Up Close & Personal: Life after a stroke

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 October, 2012, 11:01am

Life took an unexpected turn on the morning of October 7 two years ago. That was when my husband, Dave, had a stroke. Apart from some complaints about a sore throat the previous day, his health appeared good. He got up for work as usual and was in the bathroom when the stroke happened.

So I didn't notice any of the signs, such as loss of consciousness, or one side of the face sagging.

He was able to get back into bed and answer "No", when I asked if he was all right. As he was only 43, a stroke was not the first thing I thought of when I noticed he was having trouble speaking.

I rang the doctor's, and Dave prepared to go to the clinic. But as he came out of the bedroom, I noticed he was dragging his right foot. I called the doctor back, and was told to call an ambulance.

The rest of that day was a bit of a blur. I was told in Accident and Emergency that Dave had suffered a stroke and was being admitted.

I had no idea what that meant, or what the implications were in the long and short term. Our daughter was 10 and our twin sons were seven. I told them that daddy had hurt his head and needed to stay in hospital for a while. I called his mother and his office.

Then the anxiety started to build. As Dave was an engineer, would he be able to return to work, or even remember how to do the job? Would we be able to stay in Hong Kong, especially as he was the major wage earner? Our eldest was due to start secondary school, so should I still pay the deposit?

Amid all this doubt and worry, I discovered what a tremendous support network I had. The human resources department of Dave's company called to tell me not to worry about his job, as it would be held open for him. They told me how much sick leave he was entitled to. My company allowed me to take off as much time as I needed.

My investment manager helped me claim money from Dave's critical illness policy. That provided an unexpectedly large financial safety net. The school kept an eye on the children during the day and allowed flexibility with homework deadlines. My friends rallied round, and I still owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

Dave had had a stroke in the left side of his brain, in the area that affects speech and communication.

Although he was fortunately not paralysed, he had (and still has) no feeling down his right side. Apart from a few words, he was unable to talk. Although he did know who I was, he could not say my name, or the names of our children.

After spending nine days in hospital, Dave was sent home. The children took everything in their stride. I have a lasting memory of Connor spending hours helping Daddy learn to speak.

James helped him to do his physical exercises, and 10-year-old Ashling became an adult overnight. It was clear that the speech therapy sessions, given by someone whose first language was not English, were not working. So I agreed that he should return to Ireland with his mother for intensive therapy.

Dave spent five months there, in hospital and in a rehabilitation centre. Although he missed Christmas, Skype meant the children could at least see and speak to him. The fact he couldn't always understand what they were saying didn't phase them.

I had to make all the decisions, as Dave could not understand what was being said to him. As the children were all born in Hong Kong, and the chances of me getting a job in Britain in my late 40s were slim, I decided we would stay here.

My landlady unexpectedly terminated our flat lease, and I had to find accommodation, which I did.

Two years on, Dave continues to make a remarkable recovery. Nine months after the stroke he was able to return to work, where he currently spends four days a week.

Dave has not only had to learn to talk again, but also to read and write, with the children acting as willing teachers. His speech has improved greatly, but not to the extent where we can have a normal conversation.

Short sentences and simple vocabulary are key. As his hearing and eyesight are bad on the right side, I need to remember to always stand on his left.

Although we are not out of the woods quite yet, things could definitely be a lot worse.

The moral of this story is never take things for granted, plan for the unexpected and always have a good support network.

We have all had to learn to adapt, and we are still learning. The children seem to have taken everything in their stride.

It is Dave and I who have had the harder time. Dave is working hard at accepting what he can and cannot do. He is also trying to dispel the notion that he is stupid because he has trouble communicating.

I have to remember that complaining about how much I have to do makes Dave feel guilty. We are back to working as a team, but in a different way. The stroke has forced us to prioritise.

Dave is recovering and that is what gives us comfort. He is not only getting better physically, his personality and his sense of humour are starting to return to how they were before the stroke.

That is something that helps us get through the difficult days.

Fiona Bishop is a working mother of three