Chapter One of my memoir of the early stages of recovery from a life - threatening brain haemorrhage that left me paralysed on the left side. Other chapters will follow at regular intervals.
At the head of every sub-chapter is a line from a song - no prizes, but see how many you guess. I included this as a memory test for other stroke survivors. I was lucky, only mobility was lost, memory, reason and personality escaped.
Why Not Me"Virtue itself 'scapes not calumnious strokes."
Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 3
1.1 "teacher is teaching the golden rule"
I was always a rebel. Even as a small child I could never accept "because we said so" as a valid reason why I should do as figures of authority wished. Some people will just never be good at doing what they are supposed to. Despite winning a scholarship to a very good school I gave up on education when I was twelve (One day a maths teacher was trying to knock Pythagoras' Theorem into my head. "But what use is it, Sir?" I asked. When Mr Bland was annoyed his voice rose to a nasal whine and he accentuated the effect by elongating words. "Whaaat yewse is it bwooooyyyy?" he sirened. "What YEEEEWSE iiissss iiitttt?" Mr. Bland was living up to his nickname which was 'Batty'. He looked at me as if my failure to see any significance in the fact that the square of the hypotenuse always equals the sum of the squares of the other two sides was a crime against humanity so heinous that it made the persecution of the Christians by Nero, The Spanish Inquisition, Russian Pogroms, the atrocities of Genghis Kahn and the endless repeat showings of "I Love Lucy" on Cable TV seem by comparison quite reasonable acts. "If you are walking in the country, Thorpe, and you see a church steeple, how can you work out its height unless you understand Pythagoras?" The Shropshire countryside where I lived at that time was full of church steeples, many of them very beautiful. I promised Batty that I had never and would never want to know how high any of them were - never. EVER! To this day I have kept my promise. Numerous incidents like this got me off to a bad start with authority and it has been all downhill since.
Circumstances cut short my education temporarily at the age of sixteen and I emerged into the world of work in nineteen sixty four, just as the hippie movement was starting to evolve from the beat generation of black clad beardies smoking smelly French cigarettes and digging cool jazz, daddy - o in coffee bars and smoky cellar clubs. By this time my family had moved back to the North of England. Armed with my big words and well formed vowels I was turned loose in the land of grime and glottal stops, Manchester. Because the type of education, with the exception of Mr. Bland's contribution, taught me to think for myself and question authority it quickly made me unpopular with my first boss. Mr Taylor was not an educated man and had built his business on bullying and penny pinching. When his senior clerk hired me, Taylor seemed to take my presence on earth as a personal affront. But he was the boss and therefore certain that in all things he must always be absolutely right. The boss hated being questioned by a seventeen - year old even though my early lateral thinking saved him quite a lot of money. What somebody like me obviously needed was "to be taken down a peg or two." Unfortunately Mr. Taylor was not up to the task and we had a very uncomfortable year before I moved on. By then Bob Dylan had warned us all that The Times They Were a - Changin'. Figures of authority did not listen to pop music in those days so they never heard the message and continued to behave as if nothing would ever change, as if under - thirties would eternally tug forelocks, know their place and defer to their elders and betters. The only good boss to employ me during my early career, a screaming queen (he would not mind me saying that) but safely closeted as gay people had to be then, taught me that wisdom is the gift of experience, not age. Armed with that essential information and very little experience I set out to live my own life and get as much experience as possible before becoming too old, to learn all I could by living to the full and by reading the works and sharing the thoughts of great writers. Ignoring everybody who said "do as I tell you, I'm older than you and so I know better." or "Knowledge, what d'you want to bother with that for? Knowledge ain't for the likes o' you, just do as you are told!" was often painful but it taught me one thing at least. Never allow anybody you tell you they know better because they are younger/ older/ richer/ taller/ better educated or they have a hyphenated name.
When choosing to make one's own mistakes in order to learn from them, one has to be prepared to accept the consequences. I am still learning and still accepting the consequences.
1.2 "....no more ace to play...."
