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A turning point…

Posted in Personal with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

Today, I am ‘celebrating’ an anniversary – but not just your usual anniversary. Superficially, it’s something that many would rather not remember, or even ‘celebrate’, but nevertheless, despite the potential it had for damage, it actually ended up being a very positive thing.

So, what am I talking about? This was the day fourteen years ago, 21st January 1997 (which was actually a Tuesday), when I was told by one of my GPs that I had suffered a stroke. Or, to be fancy-pants about it, a thrombo-embolic infarct. I’d been having dizzy spells for three or four months previously, putting it down to something to do with my diabetes. Then on the Friday prior to the ‘big’ one I woke up in the small hours feeling less than I normally did – my legs felt like lead and my speech, when I tried it, was slurred. Anyway, I went back to sleep and felt fine in the morning.

On that Tuesday morning, however, I felt REALLY dizzy and my walking was only a close approximation. I got dressed after much effort and then staggered a half mile to my then doctor’s surgery (I was staggering so badly that at one point a police car followed me – they must have thought me drunk at 8am). Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was rushed into the first available doctor’s slot, where, after some questioning, a physical exam including reflex tests, I was told I’d had a stroke. The only reason I believed him was because it wasn’t April 1st.

I then staggered back half a mile to my home, after the doc asked me whether I could get to hospital that day and I said ‘Yes’ – to which he replied with a cheery ‘Off you go, then!’. I called in at a couple of friend’s houses along the way, to leave them notes that I was going to be in hospital. I even phoned another friend when I got home to apologise that I couldn’t make it to see her and her boyfriend that evening because I’d just been told that I’d had a stroke. She went ballistic – at the surgery for not offering me an ambulance, at me for saying I was going to take a bus to hospital, and also for taking it so lightly. In the end, she it was who drove me there.

And, as soon as we parked up and I got out of the car, I lost all movement down my left side. And so I was wheeled in, to begin a nine-week stay, enlivened by interminable sessions of physio and occupational therapy. I spent two weeks on a neuro ward, where the staff tried to figure out why I had a stroke so young (I spent my 34th birthday in hospital). Then I was moved to a rehab unit, where I was taught how to walk again and to use my left hand and arm. My speech was sufficiently slurred that I had to have speech therapy as well. The biggest killer, though, was boredom – weekends we were more or less left to our own devices. Sometimes friends would come to take me out for the day, but mostly they came to entertain and keep me from going barmy with it all.

After I left hospital, under my own steam, there was a further year of less intense physiotherapy and, once that was over and done with, I had more time to think about what had happened. Inevitably, this led to a plunge into depression, which, I have been told, was as a direct result of changes in the brain due to the stroke. I am still prone to it even now, but less regularly – no rhyme or reason, one day I’ll be fine and then the next I’ll be right down in the pits. Over the course of seven years or so, I had tons of counselling, an endless series of shitty accommodation and a slide into alcoholism. Only the timely intervention of a good friend prevented things getting any worse.

When all is said and done, however, even with all the subsequent crap, it was probably a good thing I had the stroke when I did – I was heading for meltdown, both physically and mentally. It would be no exaggeration to say that I would have ended up dead, whichever way you cut it. The stroke, as much of a pain in the arse that it was, still has to be counted as a fortuitous gateway to a whole host of opportunities that have since come my way. There were some incredibly low-spots along the way, some of which I am still dealing with, but I am probably in better health now than I have ever been – plus I am a lot more proactive with the diabetes, which was probably one of the factors that caused the bloody thing in the first place.

So, in a way I am indeed celebrating what some would see as an unfortunate event, but which in actuality gave me a new lease on life. In some ways, this is what drives me to do the things I do today – the reason why I sometimes push myself so hard, to make up for lost time. And yes, I did ‘lose’ seven years to depression and alcohol and this is my way of clawing it back. I don’t expect favours just because I had a stroke and my mobility is somewhat limited, nor do I want to be treated differently either. There are people far worse off than me, so why should I complain. I’m just glad to be alive to be doing what I’m currently doing and to be married to the woman I chose to be my wife – without Liz it would be true to say that I would be nowhere near where I find myself now.

All I need now is a bottle of fine rum and I’d be set for the day… =)