It was the end of August when it all happened: a Friday to be precise. Two of my brothers asked if I fancied a boat trip going fishing, so I jumped at the chance and started arranging things. A little while later my wife looked at me and she noticed I was different; sort of out of character; I looked a little odd. “Let me take you to hospital.” she said, “You do not look right.” Of course being a typical man I dismissed this. Shortly after I was lying on the settee and my arm seemed to have weakened. I could not lift it much and it felt too heavy. By that time my wife had telephoned for an ambulance. When it arrived I was still coherent, but I personally cannot recall anything about this, and my wife informs me that I could still hold a conversation. I was obviously very ill but I had settled down and it appeared as if the worst was over.
That weekend one of my brothers had booked a holiday abroad and he was to be flying out on the Monday. Of course he was apprehensive about going and wanted to cancel the flight, but after a conversation with my family, it was decided they should go as I was still conscious and obviously I was going to survive.
It was after my brother and his children had left that my wife received a phone call to inform her that my brain had re-started bleeding and could she attend at Hull Royal infirmary as quickly as possible. On her arrival the doctors took my wife and family aside, they informed them that I had very little chance of survival. My body was lying there with drips in my nose and an oxygen mask on my face, it seemed these were the only things keeping me alive, sadly the doctor told my wife that my chances of survival were virtually nil and that if I could survive it would be highly likely that I would have severe brain damage making me nothing more than a vegetable. As my wife sat beside me stroking my head she could see the veins pulsating upon my temple and hear the groaning noise I was making as if I was in pain, It was awful for her and my grown up children to see this. There was nothing anyone could do now; it was just a matter of time. It seems strange, I know, but whilst I was sleeping I seem to recall how nice it was to drift away. I felt settled as if ready to sleep and I remember saying to myself how much I loved my family and that I wanted to stay! I am not sure if this was a figment of my imagination or not, but that is the genuine truth and the only thing I can recall and shall never forget.
The hospital provided a room so my family could be constantly by my bedside. As I laid in my coma they played my favourite music and reminisced to help me stay alive. I am sure it must have helped me, but I can never recall any of this. As the days passed it became clear that I would survive, but sadly no one knew what level of damage my brain had suffered. Because my body had stabilised I was transferred to Castle Hill Hospital, a few miles away from the Hull Royal infirmary.
The days turned into weeks, yet still my dormant body remained within my coma. My family along with the many friends remained constantly beside me hoping I would show some improvement, yet still nobody knew what level of damage I had suffered.
Over five weeks passed, during which time I had started to show some signs of improvement. I had started to awaken and within my mind I knew I could move the finger on my right hand. I could also hear some music and talking, but mostly I was still asleep.
During the time I was awake I recall being confused as to why people were talking to me in such a basic manner. I knew who they were and what they was talking about, but unfortunately I was still unable to respond. I knew I could move my finger and thought about communicating with it, but even I did not know where my finger was positioned. I can remember some of the small comments of encouragement from my loving family who where constantly by my bedside.
The large volume of visitors that came to see me was beyond anyone’s expectations, even today my wife asks me if I can remember when such and such came, sadly I have to admit I cannot, yet some that called became more like a relative than a friend; even my family was not aware whom they all were, but all were made welcome.
One friend of mine who had called diligently every week to see me, walked into my ward and sitting by my bedside he held my hand and said “hello Tony, are you ok” I opened my eyes looked at him and said “yes I am fine” this was witnessed by all who stood next to me in a state of bewilderment, It was the first time I had spoken back to them! I cannot recall this myself, but it does make me weep when I know how the others feel about it.
During September it was extremely hot and I still had those awful tubes inserted in my nose when I was first admitted. It was all I could have for liquids I know they are necessary but God, was it hot. I can laugh now but my family would bring these small wet swabs a bit like a sponge on a stick, I could suck on them but it seemed all I could say was “wet swab, wet swab”, so cool but so short a time! Unfortunately the nerves to my brain had damaged my eyesight, this had been to both eyes leaving me with a very poor tunnelled vision, I could see, but only at a very short range. One evening I saw on the table a small carton, somehow I managed to pick it up with my weakened right arm and read the words “Fresh Orange”. It was there staring at me as if to say “drink me ” I knew it was not mine, but surely no-one would miss just a little sip. No chance, I had drank it before it had chance to slip down my throat. Suddenly the young nurse returned, picked it up and bellowed “Have you drank this?” With a little smug guilt I nodded. You would think I had stolen the crown jewels. Suffice to say I was glad they had not brought back the whipping post.
Finally the day came when I had the tubes removed. I had passed the gulp and swallow test and shortly after I was to be transferred to a rehabilitation centre known as St Mary’s, Chanterlands Avenue. I could speak more fluently by then as the left side of my mouth had started to lift, improving my speech. I had never heard of St Mary’s, before; it must have driven them mad hearing me ask about it.
