My view, Ben Parkinson - Why I’m never lost for words

Ben Parkinson, pictured at home on his laptop which he uses to keep in touch with all of his friends. Picture: Marie Caley D9782MC
Ben Parkinson, pictured at home on his laptop which he uses to keep in touch with all of his friends. Picture: Marie Caley D9782MC
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Since I was injured I have a speech problem.

I had a speech problem before – I used to say stupid things.

When I woke up months after, I couldn’t speak. I didn’t know why and neither did my family.

We didn’t understand that loss of speech is very common with brain injury.

Speech isn’t just about talking it’s about communication, and at first I couldn’t communicate in any way.

A wonderful speech therapist at Selly Oak Hospital used her own time to help me.

We began with blinking.

A simple blink once for yes and twice for no. That was interesting. Because my brain was working so slowly, no-one knew if I was answering the current question or one from 30 minutes before.

After a year I still couldn’t make a single sound, but I had moved on to using an alphabet chart. At least now I knew what was wrong.

It’s a condition called dysarthria which means that the muscles used for speech are not properly connected to the brain any more, and my soft palate was paralysed.

Then came the lightwriter. This was a small typewriter fastened to my chair.

I typed in what I wanted to say and pressed the magic button. It then spoke out loud – very loud, in a terrible American accent.

In hospital surrounded by other squaddies, all wanting a go, my machine learnt every swearword known to mankind.

At the regimental boxing in Colchester we were all warned by the RSM that no heckling the opposition was allowed. I sat on the front row innocent as ever, but the lightwriter made its way round the crowd insulting every fighter that the REME put up.

Learning to speak, learning to compensate for the weak muscles, has been a long, hard and slow process.

But I hated that lightwriter, I wanted to talk.

People think if you can’t talk you can’t understand.

I didn’t realise how lucky I was.

Firstly, my therapists were able to retrain unused bits of my brain. There were lots of those.

Secondly, money was available to buy me the lightwriter.

Many people with brain injury could use one but they aren’t cheap.

I always said I would launch mine out the window when I could talk, but it’s gone to a veteran who has had a stroke.

This is his only way to get the chance to communicate that I had.