A Visit with Stroke Survivor Margaret Tretbar

Margaret Tretbar is a Weekend Edition listener who wrote an essay last year about retraining herself to read. She had suffered a stroke at age of 38. She talks with Liane Hansen about her progress.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

A year ago, when we asked listeners to write to us about their summer reading, we heard from Margaret Tretbar in Kansas City. A lawyer and a lifelong avid reader, Margaret told us about how a stroke she suffered two and a half years earlier turned reading from a pleasure to a burden. She got headaches from reading and her short-term memory was damaged, so she couldn't remember things she had just read. But she was determined to keep reading and was learning tricks to improve her memory.

Margaret Tretbar is back with us.

Welcome back to the program, Margaret.

Ms. MARGARET TRETBAR (Stroke Survivor): Well, thank you so much for having me.

HANSEN: How are you doing these days?

Ms. TRETBAR: I'm doing pretty well. In terms of my reading, I'm getting a little bit better every day. So as long as I can see progress, I'm happy.

HANSEN: Do you still get headaches?

Ms. TRETBAR: Yeah. I can't do it for very long at a time, or else I'll get a pretty bad headache.

HANSEN: Yeah. Can you remember more of what you've read?

Ms. TRETBAR: Yes, I think I can. That's something that is hard for me to measure, because I don't sit down and just test specifically that. Although I do test, that I still go to a speech and language pathologist and she tests me every once in a while. And she says I'm getting better.

HANSEN: Oh. Are you reading more?

Ms. TRETBAR: I am. I have a friend who's given me a few books that are kind designed for someone with my problem. They're - have very kind of self-contained units so that I feel like I finished something.

HANSEN: Well, let me ask you. A year ago, you were reading Catch-22. How'd that go?

Ms. TRETBAR: Well, I didn't finish Catch-22. But I did finish one of the other novels I mentioned, which was Amsterdam, by Ian McEwan.

HANSEN: So what are some of the tricks then that you've learned to help you actually finish a book, as well as remember what you've read?

Ms. TRETBAR: What I do when I have a novel in my hand is I don't use a bookmark, so that when I put it down and come back, I'll open the book and find last thing I remember. So I may have read much further, or I may have just finished there. I don't know. But it allows me to start at a place where I remember where I was.

HANSEN: Do you have any hobbies or things you've been doing to kind of help in your overall recovery?

Ms. TRETBAR: Well, I swim, which is something I've done all my life, and that's helped my body a lot. But I keep going to speech therapy and I do crossword puzzles.

HANSEN: Ahh!

Ms. TRETBAR: So those help my language skills also.

HANSEN: What are you currently reading?

Ms. TRETBAR: I have The Know It All. It's by AJ Jacobs. He's actually a Brown graduate, which so am I, so I was drawn to it. But he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.

HANSEN: Really?

Ms. TRETBAR: Yeah. And so it's this memoir and it includes, you know, stories from his life and also entries into the Britannica that interested him. And the chapters are by the letters of the alphabet, so I'm through A, B, and C. I've started D.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Margaret Tretbar, she joins us from her home in Kansas City, Missouri.

Thanks a lot, Margaret. Good to talk to you.

Ms. TRETBAR: Thanks so much for having me.

HANSEN: This is NPR News.

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