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Keeping my Chin Up


As I sit here, about 8 weeks after my stroke, I feel quite tearful. Not because I have a physical disability. Not because I am unable to cope. I am glad to be alive. I live life to the full. But because I am different. I am no longer the person I was and it is taking more time than I expected to get used to it.

I have thought long and hard about what happened in the weeks leading up to my stroke. There was a redundancy process at work. (I am a teacher at a secondary school. Teach Textiles, Food Technology and Art) There were the normal stresses of working with teenagers. There was a relationship with highs and lows. There were my two children (10 and 12). There was the normal balancing of work and leisure and family time. A week before my stroke I was at my GP's for something unrelated. My blood pressure was something like 130 over 85. No worries there..

On Saturday the 1st of May I went for a bike ride with a friend. Beautiful bluebell woods. A slightly spaced out feeling.. Tired and a weird, slightly odd feeling by my left ear. I said: 'I think I may have an ear infection coming on' On Monday I spent the day with my boyfriend and we had a few glasses of wine when I felt like I could hear a wooshing sound inside my head. Which pulsated to the beat of my heart. What was this??

At work later that week, someone offered me a chocolate digestive.. (I LOVE CHOCOLATE!!) and I heard myself say: 'No thanks, they just don't taste the same, they seem to have a bitter aftertaste.'

Thursday evening we had an arts open evening at work. I felt spaced out. Found it hard to concentrate and hear what people were saying. Hard to respond. Later that evening I was watching tv with my partner and my neck hurts and my head hurts. He gave me some paracetamol and we went to bed.

Friday arrives, it is the 6th of May. Paul is going off to Scotland and needs to get ready to catch a plane later that day. I wake up and walk to the shower. When I stand in the water I suddenly realise that I can't really move my left arm properly. It waves about, without any control. I can't feel it. I burst out laughing, as it looks funny and go back into the bedroom, saying that I think I have slept on my arm and that it has pins and needles. Shaking it about, trying to stimulate the bloodflow have no effect.

About half and hour later I feel quite panicky as I am unable to tie my hair up, do my shoes up and put on my bra. But with help from Paul and a friend who has turned up to walk the dog, I get ready to leave the house. Paul drives me to work, as I can't drive. Why oh why I think I can work, when I can't use my left arm seems a weird thing now. I walk through the door of the classroom, where I am supposed to do a demonstration on how to make a bakewell tart. My colleagues are there. I burst into tears and blurt out: 'I don't think I can do this, something is wrong. I feel something is wrong.' My colleagues want to help: 'don't worry, Annemarie, we will help you.' Jill offers to do my demo and I babysit her group.l I walk around the classroom feeling odd, pain in my head, unable to say what I want to say. Confused.

I ring my GP and get an appointment. Manage to drive the car, with great effort. Luckily it is not far. The GP looks at me. Does some tests where I have to look at him moving his finger in front of my eyes, holding out my arms with my eyes closed. He concludes: 'I am not sure, but it could possibly be a migraine. Go home and if it doesn't get better come back.'

The weekend I spend under the duvet. No energy. Terrible headache. Feeling rotten. Still not eating properly as everything tastes odd. I have my children and they fend for themselves like troupers..

I make it through til Monday, after texting my line manager to say: 'I am feeling much better and should be in tomorrow.' Her reply is: 'We shall wait and see about that!' I go to work. My left side still feels funny. I find it hard to speak and my head is all over the place. I go into the classroom where my group of year 10 pupils are waiting.. It is a small group of motivated and lovely girls. But I can't actually remember the lesson now. It is a blur. I ring the GP and go home again.

The GP does all the tests again. Shines a light into my eye and says, you need to get an eye test to make sure it is not ME.. But it probably is a migraine. He prescribes some tablets. I go back home and to bed.

About 6 pm I find myself unable to speak clearly.. I am slurring the words and sound and feel drunk. It is so odd. I am scared, something just feels terribly wrong. Paul and Ali take me to A & E. After a long wait, (And my speech gets better again, by really concentrating and not saying too much) I am seen by the triage nurse who records my blood pressure as 210 over 110.

The consultant says: 'I think you are having a hemiplegic migraine, and you will probably feel a lot better in a few days.' He gives me some co codamol and sends me home.

I sleep and sleep and sleep. Feel terrible. On Tuesday I start vomiting. Wednesday I start to feel worse and worse, vomiting feeling totally spaced out, unable to use my left arm properly, headache, confused, unable to concentrate and focus.

