In the spring of 2015, at the age of 71, I was sitting with my wife one evening when I realised I couldn’t lift my right arm. Both my arm and hand were numb. I immediately suspected a stroke because my sister-in-law had been left paralysed down her right side and unable to speak after a major stroke. We visited her most days to try to help her communicate, and I had read everything I could about strokes.
In fact, we had been discussing my sister-in-law’s situation when I realised my arm had gone numb. I ran through the Fast checks in my mind: there was no pain, no dizziness, no symptoms other than my arm. But I remembered the "t" in Fast – time – was the most important. I asked my wife to call 999, deciding we could argue later if I was wrong.
A first responder paramedic arrived in about five minutes from his base five miles away. He did vital signs checks and agreed with my tentative diagnosis so called an ambulance to take me straight to the stroke unit at a hospital some 25 miles away.
Once there I was quickly examined. As the symptoms had not worsened, I was kept in under observation. But when I got out of bed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, my right leg would not work so I pressed the bell for help. In seconds a small army of people were there to take me first for a CT scan and then to a bay where a drip was fitted, blood samples were taken and a doctor did whatever doctors do.
Those first few days were very confusing because although I seemed able to think clearly, I could not speak or understand what people were saying. I made sounds that I thought were speech but could not make myself understood.
I was also beginning to understand what was being said. The first complete sentence I followed was in a conversation I overheard between a doctor and a physiotherapist: “I don’t think he will walk or talk again.” I decided then and there to prove them wrong.
By the time I was moved to the rehab centre, six weeks after my stroke, I was reading, talking and moving my legs in some semblance of walking, albeit all of them badly.
Then the serious rehab started. Every day I spent at least an hour in the gym, with exercises back in the ward too. The nursing assistants were a wonderful part of the team, becoming friends and gradually withdrawing assistance as I could do more. My speech was beginning to recover - well I could make noises that the staff began to understand.
I began to use the voice recognition of my iPhone to practice speaking, and later reading, because I was determined to speak and read again and the iPhone was my constant companion. It didn't limit me to an hour a time or get bored trying to understand me.
After four weeks in the rehab centre I returned to my home, which had been prepared by the amazing NHS teams. They had turned the dining room into a fully equipped hospital room with electric adjustable bed and all the gadgets I could need. My downstairs bathroom had been changed to accommodate me, and as soon as I got home the team started to call. At least four times a week a pair of physiotherapists would treat me for an hour and an occupational therapist would come for at least an hour a week. At the end of six weeks of home treatment I could do everything I could do before my stroke – but slower and sometimes differently.
I’ve been told by several healthcare professionals that my attitude has made such a difference. I’ve never given up. I try to do whatever task is given to me without protest. And I’ve accepted that complete recovery is not reasonably achievable but I’m going to fight for every bit that is.
The only cloud on my horizon is I still have not regained my fluent speech. People meeting me for the first time describe my speech as good but, although my mobility is OK and I can move my arm a little, they are just irritants. But my loss of fluent speech is hard to come to terms with. But, hey, it could be worse. As long as I concentrate on what I can do, not on what I can't, life is good.
I have come to terms with the fact that my life has changed - and I look forward to exploring what the "new" me will do. And I am certain that, despite this major brain attack, I am happier than I've ever been. No longer do I "work/sleep/work/sleep - Oh are you OK my darling wife - work/sleep/work".
Instead I have found I have loving family and old friends, made some new wonderful new friends, deadlines don't exist, and I have time to smell the roses.