It had been a brilliant late spring day in Stockholm. The weather was golden, spring flowers were in bloom and the small boats were out on Lake Maleren or in the Archipelago of small islands just off the coast in the Baltic Sea. The Swedish summer is short but intense and on the taxi ride from the office to the main airport, Arlanda, about fifty kilometres from the city, the countryside looked more colourful and attractive than at any time throughout the nine months of working there. Having successfully competed my project I had two more weeks in which to hand over to my Swedish successor. After starting work well before dawn and finishing well after dusk throughout the short days of the Scandinavian winter the chance of being able to start late and finish early and enjoy the long mornings and evenings was wonderful. I could even take my laptop computer into one of the city's numerous parks and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere whilst finalising handover documentation. Settling myself in the comfortable leather seat of the black Volvo I reflected that the next weekend would be my last opportunity to see Stockholm and decided another return to England was pointless, my wife Teri could fly out and spend the two days helping me do touristy things. Teri had visited me for a shopping expedition the previous Christmas but we picked the coldest weekend of the winter and even though Scandinavian cold air has an invigorating quality, (nobody stands still for long) wandering around the city is not much fun when the temperature is twenty below.
Things seemed fine on the flight to Manchester. I felt tired but the farewell party for some of the French members of our team had gone on quite late the previous night and there had been over - indulgence on a Swedish scale. The Swedes are a big people, they eat big meals and drink big drinks. And when they enjoy themselves, they do it in a big way. Even so I had not been particularly hung over through the day and put the feelings down to the fact that a holiday was long overdue and the past few months of work had involved long hours and a lot of pressure. I had arranged some time off before my next contract and looked forward to a few weeks relaxation.
1.3 "....its the end of my world...."
Having transferred from the Finnair Seven - Five - Seven to a taxi that would take me from Manchester airport to my home I decided something was definitely wrong although there was at the time no indication what it might be. Something just did not feel right. Even knowing what I know now there was no clue that any of the symptoms suggested the likelihood of getting ready to have or being in the early stages of having a brain haemorrhage. There was no headache, no vision problems, no numbness. If a medical person had asked how it felt, the best description at the time was that I might, for the first time in my life, be suffering from hay - fever or some similar allergy. There was an itching sensation around my upper lip and my nose was blocked but not as with a cold. It could have been some sort of allergy triggered by the unusual heat, the freshly cut grass on the motorway verges and the traffic fumes.
On arriving home I still did not feel really ill. My wife made me a light meal that was washed down with couple of beers as usual and followed, unusually by a cigarette which was ironic really. After all the lectures over the years about smoking contributing to heart disease and strokes, there I was having a stroke and for the first time in a year or more, wanting a cigarette. (Medical people used to really annoy me. Whenever I admitted being an occasional smoker they would go off on one as if I'd been a lifelong sixty a day man. A session in one of the numerous motorway traffic jams over the years would have done more harm to my lungs than all the cigarettes but nobody ever lectures employers about their requiring some of us to drive a thousand miles a week.) Still convinced that the problem was merely exhaustion I decided to have an early night, telling myself, "It'll be fine in the morning."
That was probably at about ten thirty and a call of nature awoke me at one - thirty.. Setting off to make the short walk along the landing my left arm and leg felt noticeably heavy. By the time I had used the toilet and limped back to the bedroom walking had become quite difficult. Despite knowing from that moment something very bad was happening and things were not going to be fine in the morning it was surprisingly easy to stay calm. Yes, it was happening, it was a stroke and nothing I could do was going to put the process in reverse. The result was out of my control and the only thing to do was try to be sensible. HAH! Why do people say that. How is anybody supposed to be sensible in a crisis.
The next few hours would change, if it not end my life but the best hope for survival lay in being logical. I woke Teri, my wife and, as gently as possible in the circumstances, told her that something very serious was wrong, it was likely I was having a stroke. Most people on being wakened suddenly take a few minutes to get their heads together and unsure she had understood the implications of what she heard I suggested she phone an ambulance as quickly as possible. She reacted brilliantly despite the fact that her face and voice said she wanted to fall apart and all I could do was keep assuring her that everything would be all right. After a few minutes she was obviously in control of the situation. Then I panicked.
1.4	doctor, is there nothing I can take?
"Haven't you called the bloody ambulance yet. I'm dying and you're worrying about whether you should put a clean nightie on or get dressed in day clothes." I said completely illogically because she was urging me to sit down, keep still and stop panicking.(1) When somebody thinks they are dying they have a right to panic! Teri phoned the emergency service and then helped me get some clothes on. Being one of those people who never wears anything in bed and as we live on a main road which can be quite busy after the pubs and clubs close, we decided that if I was about to shuffle off this mortal coil it would be more dignified to do so without having a bunch of leering drunks cracking jokes about the erotically symbolic tattoo(2) on my left thigh. Once dressed in some old track - suit trousers and a T - shirt, I lay down to await the arrival of the paramedics or a man with a scythe. Several hours or perhaps only a minute later I tried to sit up. "Where's that fucking ambulance," I screamed. "It's been hours." In situations like that weird things happen to time. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to Dr Who as a boy.
