Thanks kitt, I appreciate the kind words. They say that we can all teach by example, if that is true then my life provides a wealth of learning for folks in the form of "This is how you SHOULD NOT do it...."
I suspect my stroke experiences might be the most useful for readers. I was surprised to find out that there was no standard therapy for people who suffered unusual defects like I did, and that they essentially turn you loose on your own to cope (or not) as best you can. I am a scientist and engineer by training and attacked the problem at its roots after a crash course reading a hundred or so papers on the subject while I was in the hospital that first day (a laptop with WiFi is a handy thing).
There are a thousand medical opinions out there as to how the brain works, how memories are stored, how to recover function, etc. After reading much conflicting data on the subject, I gave up on trying to understand how it worked and just concentrated on trying to regain function. I reasoned that the most effective way would be to emulate the learning process by which children store the deepest programming on motor functions etc. Rather than despair at my inability to master fine hand-eye coordination with the visual defect getting in the way, I decided to try massive repetition of gross movements. Accordingly I had my wife get me some coloring books (standard pre-school types with simple pictures and thick black outlines, Veggietales worked great
) and began practicing immediately. It took me a good bit of time to master getting the crayon to touch the paper where I wanted it to, so I broke the movement down to its core motions and practiced them over and over and over, starting with very slow motions and then gaining speed over time. Once I could get the crayon to touch where I intended, I worked on being able to color inside the lines. That took me a couple of days of steady effort.
After I had regained the ability to color, I practiced drawing the basic shapes (triangles, squares etc). All of this was complicated by the nature of the visual defect - I could not "understand" what was going on directly in the middle of my visual field, i.e. if I looked directly at the shape I was drawing, even though my brain was saying "I'm drawing a square" I would just see a random squiggle. Then if looked at it off-axis (kind of from the corner of my eye) I could see that I was drawing shapes that were slowly becoming increasingly square-like. I could draw something with my eyes closed and it would be a nice square, I could draw it while looking off to the side and it was a nice square, but if I looked right at it while I was drawing there was something not "connecting" in my brain and it came out wrong.
As I would practice these things over and over and over, I would reach a point where there was an almost perceptible "click" as things would lock into place and I recovered the capability. I had to do this with many things that I had never thought about
, like writing my name, shaving (try shaving without looking at the razor OUCH), getting food onto my fork, etc. But all of them came back eventually given enough practice.
I was very fortunate to be a good touch typist so I was able to keep working and communicating during the period, writing was very problematic as I found I could not write well even when I didn't look directly at the paper
. The exam I took that day looked like a child wrote it, but I did well so I can't complain too much, took a certain amount of satisfaction in passing such a thing with a chunk of brain gone, even though I kick myself for being so focused that I didn't realize what had happened to me.
Recovering full reading speed was also pretty quick thanks to the fact that I have always read a bit differently since I was a kid. I read left-to-right, right-to-left in an unbroken scan and somehow it all comes out in the right order, has been this way since I was a kid. By modifying the scan a bit I was soon able to read at full speed and over time the "squiggly area" got smaller and smaller until I no longer noticed it. I don't know if it is gone, or if it is still there and I just "look around it" like the brain handles the blind spots, but it is undetectable by me at this point.
The key to stroke recovery IMHO is to immediately start practicing, practicing, practicing - start with the basics and work toward the fine points of control. Many of the pathways are still there following brain damage but the connections fade fast, it is very much a use-it-or-lose-it scenario.
I also learned that visual processing is a much more abstract function than we think. I had always assumed that when stroke victims were unable to recognize people that they had simply had those particular memories wiped out. Not necessarily true - in my case, looking at someone's face in the direct center of my vision was like seeing a Picasso painting - eyes, lips, nose just kind of randomly floating and not connected. It made me physically ill to look at them, very disorienting for some reason, so I was quite fortunate to be able to see them out of the sides of my vision as normal recognizable faces. If the defect had been larger, I would not have been able to recognize people's faces NOT because I had lost ability to see them or remember them, but because I could not process what a "face" meant. That is an entirely different and much more intractable problem to solve than just rebuilding memories.
My heart goes out to the millions of folks out there who have suffered strokes and been unable to communicate or understand what has happened to them, and for whom there is little conventional therapy available.