Sunday, July 20, 2008

Watch It, Smartie Pants

[Begin reading my story with Eyes in the Back of My Head]

Last week I learned that one of my former horn students graduated college and is engaged to be married. Wow. I thought he only graduated high school just three years ago. True. He graduated college in three years....the overachiever.

Brian began horn lessons when he was in 8th grade, 8 years ago. He was the type of student who resisted rote learning and avoided repetition much to my chagrin. Brian preferred to intellectualize everything.

By the time he hit high school, he was bold and confident. One of his 'endearing' traits was to correct you if you spoke incorrectly. This served to highlight the oddities in my verbal skills which had increased in recent years.

Even as a teen, I would transpose syllables within a word or between two different words, often jumbling it such that two nonsensical words emerged. It wasn't until Brian that I became aware that I was frequently substituting words completely. The only connection which seemed to be present was that the new word often started with the same letter as the correct word.

This little oddity almost went unnoticed as long as I kept going in the conversation and didn't pause. Until Brian....

He would stop and correct me, providing the correct word. My interrupted response was usually along the eloquent lines of, "What?"

"You said measure and you meant metronome."

"Well, ok. You understood what I meant. Let's move on."

This continued through the years 2000-2005 until Brian graduated high school. These years also correlate with the time between a major optic neuritis attack in 2000 and the eventual multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2005.

Sometimes Brian and I would circle around the correct pronunciation of a word. Take for instance the word - respite. I preferred: \ˈres-pət\. Brian insisted that was I incorrect and that it is: \ri-ˈspīt, or ˈres-ˌpīt\. It's very silly, but we circled around this difference for minutes. He thought that my Okie roots had corrupted my pronunciation skills.

Brian also would complete my sentences for me if I paused for just a moment. Often he was correct but sometimes he guessed my thoughts incorrectly. It was hard to fluctuate between not wanting him to "put words in my mouth" and resorting to "you know what I mean."

There have been other students to 'help' me along but Brian is the most memorable. It is somewhat common that MS patients experience changes in cognitive function and verbal fluency. I am special in that I have several human barometers who reflect my verbal deficiencies right back at me. Often we laugh about it and students get used to me asking, "does that word look right to you?" when I have trouble spelling the most common of words.

That's what this journey through life with multiple sclerosis requires - laughter.


  1. I can relate to this story on several levels. I admit that sometimes I am a bit like Brian (overachiever, finisher of others sentences). On the other hand,I am also a teacher and those students drive me crazy. A final note... In yoga they call people like Brian "our gurus" because these people try us and if we do not react or get bothered by them we have resolved many issues within ourselves (I am not sure if I buy this but that is what my teachers say). Either way, those who try us teach us most about patience:)

  2. I was at an important staff mtg once and a co-workser with whom was shared an equal dislike---jumped in as if we had planned it, and filled in a crucial and obscure word that my brain could NOT find, I took it, thanked her mid-sentence and that jerked my brain back. I still find the entire experience fascinating.
    As for your students, if you allow, they will never know that you are not merely testing them. The jumper-inner may take heat, but may be used as an advantage. MS does, give us opportunities to act "outside the box," if you get my drift. Your students are in for a unique and wonderful ride; simply drive your own car.

  3. Thanks for sharing in your comments guys.

    I'm rather fond of Brian as he taught me ways to be a better teacher. Yes, those who try us often teach us.

    Diane I like the car/ride analogy. One technique I use, especially much at the beginning of studies, is to ask very simple questions which require simple answers. Very often the kids who are used to jumping ahead to the assumed point of the questioning avoid answering the simple question.

    I prefer to guide and shape their thought process so the answer presented which is perhaps four steps ahead is not accepted. "Please answer the question asked." It takes awhile before the newer students come to realize that I truly mean what I say and that I don't expect quick conclusions.

    I prefer they join my ride.

    Sometimes it seems a little like showing all your steps in an algebra equation (which I absolutely hated doing when I could plainly see the answer without going through all the steps). But it certainly assists in developing keen analytical and problem-solving skills which are so necessary in the long run.

    I realize that I may not be the typical music teacher. But I'm proud to say that my students get to explore more than just finger skills while in my studio. We explore life skills.

  4. Wow -- I don't know how I missed reading your story/history of how you ended up finding out that you had MS (and I assume you'll get the RA dx along the way? Or did that come after?).

    What scares me a bit is that I'm seeing way too many items in your posts that are pretty close to what I could write (but more exciting -- Austria! So cool!). Of course, as you well know, the reason MS and many other autoimmune diseases are so hard to diagnose in the first place is it's hard to differentiate between them in their early days with our current tests and systems.

    I'm glad I found this by chance! And thanks for all the time/effort I know you must have put into writing the series of posts in the first place so that people like me could read it!

  5. Aviva, Hi!

    I need to get back to my story. I see that it's been almost two years since I added anything, and much has happened since then.

    It can be challenging distinguishing between different autoimmune diseases. I do wonder if having RA in the background delayed the MS diagnosis, or vice versa.

    I hope that you are recovering well from the gallbladder surgery. When my mom had her's out (doctor said that it was the texture of leather when the gallbladder should be like fine tissue paper), she felt tremendously better. Hope that is the same for you.

  6. You are so right its so much easier for everyone involved if I can offer a funny icebreaker. My boss once old me the more I accept MS others will follow suit.

  7. I can totally relate to the word finding, substituting and changing real words for made up ones. I once did the register saying afternine to each child instead of afternoon. I also phoned up a hairdressers and asked how much he charged for a wash cut and blow job.! Ohh the humiliation.! In most sentences I substitute a word for another that starts with the same letter. I am not diagnosed, it was ruled out 8 years ago but just had MRI results back showing 11 lesions consistent with demyelination and satisfying the McDonald criteria for disemination in space. I have an appointment with a neurologist specialising in ms on Thursday.!