I love everything about Christmas and was really looking forward to Christmas 2014 and spending time with my family because my life was busy and at times stressful. To say the 20th December was a bit of day is a bit of an understatement; I was in hospital twice on that day and I had a stroke on my second visit. The first visit,in the morning, was because of a ripped muscle from a cough which was a side effect of some medication I was taking. It was extremely painful; I actually thought I had broken a rib.
Later that evening I was at home watching TV when I started to experience tightness in my chest which was terrifying. I thought I was having a heart attack and so I ended up in an ambulance to the hospital. I was admitted and at some point later that night I was violently ill which is very,very unlike me. When I tried to explain things to the doctor I couldn’t get the words out at all. It was so embarrassing; I thought that he would be thinking “how stupid is she?” Then, my daughter has since told me, I did start to talk but it was what she can only describe as gibberish. I also started to laugh uncontrollably; I have no idea at what or why. But as I remember it I was talking normally, at least that’s what it sounded like in my own head.Not one person mentioned stroke.
Later on that night I was actually able to say to a doctor “I think I am having a stroke” but he totally dismissed me. I think that was mainly because I am only 42. By this stage my arm had gone heavy and my leg actually slipped out of the bed.
The next morning I said to another doctor that I thought I had had a stroke. She asked my “why I thought that?” and I told her what had happened through the night. She sent me for a brain scan which confirmed that I did have a stroke. I honestly don’t think they initially believed me because I was so young.
I remember just blurting it out to my family that I had a stroke and the look on their faces was just shock. They couldn’t believe it. I didn’t look like a “typical” stroke patient. My mother was in complete shock, she couldn’t quite believe that her daughter, her child, had suffered a stroke. My head was spinning too, I kept thinking about my Granda who had a stroke in his 80s but I was only 42! I was also thinking “My life is never going to be the same.”
I was quickly moved to the stroke ward and spent a few days there. I was glad to be getting out of hospital especially as it was Christmas Eve but there was a lot of apprehension too. I found it hard to sleep at night because I was worried of it happening again. I have a ticking clock in my home, which incidentally was my Granda’s, and even now I find it comforting to hear it tick through the night because that means I am still here, still alive.
I spent a week living at my mother’s house; in those early days I needed help with a lot of things even getting dressed but at the same time I really needed to get back to my own house, my own home and my own independence again. My daughter stayed with me for a couple of weeks and she was a great support because things weren’t easy, my left side was still quite weak and that makes some tasks hard even small things like opening jars.All the things you take for granted.
Even though I am an independent person and was determined to learn to do things for myself it was a really emotional time when my daughter left to go back to her home. And just by coincidence as my daughter was actually leaving the NICHS Stroke Family Support Co–ordinator arrived. I was a blubbering wreck but she was excellent, she gave me the time I needed and listened to me. She was so calm and gentle; it really put me at ease. Looking back now I think the fact that she saw me at such a low ebb and didn’t judge me meant that I felt really comfortable with her. When I was back in control of my emotions she gave me useful information but didn’t bombard me either. She told me about some of the services within NICHS, including the Taking Control Programme. At that point I was pretty apprehensive about going to any of the services; I was actually in a big hurry to get myself better. I didn’t have time to be feeling sorry for myself; I just needed to get back to work and something like this was going to get in my way.
But I did go and I am so glad I did because I think I would be in a much different place today if I hadn’t. We did activities on Problem Solving and those got my brain actively working again, working on my own problems and helping others with theirs. Setting action plans gave me the opportunity to set myself goals to work towards, goals like learning to write again which was so important to me as I am a cheque signatory at work and I needed to be able to do that for both work but also for me. It helped me set goals around getting back to work too, which I am now back at.
It is hard to describe how much your confidence is knocked when you have a stroke, in those early days it was even hard for me to leave the “safety” of my own house. Before my stroke I had organised that the council leave a box of grit on my street as it’s on a hill and when it’s icy the grit is really needed. After my stroke it took a lot of courage for me to walk across the street to get some of that grit so that I could spread it on my driveway. I had to actually ring my neighbour and ask her to stand at her door and keep an eye on me whilst I tentatively walked over. The flowerpot that I carried the grit in is a reminder of that little success. But meeting other people who understand what you are feeling really does help, it makes you feel less alone in your thoughts and it helps you make some sense of them too. I had preconceptions of what it would be like; all these strangers uncomfortably brought together by circumstance but in actual fact the group were so welcoming that I felt I had been before. Contact with other people is key or you could just get lost or trapped in your own world, having conversations with others helped me see some things in a different way. I made good friends on the Programme who are part of my support system now, just like I am part of theirs.
I would really encourage other people to go to the Taking Control Programme, it really empowered me and as I said before I really do think I would be in a very different place if I hadn’t come into contact with NICHS and the Taking Control Programme.
Find out more about the stroke support that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offers.