I suffered a Subarachnoid Haemorrhage at 31 years old. I was not in any of the risk groups for stroke, I was not overweight, didn't drink a great deal, didn't smoke and my blood pressure was normal.
It happened 13 months after I had completed my training as a teacher. I was working in my first post as a part time nursery teacher. I was fairly stressed during the week before the SAH happened, having a lot to do in work. Looking back I was having some problems with my memory (not being able to remember my husband's mobile number that I normally called at least twice a day for about 10 years) I was also suffering from some headaches. I had had terrible nausea seven days earlier while in work and on the morning of my stroke but it subsided each time and I just put it down to one of those things. I put the headaches and loss of memory down to stress and after speaking to neurologists they have said that these were probably not signs that I was about to have a SAH.
It all happened around lunchtime on Saturday 15th May 2004. I had spent the morning at work (I worked on a Saturday as a purchase ledger clerk in a local garage). It was a lovely day and I was feeling very positive, planning to get through lots of things during that afternoon. I had made a list of some things that I wanted to photograph and list on EBay to clear some clutter and make a few pounds. One of these items was a set of alloy wheels that I had bought for my car and never used. I had brought one of the wheels into the house and was cleaning it up in the middle of the living room. I had just finished and kneeled up to admire my handy work, pleased with how well the wheel had come up. I was suddenly hit by the most unbelievable pain in my head; I don't like to describe it as a headache because I just don't think the word headache can ever cover the level of pain I experienced. I was thinking that I needed to get to the couch to lie down. I was talking to myself in my head and saying that if the pain continued I would have to go to the hospital, then arguing back to myself not to be silly, you don't go to hospital with a headache!
Then I experienced a peculiar rushing feeling both in my head and all over my body, this was closely followed by complete paralysis from the neck down. I was terrified; I had managed to get to the floor in front of the couch, with my back leaning against the front of it. I then remember waking up with my neck leaning on the corner of the wall. I was talking to myself again, thinking that I would need to move or I was going to die.
I managed to get myself a bit more upright, at this point; I was unable to move either of my arms or legs. Slowly a little of the feeling came back into my left arm and I just managed to pull the telephone into reach by the cord. I was terrified that I was about to pull the power cord out, leaving our cordless phone useless. I eventually managed to pick up the phone and after dropping the phone several times I was eventually able to dial 999. The lady on the phone kept asking how the paramedics were going to be able to get in. At this point I was getting even more panicky because I was at home alone with my two dogs barking at anyone who came to the door, I was still unable to move properly and definitely unable to lock the dogs away and open the door.
The ambulance arrived and the dogs were going spare, I was worried sick that they would break in and my dogs would escape. I managed to pull my left foot from under my right leg; I had to do this with my hands because I didn't have enough feeling in my leg. At the time there was a pack of laminate flooring on the floor next to where I had landed, I thought that I could lift myself onto it and slide along to the door. I was too weak to lift myself the four inches onto the pack of flooring. Somehow, and I still have no idea how I did it, I managed to pull myself up onto my left leg and shuffle to the door, at this point I still only had some feeling in my left side, less feeling in my right arm and my right leg was completely paralysed. When I got to the door I was horrified because I couldn't see the ambulance as it was parked just out of sight behind our hedge, I had dropped the telephone as I struggled to the door and was terrified that I would be unable to get help. There were some young boys on the corner opposite the house and they told the paramedics I was there.
I was taken to Whiston Hospital (Merseyside) where eventually I was sent for a scan. This showed that I had suffered a SAH. I spent a night in Whiston Hospital, the pain in my head was agonising and I was also suffering from photophobia. I was feeling very scared and confused but I was trying to keep everything together for my family who were with me. I was vomiting constantly both from the brain injury and from the Morphine that I was getting regularly. The following morning I was transferred to the Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery (Liverpool). After spending the night propped up at Whiston I was then told that I had to lie flat and was not even allowed to get out of bed to use the toilet. I spent a nightmare night in the Walton Centre being given Codeine and Paracetamol, neither of which touched the pain. To add to that the lady in the next bed had a vase of lilies beside her bed; these give me a massive headache at the best of times.
The following morning it was planned that I would have an angiogram to see exactly where the bleed had come from and then a probably an operation to coil the aneurysm either directly after or the next day. Fairly early in the morning the consultant came to see me and told me that they had decided to take me into theatre and do both the angiogram and the coiling at the same time while I was under general anaesthetic. I was a bit relieved as I had been very frightened of having an angiogram. Someone came round to explain the risks and get me to sign a consent form. At no point had the operation been referred to as an option, this was a must. I was terrified as there was a high risk of death or very severe disablement. After this I was certain that I would either die during the operation or be left with severe brain damage. The care assistant came round to give me a wash before the operation; I asked if I could do this as I was convinced that it would be the last time that I would be able to do anything for myself. I considered writing a letter to my partner Martin for him to read when the worst happened, however, I didn't have time to do this and felt stupid asking for paper and an envelope.
