I am a stroke survivor and I would like to tell my story. Before I had my stroke, and for a short period after, I was in the belief that a full recovery was never possible for any stroke victim, and that they would have to live a life always showing some form of disablement. Now I know that this is not true.
I had my stroke just a little over 9 months ago now, August the 10th, 2014. A date I will never forget. I was, what you would consider a reasonably fit 54 year old, not excessively over weight, nor was I a big drinker, and always a reasonably healthy eater. I had been a smoker but never heavy and a very long time ago now. 23 years ago to be exact. But never in my wildest dreams did I think I was a candidate for a stroke.
Leading up to my stroke, about 2 years prior I had 2 TIA’s, where both times I had lost the ability to form my words properly, but both times for only a short amount of time. The first one happened at my work, where I found myself having trouble to talk, like I was slurring. I got a work colleague to take me in to the doctors and in the 10 minutes it took to get there, I was fine again. After a series of tests, they then blamed it onto the fact that I had been pretty slack taking my blood pressure tablets. By the way, I have high blood pressure. My eventual stroke was a clot, and not a bleed.
The second one happened about 6 months after my first, but this time I was at home and it was in the evening. I noticed myself having difficulty again forming my words. I immediately monitored my own blood pressure, and it was fine. I then got my wife to take me to the hospital, where they sent me off to a major hospital, about 45 minutes away to do some more tests. Again I was fine, but after about 20 minutes this time, a little longer than the previous. After a series of tests, they then sent me home in the early hours of the morning, and the only medication they prescribed for me was a 100mg aspron to go with my blood pressure tablet daily.
Well about 12 months later, I had my biggy. I was laying in bed on a Sunday morning and the room started spinning around like I was really drunk. The only problem was that it would have been maybe about a week since I had my last drink. I was even nauseous, like I had really laid one on. It was so close to feeling like being drunk that it wasn’t funny, but without the feel good part that alcohol usually gives you. I then woke my wife up and tried to explain to her what was happening, but by this time I was slurring my speech badly. By the time I got out of bed, I couldn’t stand, let alone dress myself. My wife realizing the seriousness of it all, quickly helped me dress, and then she had to help me to the car as well, and then to the hospital. By now I couldn’t stand or walk without assistance. The hospital was only 2 minutes away from home but in that time, I had to get my wife to pull over 3 times because I thought I was going to be sick. If it had been a Friday or Saturday night, the hospital staff would have thought it was just another dunk at their doorstep, but this was a Sunday morning at 8 o’clock. Their initial thought was that I had contacted meningitis or something like that, but after seeing my history of TIA’s, they quickly changed their thought process. For some reason which I cannot work out why to this very day, they administered me with morphine before they shipped me off by ambulance to same major hospital 45 minutes down the road. When I arrived there, the medical staff tried to diagnose exactly what type of stroke I had had, and where it had occurred in my brain, but it was very difficult for them to distinguish between the effects that the stroke had on me and what effect that the morphine was having on me. I was then admitted to the Intensive Care Unit where they did more tests over the next 2 days. Before receiving the results of the MRI or CT scan, the medical staff had already determined where they believed the damage had occurred, the right hand side of my cerebellum. This had caused me to lose all my fine motor movements but on that side only, as the crossover doesn’t happen until after the cerebellum. They came to this conclusion after a series of function tests. Still by this point of time I had not lost any strength on either side of my body or showed any signs of droop, nor had I at any stage lost consciousness. Every now and again they would ask me a set of questions such as if I knew where I was and what day it was, and each time I would get all the questions right. I just couldn’t stand or walk, and I still had trouble talking. They picked up on the fact that I couldn’t touch the outstretched finger of the doctor with my right index finger and then touch my nose with the same finger nor could I touch my index fingers together without looking, but what really clinched the deal was the fact that I couldn’t run my right hand heel up my left hand shin.
After 2 days in Intensive Care I was then transferred to the general ward where I spent the next couple of days before going into rehab. In total I spent just a little less than 3 weeks in hospital. All those little things that I had taken for granted for all those years had now all become tasks. Things like eating; cleaning my teeth, brushing my hair, had now all become very difficult for me. After one of my examinations, they asked me to sign my name and I wasn’t able to so I had to put a cross down instead. By now I had started to realize how my life was going to change. Or that is what I thought, in the short term anyway. After not being able to sign my name, I then made a point of filling out my meal order each morning while in hospital, writing my name and room number on the top. Most people would have no idea how difficult this simple task was for me, but I persevered. When I got home from hospital, each day I would write down the alphabet in both upper case and lower case, and then write the numbers from 1 to 10. I would also write a little spiel about how I was going, and even attempt to draw something like a simple picture of a house. My problem was not remembering how to write but, not being able to form the letters properly with the pencil. I had trouble running my hand across the page in a straight line. When I used my laptop while I was in hospital I would type the letter with my right index finger and then touch my nose with that same finger before I typed the next letter. I’m right handed and it would have been all so easy to have started using my left hand for a lot of these tasks, but I really made a point to persevering with my right side. I had started my rehab campaign by myself in hospital. I would get up in the early hours of the morning, around 3 am, and go find myself a nice quite dark corridor (somewhere with carpet on the floor and hand rails up the walls preferably) and then I would do all my physio work. (The grape vine comes to mind) As you can imagine, hospitals are not real nice places to be in especially in those early hours of the morning but I didn’t care. I just wanted to get better, and be normal again.
After spending nearly 3 weeks in hospital, I was then allowed to go home and by then I did not need the aid of a walking frame, nor did I need hand rails around the toilet and shower, or anywhere else around the house. I could walk and stand unaided, but I still could not for the life of me, stand just on my right foot. My wife assisted me for the first couple of weeks at home, and once she believed I was capable to care for myself, she then went back to work. From then on I took up all the household duties such as the washing, cooking, and cleaning. All this I considered was good therapy for me. I had never previously ever had to fold anything as much as a shirt before, but now I found myself doing this and more daily. Pegging out the washing was a real task at first, but it too got easier with everyday. I spent the next 8 weeks, seeing a physiotherapist twice weelyk and we just hammered my balance. Before my stroke I had impeccable balance. I use to slalom and barefoot water ski to quite a high standard, so going from that to absolutely have no balance was very hard for me to accept. I would walk the half a kilometre or so to the physio’s where I would spend an hour, and would then walk 1 to 2 kilometres around the block and to home. After being home for a couple of weeks, I wondered how I would go riding a push bike so I hopped onto my son’s bike and managed to ride it down the driveway without incident, so my whole thought process had changed. It wasn’t a balance problem I had, but the fact I had lost coordination on one side which caused a balance problem. After about a month from being home from hospital, I went out and bought a mountain bike, and I started riding a 15 kilometre route daily, sticking to only cycle ways at first. After a while I started doing longer rides, and through the bush. By the New Year I was doing 25 to 30 kilometre rides through the bush 2 or 3 times a week, and at reasonable pace. By this stage it was nothing for me to do 70 kilometre rides if I stuck just to cycle ways.
It has now been 9 months since my stroke and I can now see quite a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. I’m now walking and jogging regularly, riding my bike when I can, and I am even now back playing golf again. My golf is not quite there yet, but like everything else, it is still improving. I can see now that a full recovery would be a real possibility. It maybe not yet, and it may not be for still some time, but it is possible, and I do strongly believe that if I hadn’t persevered as much as I did, the improvement may have taken considerably much longer than what it did, and maybe never to the extent that I have witnessed in myself. It really makes you realize exactly how powerful the brain is. It is truly an amazing piece of our anatomy.
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