How a Stroke Changed my Life
Up until Wednesday 20th April 2022 I had not been in hospital for nearly 40 years, sure I’d been in hospital to visit people but on a personal level I’d not even been to see my local GP, nothing was ever wrong that warranted seeing a doctor never mind being admitted. All that changed in one single moment.
I had a stroke.
A stroke was something that always happened to somebody else, someone older, it wouldn’t happen to me, I was too fit, too young, I’d quit drinking four years previous and the tobacco was four months behind me too. I felt good and was looking forward to overlanding in the summer and getting out there.
48 hours later I didn’t know if I’d be able to drive again, walking was difficult, my left side was numb, a constricting feeling that fills you with frustration even trying to perform the simplest of tasks.
Having realised something was wrong we went to the local hospital where, after a brain scan a stroke was confirmed then, [as we thought would be the case] it was a transfer to Granada, a bigger, better equipped hospital with a specialist neuro ward. I was immediatly thrown into ICU with my blood pressure at 198/119 which in the words of a doctor friend is ‘stonking’. The following two days were spent in intensive care trying to reduce my BP, it was here that I experienced my first bed bath, a rolling toilet on wheels and peeing into a bottle with what seemed like the entire ward watching [and listening]
Looking around the ward I was in the best shape out of everyone and it was not lost on me how fortunate I was and had been.
Intensive care was also the place that made me realise how incredibly lucky I had been, a very sobering experience and one that makes you realise that life is very short. My first night in ICU I was scared to go to sleep, I’d not seen my wife for hours and wouldn’t until the next day – what if it happened again and I couldn’t communicate this time or worse? It was a terrifying thought. Looking around the ward I was in the best shape out of everyone and it was not lost on me how fortunate I was and had been.
That night was the longest night of my life, hooked up to a machine with blood pressure taken every hour, my thoughts wandered into places you only go to when you’ve seen the finish line [or think you have], all those material things don’t matter anymore, the Shogun didn’t matter, my old Ford didn’t matter, I’d have given up the lot there and then to go home fit and healthy.
After 2 days in intensive care I was moved upstairs, my BP was beginning to come down with the mountain of pills I was now taking so when a bed became available off I went to the neuro ward. Visitors were allowed around the clock unlike stroke ICU which was 30 minutes a day max.
Spanish hospitals are noisy, I can’t write about my experience here without mentioning that. The staff are noisy, often late past 11pm, patients also border on the inconsiderate, if I’d been more physically capable my roomies laptop and phone would have both been ejected from the 5th floor window by the end of the first night.
The culture is different, the hours are different, it’s very direct and loud while keeping professional and thorough when it comes to the medical side of things [in the main].
11 Days in Hospital
All in all it was 11 days in Granada hospital, during that time I witnessed many other people having been affected by stroke and with each person I saw I reminded myself how incredibly lucky I was, this was no more provoking than in physio where some patients had a much harder uphill climb than I did.
Nightime brought screams, the kind that make you think that death itself must have walked through the door ready to claim yet another. There is no getting away from the fact that stroke is ruthless, compared to others my own has been a warning shot across the bows.
How a stroke changed my life and…. how an MRI scan definitely did. The tests were thorough, echo scans, ultrasounds, blood tests, daily physical tests where all the norm, then came the news that I had to have an MRI. This in itself was not a problem [or so I thought at the time]. What followed was a bad experience not made any better by the complete absence of any explanation of what was about to happen.
Half way through the day a wheelchair turned up and off we headed towards some sub level which was clearly a very old part of the building. Anything metal was removed and I was told to lie down on a bench in front of the scanner – the nearer you get to one of these machines the smaller that tube that you have to fit into becomes…
I ponder, try to keep calm, suck it up and ignore the fact that the top of this tunnel I’m half in is barely an inch from the tip of my nose.
So a few noises can be heard and I get manoeuvered into the scanner where I immediatly discover how claustrophobic I am. I ponder, try to keep calm, suck it up and ignore the fact that the top of this tunnel I’m half in is barely an inch from the tip of my nose.
Then… F**k it, get me out.
I’m not claustrophobic but this thing got me, I had to get out, maybe take stock, breath a bit and get composed but any staff that were there or should have been monitoring had clearly left as all my shouting was getting me nowhere. After a short while my patience ran out and panic set in, nobody was getting me out and I couldn’t manoeuver myself out so I just began to kick, a short while later I heard a door than a voice and the tray I was on began to move… Not impressed, not happy and no MRI.
Unfortunately for me I couldn’t get released from hospital without the scan so a solution was found elewhere in Granada which has ‘open MRI’ scanners which, while still being pretty unpleasant are more tolerable for big claustrophobic blokes likes me.
Nine days after finding myself in intensive care it was time to leave and go home. Hospitals are not the best places to get the rest you need, by the time I left they had me on something to help me sleep as it just wasn’t happening – how I was looking forward to my own bed!
