Courts Hear the Whispers of Aphasia
By: Roseanne Boyle Curtis
Is there no one to speak for the ill when they cannot? Life is fragile, are we not all just moments away from the physical strife which can bring with it dependence on our health care and legal systems?
I believe that most people working in these professions have caring hearts and sincere intentions to protect the infirm. Did the system really protect Ruby McDonough, 62? Ms McDonough testified against the man accused of molesting her in the Sudbury, Massachusetts nursing home she was living in after a stroke left her with expressive aphasia. I don’t know Ms McDonough, but I do know what it feels like to have aphasia: vulnerable, scared, sad, immobile, dependent.
I was a patient in one of the most revered rehabilitation hospital in Boston after my stroke. As
a young girl I remember having “the chase dream.” I would run and run, looking over my shoulder, behind me was a man, a faceless stranger aiming to do me harm. I tried to call out but, no sound came. I would open my mouth wider and still, nothing. I ran faster, my heart throbbing wildly, until I awoke in a fierce sweat. When evening fell, the lights grew dim and the halls quiet, I felt the stranger there. Hallway doors would open and close, quiet footsteps would pass by. Who is out there? Who would help me? Aphasia left me a voice nobody could hear and fear. I started to scream. It took every bit of my being to reclaim my life. Aphasia slows the connection between thought, language and speech.
Ruby McDonough was ruled not competent to testify in September 2009 by the now retired
Framingham District Court Judge Paul Healy Jr. Her lawyer Wendy Murphy took her appeal all the way to the state Supreme Judicial Court. That court ruled Ruby McDonough was a person who needed to be heard. Accommodations could now be used to assist her with testifying.
When Ms McDonough testified on Thursday, March 10, 2011 she had some difficulties. But, she did communicate to the court who it was that touched her. Could what happened to Ruby McDonough happen to you? Kofi Agana was found not guilty, the burden of proof was insufficient. Framingham District Court Judge Robert Greco stated, “Something happened in that nursing home, but I don’t know what happened, where it happened, and who exactly did it.” (1)
Our legal and health care systems must protect those who cannot speak for themselves.
Injustice, assaults and ignorance plague people with disablities. Lawyers claim victory for Ruby
McDonough. I say we’ve taken a step in the right direction. Thank you Ruby McDonough for finding your voice even if it is just a whisper.
Metro West Daily News March 11, 2011
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