The ambulance crew arrived very quickly actually and did whatever they do to people who, with or without good reason, are panicking. At that point my memory becomes very flaky. There is a vague recollection of talking to Teri in the back of the ambulance, telling her I loved her and would hold on until our children arrived at least. I remember thinking if it was the end it would be terribly ill mannered to go so suddenly without giving my family and friends any time to prepare for the shock. That may have been during the ride or while we were in A & E at the hospital. I was determined not to go to sleep however until David and Gabrielle were with their mum, just in case there was to be no waking. Besides, if death was creeping up on me I wanted to be awake when it happened. Crazily the thought struck me that if the worst happened during sleep I would never know I was dead. The Paramedics had been very upbeat about my chances during the journey but what else were they going to say.
Teri managed to trace our offspring to a party at a friend's house. Neither was in a fit state to drive so they had to wait for a taxi before leaving. During the time we were waiting, I drifted in and out of some state of non consciousness, fighting sleep all the time. Nothing would move on my left side but there was still feeling. In moments of awareness the realisation that what was happening to me was really serious took hold. At first there had been no fear of dying, just a calm detached resignation that my life my be entering its final hours but as I started to get more confident about my chances a prospect far more disturbing revealed itself. From somewhere in my shattered thought processes I recalled that a few years before, the husband of a former colleague had suffered a serious brain haemorrhage and had been left alive but completely unable to communicate. Nobody truly knew if the man recognised his family or friends, understood, or even heard what was said to him. My brain was being damaged by the pressure building inside my skull from the haemorrhaging of the burst artery. It seems unlikely I worked this out for myself, (deciding that it was a good idea to take a couple of paracetamols for a headache would have taxed my medical knowledge) and so there must have been some unconscious awareness of one of the doctors speaking to Teri. The effects would be drastic and permanent. Thoughts of waking up and not being me anymore were far more frightening than the possibility of not waking up. Worse still was the possibility of still being me, but trapped in a mind that could not communicate with my body unable to move, speak or experience any sensual input. Lying in the assessment ward at the Hospital, awake but very doped I learned that the children were on their way. At least I was going to see them, that was a first little victory, a goal achieved. And Teri would have some support through the night. Was there going to be a future? The medical staff were very upbeat but non - commital. For a while I would have to be content with trying to get from one stepping stone to the next.
Two of the nurses held me up and gave me a drink. The liquid tasted wonderful and was thrown up immediately. Not good. It was also clear that confirming my continuing survival by refusing to go to sleep would not be a realistic option for much longer. I touched Teri with my right hand and asked her if, after sleeping, I was no longer the person she knew, she would try to find the strength to let me go.
The next goal was to survive, to make sure that she had me around and fully functioning as the man she knew, in mind if not in body, for a few years longer at least. My wife did not deserve the burden of having to make such a decision and I clung to the idea of first waking, then getting better and reclaiming my life.
David and Gabby arrived to find me barely awake. We managed to have a short conversation. Both were quite emotional but tried to joke about how their dad might cope with a motorised wheelchair after being used to some very tasty motors. There were probably some rather tasteless jokes about meeting Elvis or coming back as the spirit that lived in Helena Bonham - Carter's underwear too. The lightheartedness in such dire circumstances helped me relax.
They say the show ain't over 'til the fat lady sings. It sounded as if she was hitting A above top C for me right then.
The next little victory would be to wake up in the morning. I slept.
Forward to Chapter 2
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Reader Reviews for
"A Stroke of Luck - Chapter 1"
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|Reviewed by Janet Caldwell
|I have never commented on this and wanted to agree with Sandra, as you wrote this, your sense of humour is in tact. I don't know why I never commented. Brilliant though.
|Reviewed by Sandra Mushi
|As painfully told as it is, you still have your smile and humour when narrating it, Ian. I wouldnt say you are a rebel, I'd say you are cery strong willed, you are. Inspiring write!
|Reviewed by Victoria Murray
|Excellent! This piece will help a lot of people to deal with what happened to them a lot better! Thanks for sharing this, you're the best!
|Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner
i hope this is fiction, but i have a feeling it's not--WOW, vividly and painfully described! only those who have been there, or worked in the medical field, can truly understand what living with traumatic injury or illness is like. BRAVO!
(((HUGS))) and love, karla. :)
i look forward to more installments.
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|inspiring, uplifting story! can't wait to read more; thanks for sharing!
(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in america, karen lynn in texas. :D