Joy Bingham and her husband Fergus live in a house in Co Down with a beautiful view across to the Mourne Mountains. Their second son Andrew, his wife Ruth and daughter Joanna live next door. Their eldest son Ian also lives nearby with his wife, 17 year old daughter and 12 year old twin boys.
Joy and Fergus have been married for 54 years. This year, Fergus says, they went on a cruise for their honeymoon – from Strangford to Portaferry!
Joy and Fergus are a wonderful double act and the love of her family and especially the birthday of her second granddaughter 4 months after her stroke have really helped in her stroke recovery.
Tell me about your stroke…
Joy: “I had my stroke on 5th October 2014. Andrew and Ruth had been round for Sunday dinner. I had washed up and was putting the dishes away.
“I had a funny feeling in my head. It was like a fan whirring. I’d had it a few times before and it always made me feel dizzy. I’d been to see the doctor about it.
“In the run up to the stroke, my blood pressure hadn’t been good and the week before I had suddenly found walking difficult when I was going up a hill. I wonder now if that had been a TIA.
“Anyway, I noticed that there was one big Denby dish that I hadn’t put away. I got up to do that and fell onto my hands and knees. I couldn’t get up.”
Fergus: “I had gone into the living room for an afternoon nap. The alarm clock in my head woke me at 4.45pm as usual to go and bring the cows into the shed. I went into the kitchen and found Joy lying on the floor with her glasses half off. She didn’t know who she was. I phoned our daughter-in-law Ruth, who is a nurse and she called an ambulance.”
Joy: “I it was around 4.30 when I fell and by 5pm I was on my way to hospital.”
Fergus: “At Daisy Hill the treatment was excellent. She got plenty of attention and it couldn’t have been better.”
When the CT scan confirmed an ischaemic stroke, Joy was given thrombolysis. She was in Daisy Hill for just under two weeks. They wanted to keep her in longer but Joy says that Fergus wanted her home and Fergus says Joy wanted to be home!
What was it like when you got home? How had the stroke affected you?
Joy: “When I went home I was given a rollator.”
Fergus: “You never used it!”
Joy: “I didn’t need it for long. I practised walking around the house, first with the rollator, then with a stick and then by myself. My eldest grandchild Honour had seen the physios doing exercises with me in hospital so often she would come to the house and help me with my rehab. She wants to be a physio now.
“My left hand still gives me a bit of bother and my left leg feels numb as if something has stung me.
“I still have problems with my throat and have lost my sense of taste and smell. That is what bothers me the most. I can’t cook or bake now as I burns things. Cooking requires a lot of lifting things, carrying things, multi-tasking and I can’t do it.”
It is obvious that this is what Joy regrets the most but Fergus just kindly reminds her that they have managed so far and have not died of starvation yet.
Joy: “I find reading difficult – another great love of mine. When I get to the end of a line I lose my place when finding the start of the next line, but now I just slide a photo or some other piece of shiny card down the book to mark where I am.
“Fergus’s little sister has tried to get me to knit but it was full of holes.”
Fergus: “Knit one, purl one, drop one!”
Joy: “I get tired easily and am sometimes forgetful but I guess that is also caused by too many birthdays.
“Our baby granddaughter Joanna wasn’t born when I had my stroke. She was born four months later. I was determined to be able to hold her when she was born. I kept repeating ‘I wish the baby was here, I wish the baby was here.’ She was my focus, something to aim for in my recovery. When she was born I was so happy to be able to hold her.
“She is a lovely child, very sweet natured. Fergus and I pick her up from the childminder two days and week, feed her and put her to bed.”
It is obvious just how much love they have for little Joanna, whose middle name is Joy after her grandmother, and how much the little girl has given Joy a reason to recover.
What help has Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke given you?
Joy: “Lynn was the first person from NICHS who we met when she visited us at home. We first met Zoe at PREP (Post Rehabilitation Exercise Programme).
“I really look forward to PREP, especially meeting people. It is great to see the volunteers and how far they have come since their stroke. They give you hope.”
Fergus: “You also see people who are worse than you and that puts things in perspective.”
Having talked about the different exercises she has done at PREP, Joy then mentions how she would like a ramp up to the back door to make it easier for her. Fergus laughs, “Why are you wanting a ramp when you will go all the way to Newry to step up and down on a step at PREP?”
What would you say to anyone else who has had a stroke?
Joy (laughing): “Have a granddaughter! Even the neighbours’ children coming into visit was great. The wee ones are not as serious as grown-ups. You get more fun out of them.
“The carer also needs to have a lot of patience.
“And take all the help you are offered from physios, OTs, Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke etc.”
Fergus: “Don’t give up. You need to keep going and not to lose heart. You also learn a lot about the kindness of people. I have come to realise that there are a lot of lovely people in this world.”
Find out more about the stroke support that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offers.