On Tuesday, October 25, Senate candidates John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz faced off in a televised debate. Fetterman suffered a stroke in May of this year, and Tuesday’s debate put his post-stroke effects on full display.
Politics do not always bring out the best in us. On social media, many were quick to judge Fetterman’s communication deficits with ridicule and mockery. Likewise, the flurry of reaction articles from media sources focused on Fetterman’s “struggles” and “painful” debate performance.
According to the CDC, more than 795,000 people living in the United States will have a stroke per year. Very few of them will have to recover publicly on a national stage. While Fetterman has not released his full medical records, his primary care doctor says that he is recovering well and fit to serve. The public — Lingraphica included — does not know the exact details of his stroke or his recovery beyond what he and his campaign have stated publicly. With these medical details and his public performances, experts and laypersons alike have been drawing their own conclusions about Fetterman’s health.
What kind of stroke did John Fetterman have?
A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain stops due to a blockage, or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. Most strokes that occur are the former type, known as ischemic strokes. Based on what the public knows about Fetterman’s stroke, experts believe his stroke was ischemic. Fetterman’s wife quickly recognized his symptoms, and he received fast treatment.
Why does Fetterman appear to have communication deficits?
The brain, like all other bodily organs and tissues, requires consistent oxygen and blood flow. When blood flow is interrupted, it can injure the brain. Factors like where this injury occurs and the length of the interruption will determine a stroke survivor’s deficits.
In Fetterman’s case, his campaign and doctor have publicly stated that his primary deficit is an auditory processing issue. More broadly, these types of deficits are bundled within a larger category called aphasia.
Does aphasia imply lack of intelligence?
Aphasia is a disorder that affects how one communicates. It can affect how one speaks, reads, writes, and comprehends. Aphasia is a language disorder — not a cognitive disorder. A person’s aphasia has no bearing on their intelligence.
It does, however, affect how people perceive the intelligence of a person with aphasia. No one earnestly questions the ability to hold office of those who rely on wheelchairs, hearing aids, or guide canes. It is estimated that up to 65% of Americans benefit from the use of some sort of assistive technology in the workplace. Oz’s campaign and others mocked the “concessions” he was willing to make for Fetterman, including assistive technology such as closed captioning. In this instance, Oz has painted the use of such technology as a generous compromise. Where language is concerned, people are unfortunately quick to pass judgment.
People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the world. It is a group that anyone can find themselves a part of at any time. For many, Fetterman’s public recovery is an opportunity to celebrate. Likewise, it is a moment to see how much work we have left to do.