Sunday, August 23, 2009

Who was Jessica Lall?

One name used to crop up in many TV programmes - Jessica Lall. If there was a programme on criminal justice system in India, Jessica Lall was mentioned. If there was a programme on how the rich and powerful can subvert the law, Jessica Lall figured in the discussion. If there was a talk show on the rising crime graph in cities, the Jessica Lall incident was mentioned.

If she was so famous why had I never heard about her before? I could make out that she had met some violent end. I don't remember asking Jaya about it.

When we purchased a computer with an Internet connection about a couple of years after my stroke I googled 'Jessica Lall' and learnt about the horrible crime. No wonder I did not know about it -it had happened on April 29, 1999 which was the day after my stroke when I was lying unconscious in the ICU.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Visitor reactions - II

Sometimes, somebody who does not know the extent of my disabilities, will offer his hand. Then he will suddenly realise that he has committed a faux pas and will hesitate, not knowing how to bail out. At that time Jaya will crack some joke. Recognising an opportunity (and knowing that it has a reputation for being coy about knocking twice) he will latch on to the joke. Jaya has caused several such potentially awkward situations to disappear through timely intervention.

Small kids seemed to think that I enjoy having children for breakfast. They will hide behind their mothers, peeping occasionally to check if the apparition was remaining at a safe distance. They could not be blamed for thinking that it is better to be safe than to be sorry because at that time I used to look more hideous than I do now, what with the feeding tube protruding out of my nose.

'Deaf and Dumb' always go together. When people saw that I can't speak, they automatically assumed that I was also hard of hearing and would speak loudly. Folks at home will tell them that my hearing is alright, so they will start speaking normally. But after some time their volume will again rise unconsciously.

Some people will act out what they say in order to make me understand what they mean. It took a while for everybody to know that (apart from the fact that I can’t eat,can’t walk,can’t talk!) I was quite normal.

Actually even now when people see me for the first time, they will ask questions like 'Can he hear?' or 'Can he understand what we speak?' which will make me laugh. The problem is that when I start laughing, I find it difficult to stop. Also, since my facial muscles are not very mobile, my expressions may be a bit different from what you would normally expect. As it says in this article :
Platt’s studies of gelotophobes’ emotions show that they may also have problems picking up on the social cues related to smiling and laughter. Fake laughs, belly laughs, malicious laughs and chuckles all come with their own set of cues — such as vocal tones and facial expressions — that signal whether you’re being laughed at or laughed with.

Not picking up on these cues may lead some people with gelotophobia to misinterpret playful laughter as something much more menacing, Platt says.

“If all the cues are all there, the over-exaggeration and the facial mannerisms, to say ‘I’m only playing with you and this is fun,’ then it may be fine,” Platt says. “But there’s a danger that those cues might be misunderstood by someone who fears being ridiculed, and they will say that they’re being bullied when they’re just being teased.”
I hope I did not have too many visitors with gelotophobia. My idiosyncrasies would not have pleased them at all. I had a nurse with this problem. Whenever I laughed about something she would think that I was laughing at her.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Visitor reactions - I

People find it impossible not to stare at someone who looks different from what they normally expect. P. T. Barnum made a lot of money by exploiting this normal human tendency. Initially, I used to be disconcerted by the stares but now I am quite blasé about them.

When people see me for the first time, they are not sure how to interact with me. Perhaps they had thoughts similar to that of Bertie Wooster when he escaped from some disaster. ("There, but for the grace of god, goes Bertram.") Old people will stand some distance away from my bed and stare silently at me. Many of them would have dandled me when I was a child and would not have expected a situation like this.

In "Last Chance to See", Douglas Adams describes the aye-aye of Madagasar :

The aye-aye is a nocturnal lemur. It is a very strange-looking creature that seems to have been assembled from bits of other animals. It looks a little like a large cat with a bat's ears, a beaver's teeth, a tail like a large ostrich feather, a middle finger like a long dead twig and enormous eyes that seem to peer past you into a totally different world which exists just over your left shoulder.

Some people adopted the aye-aye strategy when they met me and carried on a conversation with someone behind me. Looking directly at me will mean asking me some questions for which they will not understand my reply. So how do you look at me without looking at me? Imitate the aye-aye!

You don't exactly become an unperson when you can't move or speak but you tend to become part of the décor while conversion flows about you. At first I used to feel uncomfortable but nowadays I prefer to be ignored because I won't have the hassle of having to think of how to respond without being misinterpreted.

Sometimes people will come into my room and stare silently at me without speaking to me or to anybody else. I will wish someone will say something but I will only be met with silence of the sort which I have seen being described as deafening.