Jim from Lisburn had a stroke on 29thNovember 2015, his wife Olga’s birthday, when he was only 51 years old. The stroke has left him with aphasia which meant he sometimes had to write down words or draw them when telling this story. But he has learnt tricks to be able to communicate and has made great progress in the eleven months since his stroke. He mentions in particular Rachel and Emma his speech therapists, Anita his OT and Lois his rehab assistant, but Jim’s progress is also down to him and his own determination and cheerful spirit.
“On the Saturday night, the day before my stroke, we had a birthday party for Olga in the house. I hadn’t been feeling unwell at all. In fact I had spent the previous few days cleaning and painting the house ready for the party.
“The party went well and the next morning I started clearing everything up. My plan was to take Olga out for Sunday dinner. She sometimes works weekends so was having a lie in. About 1pm I went to get up to tell her we needed to go out soon if we were to get in somewhere for lunch.
“Suddenly my legs started getting sore. I slipped and my legs went from under me. My head fell to one side and I dropped to the floor.
“Olga, who is a physio, called an ambulance. Our daughter Samantha, who was 12 at the time, had to help too. It’s a shock for a child to see their father like that.
“I spent one week in the Royal Victoria Hospital and one week in the Lagan Valley Hospital. In the first few days I had difficulty knowing Olga, Samantha or my sister but yet I was able to recognise friends from many years ago. My vision wasn’t right for a couple of days but after 3 days my vision started to clear and the movement in my legs and arms improved.
“The stroke left me with aphasia and this has been the biggest challenge in my recovery. At first I couldn’t speak but, this might sound strange, I didn’t realise I couldn’t speak. Eventually people started to ask me what I was talking about. I thought I was making sense but I wasn’t. It was Rachel, the speech therapist, who helped me realise that I wasn’t speaking clearly.
“At the start all I was able to say was ‘yes no’. I didn’t realise I was only saying ‘yes no’. I thought I was talking properly. In my head I was talking but it wasn’t coming out of my mouth. It took me about 6 months to realise that I wasn’t talking to people.
“With the speech therapy my speech improved well – first three words, then four, then a sentence. I could see how much progress I was making.
Jim can talk fluently now. Sometimes he can’t say a word and numbers seem to be more difficult. When he can’t say a word or number he can easily write it using the paper and pen he keeps handy. Sometime he will even start to draw what he is wanting to say. He says that you have to learn new tricks to overcome the difficulties.
“My mobility is okay round the house but I can’t walk far. I couldn’t walk into Lisburn (just under a mile). I would start to shuffle and I would need a stick. I got myself a small decorative stick, just for balance and support. I wanted one that didn’t scream “walking stick”.
“The other side effects are that my hands are very sensitive to heat and holding a cup of tea can make me feel like I am being burnt. I have had chronic pain in my arms for 10 years. At first after the stroke, the pain disappeared which was a great side effect! It was as if my brain could only deal with one problem at a time. But as my stroke recovery progressed, unfortunately that pain returned.
“I am an arty person so when I get angry and frustrated by what is happening my solution it to make or create something. I have been practising calligraphy which I did years ago. It is good for hand to eye co-ordination. Writing out words, even in normal hand writing helps me a lot.
“I have been doing a computer course with Stephen and Rosaleen at the Cedar Foundation and am about to start one of Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke’s programmes.
“Through my computer course, I have made short videos. What I learnt from making the film was a shocker to me! I saw myself speaking which I was not used to. I was able to see how the aphasia has affected me. At first I wanted to delete it but I was convinced to keep it so that I can mark my progress against it.
“Other people’s reactions have been difficult. People would tell me I was speaking clearly when I wasn’t. I know that when I am tired my speech gets worse. I would prefer people to tell me when I am not speaking clearly and they can’t understand. How can I get better if I don’t know? I needed Emma, the speech therapist, to tell me what my speech was really like.
“Also a lot of people just don’t know what to say to me and that has come as a shock. They start by saying you look okay or you are doing well. But then I am thinking “you know I’m not”. You soon realise that they just don’t know what to say and you can see people avoiding you. I know that the only people who can completely understand how I feel are others who have also had a stroke, especially the same kind of stroke, but I don’t want other people to feel awkward with me because of my stroke.
“But I am a cheerful person. A lot of things have happened in my life but I am lucky to still be able to walk, and look after myself and my family. I’m not able to work yet but I have my house, heat, food and the ability to look after my child. What more do you need?”
Find out more about the stroke support that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offers.