Bristol woman woke up only able to speak German after stroke finds creative ways to communicate

  • Watch Courtney Sargent's report here.

Imagine not being able to speak to everyone around you - the words make sense in your head but you can't get them out.

That was Hazel Hammond's reality in 2019 when she developed Aphasia - a disorder that affects the part of your brain that controls language.

For Hazel, it meant she was unable to speak English at all and could only communicate in German.

However after the stroke, Hazel had no idea that she wasn't making any sense to nurses and just thought they were ignoring her.

In an attempt to communicate with the outside world, Hazel was forced to use her artistic background to communicate and made plasticine models and put them on a crossword so that the nurses would ask her what she was doing.

Hazel used plastaine model to communicate with the outside world Credit: Hazel Hammond

Hazel was no stranger to German as she had spent a few years in German schools as a child and then in her early 20s went back to work there.

As a young girl Hazel and her father would enjoy German poetry together. However, she spoke a lot more English, living and working here in Bristol as a poet for many years.

Hazel said that not being able to do her job the way she was used to was the hardest part of the ordeal.

"I thought I would never be able to do poetry again as I wasn't good enough at speaking anymore," she said.

But that all changed for Hazel when a fellow poet told her "Yes it would be different, but she was good enough".

She now uses her experience and what she has learnt about communication to help others with the disorder.

She said: "The one thing that is important to all people who have Aphasia, especially after a stroke is conversation.

"It is easy to just think that because we can't talk that you should just let us be but the only way to improve is to try and talk as much as possible.

"For me, my friend Alex is crucial in my recovery, she knows me so well and would cuddle me in conversation," she added.

Eventually, speaking in English started to come back to Hazel and words, like hospital, that had been impossible for her to say slowly began to get easier.

A depiction of Hazels Stroke being scratchy Credit: Artwork by Hazel Hammond

The disorder affects one in three people who have a stroke but can present differently for everyone.

June was Aphasia Awareness month and Hazel is keen to raise the profile of a condition that so few people know about.

"It's not a household name," she said but stressed the importance of people understanding what it's like to live with Aphasia and how to talk to those who are struggling with the disorder.

When asked what advice she had for anyone living with Aphasia she said: "Say yes to the tea, say yes to the conversation, it may be hard at first and seem like nothing is changing but over time it will be the difference between getting your language back and not"