stress

A stroke of luck?

By November 23, 2021No Comments

What a Stroke of Luck

I had a stroke.

A STROKE.

What the heck? I couldn’t have a stroke. Strokes happen to the elderly, surely?

I COULDN’T have a stroke. I’m living my dream life by the sea, with my dogs, enjoying a dream career as a Reflexologist.

I thought that could never happen to me.

But it does. And it did.

Lucky Stars to Thank

Does that ‘stroke of luck’ pun seem insensitive? If you’ve lost someone to stroke, or your life’s badly affected, then my thoughts are with you – please reach out if I can help at all. BUT. This is a positive account because I want you to know that help IS there – when you know where to look. It IS possible to get better. No, life may not be the same again, and I know that not everyone is as lucky as me, but if I can help one person find help, or raise awareness of stroke and what to look for – and more importantly, what to DO – then I AM lucky. I am VERY lucky. I’ve had help, discovered the resources, and recovered as well as I have.

Now, more than ever, I know that every single day is a gift. When something this earth-shattering happens, you realise life can change in an instant, and for some, it can be over in an instant. Make each day count; count your blessings. They ARE there, but some days you have to look a little harder.

I can’t wait to start work again, early in 2022, so I want everyone to know what happened – and where I’ve been for the past months. Perhaps more importantly, I’d like to thank everyone I mention here for being vital to my recovery and rehabilitation. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’ll never be able to thank them enough, but it’s a start.

Struck Down by a Stroke

Saturday, May 8 2021, dawned like any other Saturday. I woke and headed downstairs, as usual, to let the dogs out. However, as I stood in the kitchen, I became aware that I was unusually hot and quite nauseous. A strange memory is of looking down at the kitchen floor, thinking how invitingly cool it looked: I wanted to lie down and put my burning cheeks against the tiles. Once on the floor, I suddenly realised I couldn’t muster the strength to get up. I shouted for Chris, my husband. His awareness and fast action may have made all the difference. He saw that the left side of my face had dropped, so he asked me to raise my arms above my head, and I couldn’t. He immediately called 999.

Confused, I told him to stop being dramatic, but I’m grateful he ignored me. He told me I was having a stroke or a heart attack. The emergency services swept into action. The first responder was there within ten minutes, the ambulance within twenty. I thank my lucky stars that the Dartmouth crew were in, as the Torbay crew would’ve involved a ferry – and another forty minutes. Time is critical when somebody has had a stroke, so I am eternally grateful.

When Stroke Strikes, Act FAST

Stroke strikes EVERY FIVE MINUTES in the UK: to anyone, any age, any time. It’s crucial to know how to spot signs of a stroke because if you act FAST you can make the difference between life and death. It certainly made all the difference to my outcome.

Stroke is an emergency, and the FAST test can help you recognise the signs. Stroke Association want everyone to remember and use the acronym FAST:

FACE: Facial weakness: Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?

ARM: Arm weakness: Can the person raise both arms?

SPEECH: Speech problems: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?

TIME: Time to call 999: if you see any of these signs.

Make sure everyone you know is aware of the FAST test.

Down But Not Out

Back to that morning: we had builders starting work at 10 o’clock, and I remember waving to them on the way to the ambulance and calling, “sorry, I’ve messed things up”. My Covid jab was also due that day, and I was anxious for Chris to cancel it because I wouldn’t be able to attend. Was I suffering confusion or in denial about the severity of my situation?

The ambulance took me to Torbay hospital for a CT scan, which identified a blood clot in the right side of my brain. The medics wanted to airlift me to Bristol. I remember feeling giddy about a helicopter ride! I was disappointed, though, as it was decreed too windy, so ambulance up the M5 it was.

Amazing Medics and Medical Advances

I was rushed into theatre immediately for a thrombectomy. Thrombectomy is a relatively new procedure, and not every stroke patient is suitable. A device is inserted via the groin, through a catheter wire, to remove the clot and re-establish the blood flow. Evidence shows that thrombectomy can be highly effective in improving outcomes of a stroke. As with clot-busting thrombolytic drugs, thrombectomy MUST be used quickly, ideally no more than six hours after the first stroke symptoms. Only around 1 in 10 stroke patients are suitable for thrombectomy. Thrombectomy can even remove clots that are too big to be broken down by clot-busting drugs, so it’s highly effective in preventing and reducing long-term disability from severe strokes.

Stroke Awareness

After two and a half hours and four attempts, eventually, the clot was GONE. I stayed overnight in Bristol, then back to Torbay on Sunday for another week. At this stage, I still wasn’t entirely au fait with what a stroke was. I knew it affects a side of the body but still thought it generally happened to old people. I learned a lot more, and quickly. It was both upsetting and frightening to think I had a brain injury, and troubling that my left-hand side didn’t work. I was transferred to the specialist stroke rehabilitation Templer Ward at Newton Abbot hospital, where I spent a further three weeks.