Just as I had gone in I came out in an ambulance which did the rounds for a handful of people before dropping us off at home, at least that stage was over, my bp was down and the tests had come back normal so it was now time to rest and get better.
Being at home was odd at first, like the pieces of your old life were still there but somehow not relevant anymore and everything from now on was a new start. Simple things like making a coffee were different, more of a physical challenge but also because the coffee was now decaf and the milk fully skimmed, all of these ‘slight’, seemingly insignificant differences mount up to life at home being different.
Being back in your home environment also brings a realisation, in hospital you know you are unwell, that’s why you’re there. At home you ‘should’ be feeling normal but you’re not, so it’s easy to rush things. Stroke recovery takes way more than a few days or weeks so you have to remind yourself that life is chilled from here on in and there is no rush.
Prior to the stroke I’d wake up in the morning and my mind would start racing with all the things we’d have to do that day, now, all of that stuff which lets face it, is not that important in the whole scheme of things, is put on hold and I feel grateful for being okay. Waking up unable to move properly is frightening, every morning I still check my legs and move my fingers to be ‘sure’ I am fit and well.
Being grateful is something my wife incorporates into her life as well as her coaching, until now I have never fully understood it, sure you can be grateful for being fit and well but you never truly feel it until you’ve had an experience that temporarily takes it from you with no guarantee that you will get it back.
How does it feel?
A lot of people have asked me ‘did you know when it happened?‘ and my answer is yes, well maybe. I was woken with a fright, almost like when you wake up startled thinking someone is in your house, it felt like there was a large person leaning over me in bed before disappearing, I got up to use the bathroom and knew then something was not right.
Obviously stroke affects everyone in different ways, it depends on which area of the brain has been damaged. My left side was numb, not so much that I couldn’t use it, I could still walk albeit with a significant limp and could still use my left arm but not in any accurate kind of way.
All of the signs you are told to look out for in the government health ads – slurred speech, drooping face etc none of them applied, I felt okay, just like I’d been sleeping awkwardly all night until it didn’t go away. The sypmtoms did not get better, nor did they get worse, they just didn’t go away. After a few days in hospital the sensation of pins and needles set in – all through my hand and forearm, the left side of my scalp and left side of my nose [that does feel odd].
I have the right to feel frustrated, I do not have the right to complain
Moving is a challenge, my balance was so bad that I could not stand up with my feet together in the hospital, this did improve though significantly within just a week or so. I need to think about every step, somthing you would just get up and do is now a task, essentially teaching the left side to walk again.
My left arm is slowly improving too, besides from the pins and needles it’s better day by day although it weirdly feels like someone elses arm when I go to scratch the back of my neck for example.
A Different Lifestyle
Quitting smoking and drinking kind of changes your lifestyle in a big way anyway but now I have to be more health aware, diet is a main concern, I used to have tonnes of salt on everything, far too many mugs of coffee a day, white bread by the stick and meat without a second thought about fat content.
My cholesterol was high too which meant a change in diet so from a food standpoint it’s all very different, I’d never looked at the salt content on anything before, until now. Taking 8 pills a day is a new for me, I could count on one hand how many paracetamol I’d taken in the past 12 months, now it’s pills with everything, even pills because you’re taking the pills to protect the stomach.
Care free days – this one is just as important as the rest and also where overlanding comes in, it’s about taking time, no rush, letting go and taking things less seriously. I’ve reduced my working week to 4 days and my working day to 4 hours and while I understand not everyone is self employed and able to do that, for me I felt it was important and a big way to reduce the stress and therefore keep the BP at a sensible level.
How a Stroke Changed my Life
In the early part of 2022 I was well on the way to simplifying my life in numerous ways, overlanding was playing it’s part by allowing me to get back to nature, to get out and enjoy the outdoors, fresh air and chill for a bit.
I’d previously ditched my social media accounts retaining just @K90overland to run alongside this site as a casual lifestyle channel and was taking a more relaxed approach to work. On the flipside there was a huge amount of stress behind the scenes including the decision to possibly move back to the UK as well as the usual financial strains and running a business etc etc.
My stroke put everything into perspective in one solitary moment. Lying in ICU for two days gave me ample time to think about the important things in life, nothing much else crossed my mind in those two days.
Looking at the bigger picture and society I realised that while I was intentionaly moving away from the flow of the masses anyway the stroke had aggressivly pushed me out of that flow, as if to say ‘go on then, if you’re going to do it’ ,my mind was now thinking differently, material things did not matter, rushing and deadlines were no longer a part of my life, chasing financial goals through grit and long hours were forgotten and I was free and calm with a new found appreciation of the simple things in life.
In a peculiar way my stroke changed my life for the better, perhaps it was a warning, sometimes we need a shock to see what is really in front of us.
At the time of writing I have no idea how long my recovery will take but I will be 100% fit and physically able as I was before all this happened, this is my goal and I’m working on it little by little every day. I can drive so can still get out overlanding and I’m alive, my family still have me in better shape than many I saw during my experience in Granada.
I’ve been lucky, I know it and I feel it every day.