I woke up one morning in May 2016 and didn’t feel right. My wife and I did the FAST test and everything seemed ok. So I got up, had my breakfast and left for work. I've been a Schools Careers Adviser for over 30 years. When I got into work I couldn’t write my name on the register, so I knew something wasn’t right. The school rang the GP who advised me to go straight to hospital.
At that point I felt a huge fireball in my head – the heat was extreme and was moving down my body. I felt my face drooping – it was almost like a volcanic eruption. My speech had gone and I was terrified. My arms and face were affected, but not my legs. Within minutes I was able to talk again.
The ambulance arrived quickly and I received a brain scan within an hour of arriving in hospital. I was diagnosed with an intracerebral haemorrhage possibly caused by a congenital abnormality with high blood pressure as a contributory factor.
At the time everything was explained very well and clearly to my wife, Shona who was thinking the worst. I just felt ‘foolish’ – I wasn’t quite sure why I was in hospital feeling fine again and ready to go home.
I went home the next day – my symptoms had cleared up and I was told I’d had a stroke. I went back to full-time work 6 months later.
Then two years later (July 2018) two days into a holiday in Spain, I felt ‘funny’ again, not myself. I told Shona that I thought I might be having another stroke. Because the last stroke had cleared up quickly, we didn’t go straight to hospital. I phoned my GP a few days later who told me to treat it as a medical emergency and get straight to hospital.
The Spanish Doctors were excellent, and I was diagnosed with another haemorrhagic stroke. They appeared to be worried about my blood pressure, so I remained in hospital for one week.
Even though I was physically unaffected, I was very fatigued which I discovered was a residual effect of the stroke. It has been difficult to manage. However, I went back to work after three months and now work on a part-time basis which is helpful. I have to be organised to manage my day effectively and find ways around the fatigue. But I do come back home in the same mode of ‘organising’ and find it hard to let go of that and switch off.
Shona and I have to plan our trips and times carefully so that we can do what we want to do without giving too much up. Examples of how we have learnt to adapt might be that we catch up with friends at lunchtime rather than the evenings which tend to be more tiring. And when we go on trips we schedule in time for coffee breaks between all the other active things we want to do. I enjoy walking, socialising and sketching, so I do all these things in my own time and thankfully Shona helps me with that. It’s been a huge adjustment in our lives, but I’m quite pragmatic about it.
I also discovered my memory is mildly impaired too. I noticed it recently when I was humming along to a song and found myself forgetting the music. This was sad for me as music is a big part of my life – I play Irish folk music and love it. I concluded it was the stroke that was causing the forgetfulness.
After my second stroke, I started to see a Nurse Practitioner at the surgery who was tremendous. She gave me so much time to talk things over and asks questions. I am now using ‘Florence’, a system that helps me to manage my blood pressure - by reporting my BP on a specified day every week.
I love my job and am pleased to be well enough to continue with it. Shona and I both enjoy our trips abroad and enjoy socialising. It’s a big thing having a stroke, and despite being able to walk and talk, the injury has left me with some lasting effects. Every stroke is different, but not many escape it completely unscathed.