Irene McCullough from Craigavon is a lovely gentle lady with a very cheerful disposition and ready smile. At 81 years old she still has the soft Scottish accent of her native Perth, even though she has lived in Northern Ireland for over 50 years. She lives alone but her two sons live near to her.
Her happy, positive nature would not lead to imagine that this is a lady who lay alone for 3 days and nights after a stroke left her unable to move. But maybe it is because she is a “glass half full” person with a deep faith in God that allowed her to get through it.
On Monday the 25th January 2016, Irene went to bed as usual. During the night she needed the bathroom, but as she got out of bed, her leg wouldn’t work. She could almost feel the energy draining out of it and she fell to the floor.
Irene explains, “I couldn’t get myself back up again. I struggled and struggled and tried to fight it but I couldn’t move. At the time I didn’t realise it was a stroke.
“The worst part was that my right arm was right up against my bedroom radiator. When the radiator came on in the morning, I couldn’t move my arm away. By the time I was found I had burns all down my arm. At night time when the heating went off, the room was very cold. It was the end of January. I lay staring at my warm dressing gown on the back of my bedroom door, wishing I could move to reach it.
“I was also in complete darkness after dusk and in semi-darkness during the day, as the curtains had been closed when I fell.
“I tried alert my neighbours by banging the radiator. My bedroom is at the back of the house so I knew no one would hear me from the street. My neighbour thought she heard a noise but unfortunately didn’t think any more of it. By the time I was found my hand was sore from hitting the radiator.
“I wasn’t bothered by hunger, just the burning by day and the cold at night. I was most worried about hyperthermia. I just lay there praying to God for help.”
On Thursday evenings Irene usually goes to a prayer meeting at her church. As usual the lady who gives her a lift called to collect her. When she got no answer at the door, she was surprised. When she got the meeting she asked if anyone had heard from Irene. Surprise turned to concern as it was unlike Irene not to let someone know if she was unable to attend. The pastor’s wife immediately contacted Irene’s sons and met them at Irene’s house.
Irene says that her sons were used to her being strong and independent. They see her often and if she needed something, she would ask them but they were not in contact every day. It had never been necessary.
Irene’s sons and the pastor’s wife looked in through the door but could see no sign of her, so they let themselves in and searched the house. When they found her in her bedroom, the pastor’s wife wept. Irene had been there for almost 72 hours.
Irene says “I had been praying to be found and when they arrived, I knew that God wasn’t finished with me yet.”
Irene was taken to Craigavon Hospital. She has recovered well from her stroke, spending a further 10 weeks in Lurgan Hospital. She is very thankful to the team who got her back on her feet. The burns on her arm from the radiator healed quickly, though the sensation in her arm has been affected and her hand is always cold. She can’t hold heavy dishes in her hands but has found ways around this, like using a plastic mug for tea as it is lighter.
She sometimes needs a rollator or walking stick to walk, just to make sure she is steady. Her mind and memory are fine. She sometimes forgets things but knows that at 81 years old, this is not unusual!
Irene says “The biggest change has been in my two boys. They were so sad about what happened. Now they are always checking on me and phoning me. They are always telling me they love me. It’s very nice.”
Irene has completed Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke’s Post Rehab Exercise Programme (PREP). She says, “The exercises were great. My arm muscles are now stronger. I can feel my strength coming back.
“PREP is also about making friends and meeting other people with stroke. There are lots of people worse than her and that gives my perspective.
“PREP is a very good thing to do as it gets you active again. Stroke could happen to anyone. It’s important not to let it get on top of you.”
Irene then had an extra message for me, as I have parents in their 70s. She told me to make sure I speak to them more and check up on them more. When they are healthy, you take it for granted but they might not always be that way.
Find out more about the stroke support that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offers.