I was taken down to theatre about 9 am, Martin, my mum and my sister had not arrived by the time I was on my way down to theatre, as it is almost impossible to find a parking space at the Walton Centre. I was pushed down the corridors watching the lights on the ceiling go by, I have really never been so terrified in my life, I thought I was never going to come back from this and I hadn't even had the chance to tell Martin I loved him. We had never got around to getting married or having children and we weren't ever going to have that chance. Just before I actually went into the theatre my mum and sister came running down the corridor, Martin had let them out while he parked. He followed a few seconds behind. It was like something off the television, with me in tears and him holding my hand as I was being pushed away.
I woke up about 6 hours later (I heard someone ask the time in what must have been the recovery room and it was 3.30 pm) Everything was blurry, at first I could only make out figures walking round, my throat was sore, I was very cold and my wrist was sore where I had a huge line in. I was eventually moved up to the high dependency unit (there was no room in the ICU). My family had been told that everything had gone well around lunch time and they came to see me as soon as possible in the HDU. I was given paracetamol for the pain which I thought was bizarre after brain surgery, even though it was not open surgery but through an artery in my groin. I was woken every 15 minutes or so and asked my name, date of birth and what day it was, I was terrified of getting these questions wrong in case they took me back down to surgery. I had an oxygen mask on from when I came out of surgery which I found very uncomfortable; I thought I was feeling claustrophobic with the mask on, finding it difficult to catch my breath. A couple of doctors were brought down to see me in the night; I just wanted to be left to go to sleep. I was then x-rayed and it turns out I part of one of my lungs had collapsed. This was probably due to the amount of Morphine that I had been given whilst in Whiston Hospital. The next day I saw a physiotherapist who got me out of bed into a chair and gave me some exercises to do to fix my lung. I had to stay in the HDU for 4 days, it was very frustrating as I was watching people come and go as they had their surgery and were moved back to the ward, although all of the staff there were fantastic. I had 5 lines going into various parts of my body.
The day I was going to be moved back up to the ward I was told I was being taken for a scan, I expected this as I was supposed to be having a scan to check everything was as it should be. I was wheeled down to the scanning room where they tried to inject some dye into a vein. The vein they tried though had had a shunt in for about five days and had blocked up. They then put a new line into my left arm, this really hurt and everything just got to me and I broke down, feeling very sorry for myself. The nurse who had come up with me was brilliant and comforted me. Shortly after this it turns out that I wasn't supposed to go for this scan, they were going to give me another angiogram because there had been a mix up and they thought I hadn't had surgery yet. I was taken back to HDU and then transferred up to a ward.
I was placed in a side room and stayed in hospital for a further 5 days. I was glad to be in a side room, away from the hustle and bustle of a full ward, although I was afraid of being forgotten about. On one occasion I had a bit of a funny feeling and was very scared that I was having another stroke, buzzed for help and no one came, I had to shout for several minutes before someone heard me and called for help. Fortunately I was ok and was discharged a few days later.
On the day I was due to be discharged I saw a doctor in the morning who told me that I would be able to go home at the end of the day when my drugs had been sorted. My mum and partner arrived for a visit and I managed to go for a little walk with them to a little courtyard within the hospital. I couldn't go far as I was very tired and I was suffering from terrible back pain. When I returned from this walk, in a lot of pain and ready for a sleep, I got back to my room to find a strange man in my bed. This really confused me as at this point I was still a bit confused and not certain of anything. It turned out that the nurses had stuffed all of my things into a couple of carrier bags and put this man in my bed. My drugs were not ready to collect so in the end I went home in my pyjamas and my partner had to return four hours later to collect my drugs. I was given no advice as to what I could or could not do; I wasn't told about any side effects of the drugs or given any support whatsoever. I am sure that you will understand that after such a traumatic time it is a very scary to go home anyway, never mind without any support.
After all of that I have been one of the lucky ones and I have very few ill effects from my stroke, chronic migraine, memory problems, and I cannot bear noise, amongst other things. However, I am able to walk and talk and look after myself. I still experience very vivid flashbacks which are horrible but on the whole I am feeling fairly positive about how lucky I am. Martin and I got married on 20th August 2005, a day I thought I would never see. I have not gone back to work yet, 6 years on, but I did help out in a local school and do the odd half day of supply work for a while. I am now a full time mummy to a 2 year old daughter, another wonderful gift I never thought I'd have.
I don't think I will ever go back to work full time, I can now appreciate that there are far more important things in life than work. Martin has been fantastic and I really couldn't wish for a better person to share my life with. He puts up with me bursting into tears every time there is something even vaguely brain related on the television, in the newspaper, or just when I'm having a bit of a bad day. I will never understand these bouts of crying because I have never once thought, 'why me?' or thought I have been unlucky in having a stroke, on the contrary I know that I am incredibly lucky to have got off as lightly as I did. I even agree with one of the survivors on the different strokes website, who classes himself as having a 'stroke of luck', it has given me a whole new outlook on life.