When the day finally came I was apprehensive and still very tired, I still had no movement or feeling to both my left arm or leg and my eyesight was very blurred. Also my right side had dramatically weakened due to the constant bed rest.
It was raining the day I was transferred and I recall arriving at St Mary’s on a trolley bed. Several nurses seemed to be scurrying about and they put me into a nice bed with remote control so I could adjust myself when needed. They placed within reach a TV remote control and told me I could use my mobile phone if I wanted to. This was something that came as a surprise to me. I looked around and thought how large and pleasant it looked; so peaceful that I slept for several hours.
The next morning I was greeted by two care assistants, who asked me if I wanted a bath. I nodded and they raised me onto a hoist and wheeled me to the bath room where I was transferred to a safety chair and gently lowered into a hot warm bath, believe me that was like floating in heaven: it was bliss. Thank you staff: it was something I shall always remember.
When the stroke nurse visited me, she explained the possibility that my fingers and toes may never regain control. She had to do this of course, as it was her duty to make me aware of the capability that my body could expect to achieve. The thought I might never move them again was devastating to me and I tried to be brave as she explained it, yet all the staff were amazed at how well I was doing considering the damage my body had suffered. As I was lying there, realisation started to hit me: I will never walk again, I thought; I am what I would deem as virtually blind; I was gutted; I felt useless. For the first time since I had had the stroke I thought my life was not worth while. The next morning I was greeted by two carers who with a very pleasant and cheerful manner had me washed and changed, brought my breakfast and chatted to me as I ate it up. Then after cleaning my face again, asked if I wanted to give myself a shave. “I shall try” I said so they lifted me up onto a hoist and lowered me down on a wheelchair having me positioned in front of my mirror. They then brought me the necessary toiletries, I told them I was fine and that they could leave me for a little while so they tied an alert button to my chair and left the room.
I looked at the reflection of myself, I was almost a shadow: like a silhouette. This was my chance I thought, I can end my life. I picked up my razor, then realised I had to turn my hand face up. I put my razor down and tried to turn my hand, it slipped and I tried to re-position this over and over again, even in the sink, yet still it fell down! In my anger I held it firmly and twisted it tightly: so tight it hurt. I was in pain; I had never felt my arm hurt before and it seemed bizarre how I could feel this if it’s paralysed. I am pleased to say I put down everything and decided to get a shave instead.
Later that morning when I was alone a young care assistant came to my room and sat beside me. She seemed as if she knew what was going on in my mind and she put her arm over my shoulder and told me should anything ever happen to her in life she would want to be alive; that nothing would ever stop her giving up. I shall not name her as all of those staff are so much alike in St Mary’s. To me they are priceless.
As each day passed I got more familiar with my blurred vision and they would wheel me down to the day room for dinner. I was quiet at first, but I soon started to mix in using light-hearted banter at all our shared downfalls.
One day I recall when two of the carers asked if I wanted to go for a walk. They trussed me up on a cold day in November and wheeled me outside to the car park. I was pleased for that, but felt saddened just how poor my eyesight was; I could not make out of the models of the vehicles that passed us by.
Time seemed to pass quickly for me and every morning that I awakened I did my usual task: staring at my fingers willing them to move, when suddenly I was sure I saw my thumb twitch. I stared at it and sure enough I saw movement. Not all the time of course, but it was not just spasmodic, I had done it by believing in myself. That date was November the 17th 2006. I shall never forget it was so important to me; I could not wait to show the stroke nurse. Withholding excitement I really wanted to shout to everyone. Some days after, I could move the big toe on my left foot and with this in mind I knew I was on the mend!
When I first arrived at St Mary’s I was greeted by the therapy team. These where both physios and occupational therapists. I am not sure of the difference, but I can say they where very good. They visited almost daily to put me through my routine and it seemed longer to wheel me down the corridor than it did to do the exercises, but I soon slept when they wheeled me back again.
The therapists kept telling me I must always look left. Apparently it helps the brain decipher the image. I try to do this constantly and it’s amazing how much has returned. I am not sure if it is looking left or not, but I am grateful for that advice.
It was heading towards Christmas now, I was no longer a messy eater. I was not bad but strangely as it may seem, I would only see half the food on my table. Many a time I would clean my plate, have the platter turned around and “taa-daa” my plate was full again, believe it or not that still happens sometimes.
