Overcoming the sound of silence

A young woman and a dog in front of an emergency department
Tara Hoban and her dog, Luna.
August 27, 2021

Imagine if the world around you suddenly went quiet. That’s exactly what happened to 33-year-old Tara Hoban when she suffered a stroke at home on her own in November last year.

Tara was first admitted to the neurology ward at Fiona Stanley Hospital (FSH) unable to speak and comprehend.

An inpatient for four weeks, she then moved to the State Rehabilitation Service where she underwent intense speech therapy to improve her expressive abilities.

FSH Speech Pathologist Layli Evans said Tara suffered a stroke in the left middle cerebral artery (MCA) which affected the areas of the brain responsible for language comprehension and expression.  

“Specifically, Tara was affected by two communication disorders; aphasia and apraxia of speech,” Layli said.

“A person with aphasia may have trouble speaking, reading, writing and understanding language. 

“A person with apraxia of speech has difficulty planning and coordinating the muscle movements necessary to produce speech. Challengingly, these disorders can be present at the same time.” 

Tara’s therapy in the outpatient clinic targeted her speech and language skills, such as word retrieval and sentence construction, by practicing reading aloud, storytelling and writing. Simple tasks that we all take for granted every day.

An aspiring writer with an interest in poetry, Layli and Tara would often read poetry aloud together – John Keats is one of Tara’s favourite poets.

“Tara is one of the most hardworking, committed and motivated patients I have ever worked with. She is friendly, kind and well-supported by her family and her much loved dog, Luna,” Layli said.

“I’m amazed at Tara’s progress in such a short space of time, and it’s incredible to hear her speak in sentences, write confidently again and even respond to emails.”

Tara’s goal is to return to work in Customer Service at Western Power and begin writing again.

Read Tara’s experience in her own words

I remember the silence. The beep beep of the hospital doors, closing and opening again. The nurses coming into my room every night to top up my medication. The nurse and the doctors and my parents checking up on me. And me, not able to say a word to them. Nodding my head dumbly. Whenever I tried to speak, they always listened attentively, then said “I am so sorry Tara, I can’t understand you. Not yet.” Then, when they think I don’t see them, silently shake their heads. I don’t judge them for that, but it is hard. Not having a voice. Two months does not sound like a long time. Let me tell you it’s a long time to be inside my mind.

I suffered a stroke, the cerebral artery kind. I got a clot, it went straight through the hole I already had in my heart, up to my brain and BOOM! Stroke happened. I remember waking up at 2.30am feeling the worst sickness of my life. I couldn’t get up, not for a few hours. Something kept dragging me back. The stroke – except I didn’t know it was happening.

I remember seeing my phone and wondering what it was for. I certainly couldn’t remember the pass code to get into it. All my memories, passwords, pins, online bank. All gone. I even forgot how the front door lock works, so I couldn’t even let in my mother. And when I finally could let her in, not being able to tell her what’s wrong almost killed me. I was in a state of shock at the fact that I couldn’t speak

Then, there was life at the hospital. The people who made me feel better about myself. Saying I could do it, learn to write and speak again. Every day, I saw the speech pathologist, a doctor, played games with the other patients. I saw people come and go and envied them. What I envied most was how quickly they seemed to recover, but mostly that they got to leave first.

What I will always remember about the hospital was the kind people. The nurses, doctors who were always busy but who were willing to sit down and explain something to me. But mostly the speech pathologist, who collectively has the patience of a saint, who sat with me endlessly while I struggled to say ‘L’, such an important letter for me. My dog’s name is Luna. I couldn’t say Luna for three months. I recently cried in the store when I realised I could recite my number, correctly pronouncing all the digits. This is after eight months of therapy, eight months learning to speak again. I know what it is to be silent. I hope to never face that journey again.

Below: Tara and FSH Speech Pathologist Layli Evans with Tara’s dog, Luna

Two young women and a dog in a garden

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