The stroke affected my left side. Immediately after the stroke, I was unable to walk or to use my arm – imagine having to ring a bell so somebody can come and take you to the toilet! I can now understand that the further away from my torso, the greater I was injured. Hip and shoulder are pretty good, hand and foot not. But at the time, it was a blanket “my arm is buggered”. In hospital, I worked with physiotherapists a lot on my leg to get me walking again, but not much attention was paid to my arm. Doctors weren’t much use at all.
Still, the attention to my leg must have sparked something. I walked again before I left hospital, really no farther than around my bed, and very doddery. It really was this process of learning to walk over again, slow going, you don’t feel like you’re making any progress…
The stroke also affected my eyesight, although how much is hard to say. Pre-stroke, I had started having treatment on my eyes as a result of diabetes. So, certainly diabetes started the rot. I also had some laser surgery at the hospital – in my opinion, this made things worse. Then the stroke on top of everything else… I think my vision was at a low at the time of the stroke, but improved gradually in the following months. Post-stroke, my diabetes has been better-controlled, and nowadays my vision has stopped declining, but it is left permanently damaged from earlier events.
Another thing was my emotional state – I have found myself in tears at the silliest of silly things. The best way I have found to describe this is like a jelly. You start off very mushy indeed but things gradually set into something more solid, back to how you used to be. That process took many months, for me. Even today, I can be arguing with my wife, but am smiling throughout.
Last but not least is the fatigue. To people who’ve never experienced it, it is difficult to describe. That feeling when, just walking through to the next room, leaves you feeling exhausted. Indeed immediately after the stroke, my walking-limit was less than 10 yards. It was almost a year before I could leave the house to walk the half-mile to the bus stop, in stages. In fact I was luckier than some – I read of people spending the whole day in bed because of fatigue. Can you imagine losing a Wednesday, say? Where everything you had planned just falls by the wayside? Fatigue is still there – that feeling of just being exhausted all the time, but when it overcomes me, I stop and regain myself. My stamina has increased over time.
A common affect of stroke is aphasia, difficulty with communication. I talk about that in the blog, and have worked with people who suffer from aphasia. I’m lucky in that it has never been an obstacle for me – I notice a slight slowdown in my communication process, but I’m confident that nobody else does. That really is the test. To be so back to your old self that nobody else notices that you once had a stroke. In writing this, I type one-handed. It is, of course, much slower than I was pre-stroke, but you’d never notice except for my spelling letting me down when my fingers slip. That’s downright embarrassing, as my spelling is up there with the best. I am aware that I sometimes publish mistakes – as much due to my eyesight as my hand – but I correct them when I see them.
I was/am left-handed. I prefer to think in the present tense, since I will be once again. This affects writing, of course, although I have been surprised how little I rely on writing, in everyday life. A lot of communication is performed via a keyboard, where as I’ve said, nobody can tell the difference. Having to rely on my once-weaker hand to do things (e.g. slice a piece of bread) is sometimes frustrating, but I muddle along. I’ve accumulated several gadgets, especially in the kitchen, which enable me to function almost at my pre-stroke levels.
Another thing is driving. Here, two things come into play, my arm and my eyesight. I’ve been told by the eye consultant that my eyesight is still good enough, though as it happens, I don’t drive on account of my arm. There, I’m in kind-of a poverty trap. I’d need to get a new – automatic – car to save having to change gear (cars in the UK are right-hand drive), and to possibly get it modified to control with my right hand entirely, but I don’t want to spend “new car” money until I am earning again. Certainly while I’m not earning, I can get around on the bus.
So, I came home in a very fragile state, but I was still shy of fifty, so didn’t think there was any age-related reason that I couldn’t recover some functionality. And that’s how it has worked out. My walking is stronger, I still need to take small breaks to catch my breath, but these are shorter and further apart. I even found a spark of movement in my hand, which I still work on daily. Not enough to make my hand usable yet in the context of everyday tasks, but something to work on. It is a slow process, and you really need to put the work in. At the time of writing, I am 3½ years post-stroke. I’ve given up on miracles, but I do think that with time and hard work, I will get more function out of my limbs.