It seemed strange how well I was progressing each day. The physios would see a difference and those that had been missing for a week or so were amazed at my improvement, but for me it was depressing. Silly I know, but it was not until December that I realised my left side paralysis had nothing to do to my right side weakness. For me after all those months I had only just realised I might never get them to work normal again. I thought it was just a matter of time and all would be fine. The exercise I diligently put in the effort yet saw only minor improvement, but still the staff were amazed at how well I was doing.
The big day came when the staff came to see me: “Would you like a home visit?” they asked. I was taken aback at this and it was like been released from prison. I remember crying on the phone when I told my family I could come home for the day. I had to book a disabled taxi: the one that used a “ramp and clamp” vehicle. So they could push me up on the ramp and then clamp the wheelchair in position. I would suggest you shop around for the best price, but for me it was worth it, even though it was only for a few hours. I slept like a log when I was put back in my bed.
Each day I was washed in a morning by the carers, I am a proud man, so I feel I should point out that because of my limited eyesight, I still had blind spots. Funny as it seems, I would be prepared for the morning routine where my pyjama bottoms would be removed by the carers, yet I could not see my legs when I looked down. It was strange but it was as if they were not there. I know it might mean nothing to some, but for me, modesty is important, yet their expertise makes me feel very grateful to all those wonderful staff.
The daily task of getting my fingers, toes, arms and legs to move was continuous. They would try to make me stand and sometimes I would see what is known as a “standing hoist”. One day I wanted to go to the toilet, but up to that time I still used a commode. They wheeled in this contraption, I was strapped on to it, and with supporting my right hand, I was lifted to a standing position and taken to the toilet, thus restoring my modesty.
Christmas was fast approaching and I received many seasonal greetings cards, but the biggest surprise to me was when two friends of mine from my work business, although they do not know each other, came to visit me. Both are Muslims, yet they had come from different cities to wish me happy Christmas. Those kind people showed me what friendship means.
I visited in my “ramp and clamp” Taxi to my family on daily visits over Christmas time, but was always tired and needed a good sleep when I arrived back again.
As time moved on I would meet other patients. Some seemed to have only minor problems, others more complicated, however I did notice that all of them took a little while to settle themselves in. The staff as always would try to make light of the problems they faced, but I can only say how much I appreciated the way nothing seemed too much trouble and it seemed they soon settled down on the road to recovery.
One day the physios came to my room. “I think we shall try you with a walker” they said, and I looked at them with no idea what this was. They wheeled me out into the corridor and there in front of me was this contraption. It had an alloy frame like a walking aid with two wheels at the front and two legs with rubber stoppers on at the back, only this was different: it had flat bars at the front with two handles you could hold onto and four wheels on the bottom. It reminded me of a Dalek from an old Dr.Who film but without the egg boxes wrapped around it. I sat there staring at it: “Ok,” they said “we are at your sides, and in front of you so you cannot fall!” I looked at them somewhat bewildered, but as instructed I painstakingly stood up, they bound my left hand to the handle, and with one to my right, the other in front of me, made me take hold of the right side handle. Then they told me to put my left leg forward in an effort to straighten it up. “Now,” they said, “we want you to take the weight and keeping your foot pointed in a straight-line, step forward with your right leg.” I was so full of nerves, I was visibly shaking. “I cannot do it” I said and I looked in front of me and could see several of the care assistants looking at me. There must have been around six or more watching; one of the carers had a camera in her hand. I looked at her head and shook it from side to side. “You can” she mouthed at me. I looked and with a physio at my side raised and put my paralysed leg in front of the other, then with very wobbly knees I stepped with my right leg. After taking a small break to compose myself I went through the routine again and again and in all I took nine steps. By then I was truly exhausted, but I looked up: “I’ve done it!” I said, “I have walked!” Suddenly realisation hit me and I broke down in tears, sobbing like a lost child finding his mother. It had been five months since I had walked normally and when I looked up I almost laughed with joy as all the staff where passing around the tissues to join me.
A day or so later I went home for the weekend. When I returned, upon on my door and wall were the photographs they had taken of me and my first steps. So important was this to me I thought I shall walk again. I still feel emotional when I reflect on this.
It was about this time they had introduced the Banana board which seemed comical, almost embarrassing to me. This was a flat board that was bent not unlike a boomerang. The idea was that you could wedge your board on the wheelchair or whatever you sat upon, then with a bit of effort, slide along it onto another position. For example: from my wheelchair, then slide along it onto my bed! In this case it was so I could slide along my wheelchair and onto the passenger seat of my car and I can assure you it was not an easy task. After a little practice I was given the all clear to go out in my car for the day. It was a very difficult task trying not to damage my car’s upholstery and it seemed to take about 5 minutes shuffling along the board onto the car seat. I did not like this at all. A day or so later my family wanted to take me out for a ride so my sister and her husband came along with her two daughters. We all should go for a nice break. I, as normal, transferred from my bed onto my wheelchair then out in the car park where my wife had me shuffle along from my chair to the passenger seat via that lovely banana board.
