My life changed in an instant on 16th March 2013. I was driving a tour coach in Killarney but moments after stopping for fuel, I collapsed. I was taken to Tralee General Hospital, where doctors diagnosed a stroke. Although my left leg was weakened and I had no power in my left arm, I was walking with a stick just two days later. I also worked hard to overcome speech problems caused by the stroke.
Sadly, those were the only bright spots in the early part of my recovery. One of the things that hit me in those early days was depression. I would just burst into tears for no reason. Anything would start me crying. I cried when visitors came. I cried when the doctors spoke to me. I cried when I was alone. The distance made it even worse – it was a 7.5 hour road journey for my family who live in Portstewart.
When I eventually returned home to Portstewart after 22 days in hospital, I did little except watch television. I took a few short walks around the cul–de–sac where I live, but it seemed that the boundaries of my new life ended there. I became resigned to the idea that the world would now revolve around my chair and the TV.
But when I had been at home for three weeks, Shelagh Cochrane from Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke came to visit, after being contacted by my stroke nurse. Shelagh invited me to the local Causeway Stroke Scheme, where I met others in a similar position. It made a huge difference to my outlook on life. Before that my view was that my life had basically stopped on 16th March, 2013. When I was working, I had spent 46 weeks of each year travelling, meeting people and seeing places – and I loved it. This wasn’t like retirement; it was just a sudden stop and there was no way back.
But the NICHS group showed me that life still had a purpose and stroke could be overcome. I began helping another member of the group who was unable to communicate and found a new sense of satisfaction. I also took up activities like landscape painting and went on outings. In July 2013, I was able to make it to Cyprus for my daughter’s wedding. It was a long and strenuous journey but I had great advice from my stroke consultant and excellent help from my family.
Now, I have bought myself a mobility scooter and can attend events like the North West 200 and Red Sails. I now even take the dog out for a walk with the scooter. But I have experienced how stroke changes everything – not just for the person who suffers it, but also for the whole family.
My wife Helen knows that Shelagh is there for her, too, and that if she needs her she is only a phone call away. My advice for someone who’s just starting out on the road to recovery? When you are lying in hospital it seems that the future is just bleak. But there is something out there for you. Only you can make the effort, though. Stroke requires that you bury a little of your pride. Nobody wants to sit on a mobility scooter, for example. But it’s just a matter of adapting. And don’t be afraid to ask for the help of Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke. Shelagh, the volunteers and the group have made a huge difference to my life after stroke.
Find out more about the stroke support that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offers.