Ralph Meek

Drawing

Ralph Meek is 66, he has a PhD in chemistry but he can no longer read. Following a viral infection in his brain in 2012 he nearly died. The infection was in patches throughout his brain, he had 7cm of temporal lobe, occipital lobe and parietal lobe removed. This man who had an exceptional sense of direction and a map like memory came home and could not find his way from the bedroom to the bathroom next door. He was expected to have to spend the rest of his life in an institution. I am his wife, and I want to tell you briefly, something about this man and what he has achieved. An ordinary, private, retired science teacher who can no longer tell you himself, as his speech is muddled and he cannot write. From this disastrous beginning, Ralph's brain fought back. It is incredible what determination and a brain which used to be highly functional can do to recover itself. Initially, Ralph didn't have any awareness of who he was or where he was. He was able to walk and he would walk and walk, even out of the hospital...round and round the brain rehab unit. He still has great chunks of memory missing, and he struggles to identify faces and places and objects. But out of this chaos, his school training as an army cadet helped him to organise his room and his laundry at the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust to such a level that visitors would be shown into his room. It took time, when he first went there he was tearing pictures off the walls, the duvet off the bed, his clothes out of the wardrobe..off himself. I was relieved to discover later that he has no memory of this. Slowly he began to build molecular models with a kit I brought him (and to the refrain of The Elements Song by Tom Lehrer, which he loved to play to reluctant Chemistry students in years past). On a trip out he found an illustrated dictionary for children. He copied drawings of everything, vegetables, fruit, furniture, animals, interspersed with, in later years, copying pages and pages from a favourite chemistry text book together with diagrams of experiments. He seemed to understand them. Meanwhile he was still unable to remember what he had just done, where things were, what they were. A memorable moment was when he held up a cucumber and declared "Well, you'd never know what it was from looking at it". That was a rare instance of a comprehensible sentence too. His speech was very difficult to follow and often unstoppable. He came home for a visit from BIRT once and did not stop talking (and it made no sense) for 3 hours. I did not know what to do. Ralph has retained his sense of humour and his great ability at imitating regional and foreign accents. For a long time, and maybe still, he believed he was speaking French and Italian. He could do a little before the brain injury, but was by no means the linguist he came to think he was. As part of his recovery, Ralph loves working outdoors and has his enabler Becky to support him as a volunteer at the Severn Farm Pond which is part of Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. This is where Linda discovered him and his drawings which he had made to illustrate the list of species observed at the pond. Ralph draws just about all day and every day. His initial characterful animals, with quirky expressions and wonky symmetry (due to the right hand side of things not being clear to him brainwise) have blossomed into more accurate but still highly individual drawings. He has tried watercolours, but his favourite medium is coloured pencil. He can be heard as I type this shouting at his tablet, or sometimes shouting at anything (including himself) which he feels is not working as it should. He will fill a page with drawings, but if one is not right then the whole thing will be screwed up and thrown in the bin. He is a lovely man and an inspiration, despite his vanity and the good opinion he has of himself and his abilities which could be very annoying to others. He has been known to look at old masters on tv and say he could do better.... Well, not quite, but I am so pleased that his hard work and his own self directed and motivated rehabilitation has been recognised. I hope that his drawings give encouragement to others with brain damage, but just as importantly to those who love them. He is still often frustrated and has many times wished he had not survived all this, so I don't want to paint a misleading picture of a jolly life, post cognitive brain injury. But there is hope and there is something else for us all to hang on to, some beauty and satisfaction can still be found in a life which is permanently changed. I am so glad that local artist Linda Jane James recognised this and has given Ralph's work the chance of reaching a wider audience.

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