During the second night Karen has an eerie experience. She awakes in the early morning and sees her right forearm standing up and her hand flapping back and forth. It´s as if she were waving, but it is cramped, and out of control. She shuts her eyes and lies there helplessly. Later, her arm slumps back on the bed.

Victor´s smashed jaw has been operated the previous day and he is still under anaesthesia at the time. He regains consciousness in the morning and calls his wife: "How are you?" "You know, Victor, ----" she replies. But she can only whimper after that.

"I could only say: "Victor, you know..." I was struggling to find a word. What I wanted to say was "Victor, you know, I cannot speak!" But instead of words I only found a gaping void in my brain..."

Karen´s speech has again gone - just as immediately after the accident. Victor, still numbed by the anaesthetic, hangs up. Karen hears the click.

A nurse takes the receiver from her hand. The doctors anaesthetize her and inject a contrast fluid in her carotid artery that supplies blood to her brain. They can see on the X-ray that parts of the brain are cut off from blood circulation. The result: Karen´s right side is paralysed - and she cannot speak anymore.

A few hours later a doctor calls Victor: "Your wife has suffered a stroke." Victor wants to go to her at once but his doctors do not let him: "Remain in bed! You are freshly operated!"

Early next morning Victor steals out of his bed and sneaks across the hospital campus to her room. By sheer chance he meets a doctor in front of her door. "Your wife?" he asks. As Victor nods he shows him the X-rays. The right hemisphere is pale (because of the many functioning blood vessels), but Victor sees a large, dark patch on the left hemisphere. "You see" says the doctor, " dark as night. She´ll never get up again."

Karen Smetacek is 33 at the time. Just 3 months before the accident she had got her first job: As a teacher in a high school in Neumünster not far from Kiel. Already as a child she was crazy about language. At the age of 5 she wrote her first words in the sandbox, at nine she wanted to be a translator. She studied languages at Kiel University, was trained as a teacher in French and English and, on the side, took courses in Hindi, Victor´s mother tongue.


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