Recovering from a stroke: ‘Keep on going and eventually you will regain another bit of you’

Victoria Hamer

doctor1 300x225 Recovering from a stroke: Keep on going and eventually you will regain another bit of youStrokes can be different. Mine was the bump onto the floor, curled-up banana, non-speaking, non-walking, non-thinking, non-writing sort. Mine was, in TV scheduling terms, was at the graveyard time, early (6.30am) on a Sunday morning, when the outcome is statistically supposedly very dodgy as no stroke consultants are necessarily on duty at the hospital and a skeleton staff is on duty.

But it needn’t be, so please all take hope. I was the beneficiary of a system which had been rolled out only two weeks previously called Telemedicine.  It meant that the consultant, who was at her home, some 35 miles away, could be linked up and instantly see me “virtually” where I was at A&E at Royal Sussex County Hospital at Brighton. She was able to see the results of all the machines to which I had been plugged up, and could talk to me and ask me to do tests, and could even see into the depths of my CT scan, just as if she were there beside me during a ‘live’ consultation.

Time is of the essence with a stroke. My Consultant could, from her own home, see it on the machine deepening within me. She could manage my treatment there and then through the doctor who was beside me and the support nursing staff. No delay and no waiting around for her to get from home.

Do I hear you say that you wouldn’t like to have a stranger just looking at you remotely through a Skype-esque mode via a screen at a moment like this? Well, if it was that or no consultant at all, at the crucial time immediately after the Stroke occurs, you would want it. There was a registrar as well as a nurse keeping watch over me, ‘translating’ to me the requests from miles away for whatever capability the consultant was trying to get me to test. A lot of which involved trying to aim one’s finger towards the doctor’s face which I couldn’t begin to manage.

I could see her connected on the screen in front of me and importantly so could my husband, reassuring me while she instructed her team on what medicine to administer. The fact that the screen was at the end of the bed meant that the consultant’s overseeing remained personal to me.

The hope was that my blood pressure could be lowered enough to receive the clot-buster treatment which may have allowed me to go home in only a couple of days time. But when the medicine didn’t seem to be having the desired effect and it was back to the drawing board, my consultant could be instantly recalled on screen to decide what to try next.

I was then moved from A&E to a specialist stroke ward, plugged up to other machines and tested every hour to see how I was doing. The consultant then visited me in person on her rounds for the next five weeks. After 10 days I was moved on to the Sussex Rehabilitation Centre at Haywards Heath and then some five weeks after the stroke I went home to have my care continued there.

Speech therapists had already explained to my family not to try to hurry me up if I was helplessly looking in my mind for a word. Utterances as simple as ‘tree’ or as complex as ‘Meistersinger’ were equally capable of hiding themselves away or being impossible to say even when I had found them.  I sat in the garden for hours practising my bilabials (less naughty than it sounds). And slowly I began to manage multi-syllable words.

Physiotherapists tried to re-introduce the linking of my muscles so that I could stand, walk, going a step at a time (a bit like getting on a half-size Olympic prize-winner stand) and attempting to get my toes to twiddle. Occupational therapists tried to get me not to keel over when having a shower. Later they tested me on how I could manage to cook.

Most importantly, this showed me that I had to actually watch where I put my silly right leg as it wouldn’t let me know otherwise so as not to crash into its table counterpart. They also helped me to see whether my brain could manage the re-learning of typing on a computer – for a while it was convinced that my typing hand was just fine dragging on the keyboard producing lines and lines of any random character it happened to target. It wouldn’t be great for work.

A volunteer ‘resting’ actress came and animatedly read stories to me – wonderful if you are locked in your body incommunicado. On top of all this there was a dog therapist, the therapy being for me, not the dog. You might well ask why dog therapy is so important, particularly if you already have a dog. It is not about just patting the dog on the head. The dog needs a bowl of water – can you bend down to get the bowl from the floor? Can you pick it up and bring it to the basin to fill it up? Can you carry it without slopping it onto the floor? Can you put it on the floor without dropping it or without falling over? Taking the dog for a walk means walking on different surfaces – slopes, steps (very difficult), gravel, grass, and lifting your feet to cope with these surfaces. This is a very long process.

The rehab physio gave me exercises to do. Trust is the thing. They know which muscle joins up with which other muscle, and so if they ask you to try even a very tiny movement, just keep on and keep on, and eventually the likelihood is that you will be able to regain another bit of you.

When I got back home, there was yet another team of speech therapists, giving me further multi-syllable speech and comprehension exercises and trying to mend the loop in my brain which couldn’t write down telephone numbers (necessary for work) and physiotherapists coming to my house to get me to walk without an leg brace, and still trying to get my toes to twiddle, which for ages they wouldn’t. Toe-twiddling is helpful for balance.

Well, 11 weeks after I hit the deck, I started back at work. I realise that life remains difficult if not unbearable for many people, but it is worth having faith that it will get better, and to never give up. I was blessed as not only did I have every opportunity to endeavour to re-wire the non-joined up sections but most importantly, on that first Sunday morning I had instant treatment provided by the remote expertise of the consultant looking in through the Telemedicine machine. Had I keeled over two weeks previously, it might have been an entirely different story.

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  • Pappy Mappy

    Yes how silly, it gives you more time to work in the private sector as well, because the NHS salary is not generous enough right?

  • James Smith

    I had a stroke in April of 1992. Unlike you, I was in denial of what was happening and waited from night until morning to seek help.

    Even so, I have worked very hard at my therapy for over 20 years, now. Today, few people would know I have had a stroke. Yes, have effects, my left side is substantially weaker than my right. But my speech is normal, I walk with only a slight limp, especially in cold weather.

    I exercise vigorously every day and have recently been able to resume playing a guitar and singing. For over two decades I was unable to sing on key. Now, I play and sing for friends. That is the things I really have missed the most, so I am very happy about that recovery. Look at my workout chart for December (attached) and you can see recovery is possible.

    Yes, it is true. Never give up, never stop trying, and you will get better.

    Do not ignore the symptoms of stroke. Even a minor TIA is a severe warning.

  • Pappy Mappy

    That’s amazing!

  • yellowbenzene

    Yes, that’s right – I actually spend most of my NHS time playing golf and flirting with nursing students.

  • Pappy Mappy

    I’m sure you don’t, but isn’t there an argument for NHS consultants working wholly within the NHS for not tendering their services to the private sector?

  • James Smith

    Thank you for the comment. It really isn’t so amazing, though. Remember, I have been working on this for over 20 years. I have probably made as much progress in the last four or five years as I did in the first 15 years. Patience and perseverance is the key.

  • Pappy Mappy

    I am sure it was a battle nevertheless! Any thoughts on writing a book about your experience or having a blog? It would certainly inspire a lot of people.

  • James Smith

    Thank you again for your reply. I do have a blog, although it is not about my stroke experience.

    I have also written a fitness book that I often give away. I have a video about it at:

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