Alan, from Dollingstown, had a stroke in February 2009 which has left him unable to speak. His wife Christine explains what happened. “We were on Facetime with the children the day before when Alan took a ‘wee turn’. He just disappeared onto the floor and was out for a minute or two. He wouldn’t let me take him to the hospital or call a doctor. At the time our neighbour was a doctor but he wouldn’t let me go to them either. I think it was probably a little early warning sign that I didn’t pick up, he didn’t pick up and this is how we are now. He went to work the next night and came home 6 months later, a different Alan.
“Alan was at work on a night shift. His colleague’s wife was unwell so Alan was alone. I’ll never know at what point during the night the stroke happened, but when it did, there was no one to raise the alarm. He was there for a very long time and the police had to break into the building the next morning and that is when he was found. I often wonder if our lives could have been different had he been caught in time. Maybe he’d still be able to speak to me.”
Alan’s stroke was a bad one. The doctors told Christine to send for their children, who live in England and Scotland. The doctors thought he would die but he didn’t though he was in hospital for 6 months. In addition to losing his speech, his mobility has been affected on his right hand side. Christine is his carer. Their children live in England and come to visit when they can.
After Alan got home, Lynn, the Stroke Family Support Coordinator from NICHS phoned Christine and came to the house to see them. Up until this point, Christine had been learning to care for Alan, but without him able to talk, she was living in a very silent world.
When Lynn first came to see them, Christine cried her eyes out. “Stroke comes as a tremendous shock. Lynn was the first person who talked to me who understood what was happening,” Christine recalls. “For the first year I didn’t want to leave Alan by himself in case something happened to him but sometimes I felt like the silent house was closing in on me.”
Having someone to talk to was so important. Lynn’s job is to support everyone in the family and she understood how it affected Christine as well as Alan. But Christine felt guilty about this. Even now, when she speaks, she constantly says “I hope this doesn’t sound bad but…” and apologises to Alan for getting upset at how the stroke has affected her.
Christine continues, “The worst thing about the stroke is that Alan cannot speak. He’s trying to tell me things and I’m trying to make out what it is. We tried lots of communications aids but none were suitable for Alan because of his aphasia. We’re very good at charades now. Thankfully he still has a sense of humour.
“Because he has no speech people think he is daft and he is anything but daft. He gets frustrated when people ignore him or talk to me instead of talking to him. He knows everything that’s said. He just can’t reply. I miss him being able to talk to me.”
Turning to Alan, she adds, “And you miss that too, don’t you?” Alan nods.
Lynn also helped Christine have time for herself by encouraging Alan to attend one of NICHS’s Stroke Schemes, which he loves and really looks forward to. As Alan’s mobility improved, with Lynn’s help Christine felt more confident about leaving him for short periods of time to give her more time to herself. She also goes to the monthly NICHS Carers’ Group where she can talk to other people who are in the same situation as herself. They both still love it when Lynn comes to the house. However they’ve been feeling, she always cheers them up. Christine says “She’s so jolly and so thoughtful.”
Find out more about the stroke support that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offers.