unsolicited advice, he now says “no one asked for your peanut M&Ms,” not because he can’t say it correctly but because it was hilarious the first time he said it. Still, speaking in public when you’re not 100% certain of what will come out of your mouth can be terrifying.

I’ve always considered myself to be an empathetic person, but even so I am guilty of making snap judgments based on what I see and hear from others. This experience with Travis has given me a greater level of empathy for those with hidden difficulties and challenge than I ever imagined I could have. It’s hard to be grateful in a situation like the one we have currently found ourselves in, but I am truly grateful for this life lesson.

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