Paul rings the doctor's surgery and makes an appointment. The GP is a different one. I say: ' Whatever you do, I won't let you send me home. Something is wrong and I want you to refer me to have it investigated properly.' Her response is that she thinks that is a reasonable request. She asks me to wait outside her room. I loll about on her chair. Drifting in and out of sleep.

The hospital is not far, and Paul comes to take me. He can't stay, so I sit in a waiting room for what feels like hours, holding a cardboard sick tray in front of me, and feeling sick as a dog. Feeling like I am going to be sick all the time.

Finally I am called into a room, where I can lie on a bed. I feel so much better lying down. More fingers to follow with my eyes, squeezing the lady's fingers, pushing and pulling her hands, touching (Actually, unable to do this) my nose with my left hand whilst keeping my eyes closed. She says: 'we are going to send you for a scan, and MRI scan to see what is going on' Unfortunately, there is no appointment avaialable as it is past 5 pm now.. I am taken to a ward where I am in a bed. I feel miserable and scared. And queasy.

An unexpected surprise is when three of my best friends suddenly turn up about 9 pm on their way home from yoga. They have popped in to see me, I told them I was in the hospital.

In the morning I am wheeled down to the MRI machine. I feel like I am in a scene from Avatar. My disabled body is strapped onto a trolley and I am slid into a machine, which hopefully takes me into another world.. I feel queasy but manage to stay still.

An hour or so later, back in my bed, I wake up to the consultant pulling the curtains around my bed. 'You have had a stroke .' he says, you will need to stay in the hospital for us to monitor you and for some further tests. You will not be allowed to drive for a month and you need to be off work for at least a month. Do you need any help with your children, we can get in touch with social services.'

I am relieved and shocked at the same time. Want to cry. But am glad to know that my instinct was right, that something was wrong, I was not a drama queen. They send me for an ultrasound of my carotid arteries and it turns out that one of them is blocked completely. A clot from this artery has caused a bit of havoc in my right parietal lobe.. (All these new words!! I had never heard of any of these things before) I get visitors. All the people I know, and I did not realise how many there were! come to see me.. A continues stream of people, which makes me feel great and worn out at the same time.. I snatch as much sleep as possible. Sometimes it feels impossible. But the care, warmth and love I feel sustains me.

Although I am now keen to go home because the hospital is a depressing place, with smells and sounds that make me feel like an alien, I have to stay in. I am so upset. Wish for life to go back to normal. I am allowed to go home for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday and that really helps. Makes me feel good to be home. Disappointed on Saturday when I try playing the piano and am unable to do it. Also find that food seems to drip down my face and I am not aware of it, can't taste and chew on the left..

They want to do an ultrasound on my heart. The computer technology in all this amazes me! How impressive the amount of data is that they can get from all this! On the way to the doctor who is going to do the ultrasound, I manage to read my notes. I am trying to take it all in. The ultrasound shows no abnormalities in my heart. That is reassuring.

I think I can go home.. But again, the hospital wants me to stay for one more test, an MRA.. which is an MRI with contrast liquid put into your veins. To get a better picture of my carotid artery, to determine if there needs to be something done about it. There are no appointments available so luckily I am allowed to go home on the Tuesday evening and have the MRA on Friday.

I have improved dramatically since arriving in the hospital. I can speak clearly again. I can move my arm and leg better. I have no sensation in my fingertips and feel funny tingles in my body. I don't have the headache and the queasiness. Food is starting to taste good again.. And I am glad to be alive. Glad to know that I have so many people who care for me, glad to know that the boyfriend who had not been reliable in the past 5 months, was now here for me! And did care!!

It has now been 8 weeks since the stroke. I am off work still. Physically I am nearly back to normal.. (Other than a strange feeling down the left hand side of my body. Reduced sensation in the left side, which is worse towards the extremities. Tingles, and weird itches at times. ) But all that is not the worse. I suddenly feel like the bottom has fallen out of my world. Vulnerable, emotional, tearful and unable to cope with stress. Panicking when unexpected things happen. I need a bit more time before I go back to work.

Feel guilty too, as I have had fun in these 8 weeks too. Have had the chance to get a lovely sun tan as the weather has been fantastic. Hope to make some changes! Going to give it my all to make sure I make a full recovery psychologially before I go back to work!

That is my story so far.

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