I was very grateful for the care, and everyone was lovely, but I was so miserable and lonely, stuck in hospital. More depressing was realising I just couldn’t do things we all take for granted. Even now, it’s both painful and hard to remember finding that I couldn’t spread butter on my toast because one of my hands didn’t work. Then, I couldn’t even brush my own hair, and a nurse had to wheel me to the bathroom. And who knew? Strokes aren’t fussy; they don’t just affect the elderly. There were people my age and even people in their 20s and early 30s.

Difficult Days

The highlight of every day was Chris’s 1pm visit. I lived for that hour! He would also FaceTime at night, so I could talk to my dogs. Maybe everyone on the ward thought I was crackers, but it kept me going. I wanted to walk the dogs alone when I got out; that was my early goal. I grafted in the gym with the hospital physios. Finally, a home visit was arranged for June 8 – almost three weeks since the stroke.

The Occupational Therapy manager came to assess how I could manage. The acid test was stairs. If I could cope with stairs, I could stay at home! As you can imagine, I was desperate and determined to succeed, and I did. It felt wonderful to sit in MY lounge with Chris and the dogs, watching TV before the joy of sleeping soundly in MY bed. Simple pleasures. I’ll never take things for granted again.

Long and Winding Road to Recovery

But now, the hard graft started. I had a long, uphill struggle ahead. First, I found my brilliant physio, Danielle Steer of Kingsbridge Physio. I’ve seen Dani every week since leaving hospital, and she has been absolutely integral to where I am today. We both remember how I presented at that first appointment: frightened, unsteady on my feet and relying on a walking stick. I SO wanted to get rid of that bloomin’ stick.

Then, I looked into counselling and kinesiology. Because I couldn’t drive, Chris had to be my chauffeur for all my appointments, as well as working full time AND walking the dogs twice daily. He is The. Best. Husband. Top of the Oscar-worthy gratitude list.

One thing that shocked me was fatigue. Brain fatigue is a world away from ordinary overworked or insomniac tiredness. Every afternoon, bang on 2pm, I’d have to nap. I can only compare this bone-aching fatigue to having a completely flat battery – any activities or thoughts which require any concentration drain the battery right down. Even talking wipes out your battery’s charge.

Holistics Help

Over the summer, I’ve kept up with counselling and kinesiology. I see  Liz at Devon Well House for kinesiology and fabulous Fiona for counselling. Fiona is kind, patient and has the necessary endless supply of tissues. Both work out of the Hen House, where I practice from, too. Therapies help me move forward, but there’s always the odd setback. Taste became an issue, and I lost my appetite. On leaving hospital, I had a strange taste in my mouth. My doctor explained that a general anaesthetic could stay in your system for weeks and affect taste. I had no appetite at all, so when Chris asked what I fancied to eat, I had no idea. I just didn’t fancy anything. This was distressing. I love my food – both eating and cooking – and I’m an enthusiastic foodie. Everything just seemed to taste the same, and not at all how I remembered pre-stroke.

As with every cloud, there’s a silver lining. Without trying, I’ve lost 2 1/2 stone. Ok, I’m delighted and would like to lose a little more, but I don’t recommend this diet! Sadly, I’m still struggling to taste anything, so it’s probably psychological: I was in the kitchen when the stroke struck. I’m open-minded about all holistic therapies, so I have asked a Shamen to clear the negative energy in the kitchen and throughout our home. I am currently working with a lovely EMDR practitioner, Jill Breeze. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy treatment devised to ease the distress of traumatic memories. I’m hopeful that this will help.

Getting There

So here we are, in November; six whole months on. The leaves have turned and fluttered from the trees, Christmas decorations are popping up, and there’s a definite chill in the air. The stroke doesn’t seem like a bad dream, not just yet, but I’ll get there. I AM getting there. I’m still having weekly physio and also trying acupuncture with Emily at Dartmouth Chiropractic to help my appetite. I’ve also started PT Sessions with J-Active to improve my functional strength.

My last – but by NO means my least – thank-you is to the amazing Nick Clarke, of the charity Stroke Information. Nick is an inspiration, not just to me, but to countless other people who thought stroke couldn’t happen to them – then had NO idea how to cope when it did. Nick is another stroke survivor and realised how little support was available. He’s a wealth of information and has proved invaluable for advice, including benefits. He’s currently helping me appeal the baffling decision to decline my PIP (personal independence payment).

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help and support of everyone I’ve mentioned. Huge thanks go to my amazingly loving and supportive family & friends . I am eternally and infinitely grateful and will continue to reach for the stars – and try to help anyone else reach, too.

My goal is to climb Blencathra in the Lake District next year. I’ve done it twice before; it’s been a challenge both times. I’m guessing this time won’t be a walk in the park, either. I CAN do it, though, and with sheer determination and thanks to everyone who’s helped, I WILL.