Punchline

In the ER, the first diagnosis was conduction aphasia, characterised by difficulty repeating others’ sentences. I couldn’t repeat the neurologist’s “no ifs and or buts” no matter how many times I asked him to repeat his sentence or how many times I tried.

I still see an echo of this difficulty in a coupe of places. Here’s a bit of data I haven’t mentioned yet: difficulty with a punchline of a joke.

I have a small repertory of jokes — only three, actually, aside from a few childhood ‘knock, knock’s. One I can easily tell until I get to the punchline, at which moment I can’t easily produce it, even after a long pause. The line: “I’m afraid I’ve been eating my entrees with my salad fork.” It seems simple, but I’m never ready to set it out in order, rather than, “I’m afraid I have been using my salad fork to eat my entrees.” I’m not sure the order matters all that much, but I’m trying for the former version and can’t quite figure how to strategize the sentence to get it that way.

There are a number of issues that bear on this difficulty. It’s very much akin to the pronoun confusions that still plague me. It also seems related to the limits on my ability to keep a thread from distraction. And again it’s like the scrambling of formulas. Even the loss of tense, which is a kind of memory and strategizing over the long distance, and the confusions of thematic roles (interesting/interested), which is another kind of ability that depends on a store of relations over distance.

I wish I could pinpoint the origin of all these: limited storage? loss of grammar? weakened procedural memory? just a loose collection of damaged functions?

One more related fact: I have trouble with long institutional names. My own group, Lower East Sides Residents for Responsible Development, get tough after “residents,” although I know the last word, “development.” I used to rattle this off without thinking, but now I not only have to think it through, I have trouble thinking it through. I’ve had the same problem with Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, even with its initialism, GVSHP, though to be honest, I always found it a bit of an alphabet soup.

This suggests a Wernicke’s problem, or a declarative memory issue. But it’s interesting that procedural reconstruction of these is not easy. Maybe I’ve lost a bit of both types.

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