After a lovely trip around Hornsea Freeport it was time to return back to St Mary’s. As we approached my car, I decided enough was enough so I called my brother in law to assist me. He wheeled me towards the passenger door that was held wide open, then he simply supported under my left shoulder. I stood up, turned so my backside was to the car seat and sat down, it really was that easy. When I arrived back in my room, they did the same but in this case it was to put me onto my bed.
Each day that passed I seemed to have improved with my physiotherapy. I would be made to stand up, still supported, but I knew I was getting stronger. One day I decided I needed to lie down. I was in my wheelchair and it was early afternoon. I turned towards the bed and looked at my open door: “Nurse?” I said as I saw one pass by with another patient. “Yes” she replied. “Can I lie down?” I muttered. “Just a tick” she said: obviously she had her hands full! I turned my wheel chair and with my right foot firmly on the floor I stood up and as I did so, I lunged forward, my left foot still standing on the chair’s footplate. “I shall dive on the bed” I thought. No chance, I flopped to the ground like a sack of potatoes! All I could say was “Oh ******” at my own stupidity. Needless to say, the staff came running at my embarrassment. Unfortunately I must confess I did that more than once, always my own fault of course.
I started to notice how many patients where leaving St Mary’s. It’s hard to imagine, but it never crossed my mind that my stroke left me with some minor brain damage. Often I would get confused with people and for some reason I would change their gender, often calling someone he instead of she. Only a small thing I know, but it still happens even today, only now I can joke about it.
Time seemed to move more quickly for me and I had progressed to be able to shuffle along in my wheelchair using my left foot crossed over my right rather than just sitting in one place. I would often admire other patients who would manage a slow shuffle with their walker or crutch towards our dining room and I always gave them words of encouragement as I was wheeled in alongside fellow patients. One day they asked if I wanted to walk down to the dining room. I was stunned at first, but they where serious. They had often got me to stand supported by a frame and had made me take a few half-hearted attempts at walking, but nothing like this. I tried and did walk a few steps. It was difficult, but even I managed to go the whole way once or twice, even though its hard to imagine just how close my room was to that dining room, yet to me it was like walking to a restaurant. The time had come when I could get off my bed with a carer onto the wheelchair via that banana board, and pulling my right leg along with my left leg crossed, I would wander down the corridor in my wheelchair. It was January now, and I needed the toilet. I shuffled along, opened the door and went in. There I held the rails, stood up prepared myself and did it! It was the end of my standing hoist or carer’s assistance; from then on it was my own independence.
“Do you want to try moving from one place to another without the banana board?” asked the staff. I looked almost guiltily at them: “I can do that already. I do it all the time.” They looked at me with surprise. The therapist then told me she would be returning to her own country of New Zealand. “When?” I asked. “End of March.” she said. “I shall miss you when you leave” I added. “You will have left by then” she replied. I looked at her: she must have seen the shock and realisation at what she had said. I was baffled, “what do you mean ‘I would have left by then’ ” I replied. “I shall not be ready” I added. “You have done far more than anyone could have possibly imagined” came her reply. “You know what you have achieved has been more than a miracle.”
With a stiff upper lip, I went back to my room and phoned my family. “Do you know I shall be home soon” I told them. Days later I started to believe in myself and I felt I was more than a patient; that I was becoming a person once again.
The months turned to weeks and even I was impressed at the Physio’s achievements. I knew it was only a matter of time when I would be going home and I noticed how some of the new patients seemed as distressed as I was when I had first entered the dining room. I like to think I helped them on their road to recovery by giving them an understanding ear.
Every day the therapists came to me to put me through my routine. The occupational therapist from New Zealand took me to the exercise room: “I am leaving in two weeks to return home, but I have also got your leaving date. That’s March the 21st” she said. I was so happy; if I could have wrapped both my arms around her and give her a big hug I would have done!
The days passed quicker than I thought they would. On the day I was leaving it was raining, just like it was when I arrived. I stood up to walk out of my room, then my wife, daughter and son wheeled me to the exit, where again I stood up and with a little assistance, I walked outside. I had done it, or should I say they had done it, for Its St Mary’s who guided me back to health and put me back on the road to recovery.
Since I have been home, the carers and the therapy staff have been wonderful to me. I have done as they requested, so much so I have little need of their attention. Its up to me now: I can walk, my vision has improved, even my arm and hand has come alive. To my mind I owe everything to all of the staff both in St Mary’s and the home visits.
It was August 2006 when I had my stroke. It was August 2007 when I wrote this.
I thank you all from the depth of my heart. I shall never forget what you have all done for me.