Strokes happen in an instant, no warning. As Howard Engel so profoundly writes in his book, “The Man Who Forgot How to Read” “Like the medieval figure of death, strokes were no respectors of physique or education. We were all levelled by the sweep of its swinging blade.”
On July 31, 2001 Howard Engel got up had his breakfast he went out to the porch to pick up his paper. He glanced at the headline and it looked as if it were written in a strange language. His first thought was one of his friends was playing a joke on him. He flipped through the sections all the same. Howard began to think something terrible was happening to him. His first thought was it stroke.
Later that morning at the hospital it was confirmed he had a stroke called an Alexia Sine Agraphia. Described by one of my favourite doctors Oliver Sacks, “Alexia, an inability to read resulting from damage to a particular area of the occipital cortex, the visual part of the brain.”
For Howard Engel this was devastating, he was an award-winning author. He had a long career as a writer for CBC Radio and he wrote many books. He wrote a series about a private detective named Benny Cooperman. Not your Sam Spade type with the chiseled chin and tough as they come. Benny was the opposite but somehow managed to solve the cases. The books were set around the Niagara Region of Ontario.
Like me Howard loved to read the printed word. The old adage “the more you read the better the writer you will be.” I can’t imagine what he went through waking up to discover he couldn’t read. The words were jumbled, letters were missing.
He also had trouble remembering names, he wrote, “I have a brain full of remembered names, but the road out is blocked by rubble.”
Howard never lost his sense of humour or his ability to write. He was able to process thoughts and put pen to paper. But he still couldn’t read what he wrote. If he did write something and the editors sent it back to him for a re-write he was stumped. He spent months trying to find ways to trick his damaged brain Eventually with the help of a therapist he succeeded. It was a slow process, but it worked he could read.
Howard Engel went on to write a few more books including “The Man Who Forgot How to Read” I read it in one sitting, I look forward to reading his other works. This is a story about never giving up something you love, or giving up your passion. I’ll leave the last words to Howard Engel.
“And so, it goes. There are good days and bad. At times I find the way hard and confusing, but I get my reward the following day when the way is easier to find. Hard work pays off.”