It was 05:45 on a Wednesday morning, in the spring of 2012, when my radio alarm woke me up at my normal time to get ready for work. I immediately realised something was badly wrong. My brain told me my bedroom was moving and my right arm and leg felt extremely odd. I went to get out of bed to head for the bathroom and almost fell over as my right leg wouldn’t support me properly and what’s more I couldn’t control it. Somehow I struggled to the bathroom and decided I needed a pee, only to find I couldn’t control my right hand. It was a good job I had full control of my left hand!
I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to drive the 30 miles to the office, so I started to make my way back to bed when my old Mum came out of her bedroom door and wanted to know what I was banging about at. It was then that I realised I had virtually lost the power of speech. Now things were getting scary. I knew I had all the symptoms of a stroke. While I tried to make my way back to bed Mum phoned for an ambulance.
I closed my eyes and the room was going around like I was drunk. I must have dropped off for a few moments because I was suddenly conscious of a paramedic entering my room with my Mum. I later learnt that he was one of those rapid response ones who have a car or motorcycle and had only taken a few minutes to arrive from the ambulance station about a quarter of a mile away. He started to ask me questions and remarkably I found that my speech had started to return. It was not back to normal but was vastly improved.
The paramedic got me squeezing his hand and pressing my feet against him and all the time I was feeling the strength coming back into my arm and leg. It was then that an ordinary ambulance crew arrived and started asking the same questions all over again. The 3 ambulance people went into a huddle and when they split up the paramedic announced that they didn’t think I had suffered a stroke, they pronounced that I had vertigo! The advice was to get on to my GP when the surgery opened at 08:00 and get a house visit.
I went back to sleep and Mum manned the phone and got a doctors visit arranged for after morning surgery. It was around 12:30 when the doctor woke me up. It was not my normal one, but a woman who I had never seen before. Within a couple of minutes she asked why did I think I had vertigo, which my Mum had told the receptionist. I said I didn’t, I thought I had suffered a stroke, vertigo was the Paramedics diagnosis.
The Doctor said, “Well, I also think you have had a stroke”. She pulled out her mobile and dialled 999. She said “This is Dr (whatever her name was), I want an ambulance immediately to…” and looked at Mum to gave her the address, “for a stroke patient”. She had only just rung off when the front doorbell rang and Mum went to let the ambulance crew in. Fortunately for them, it was a different crew, because the Doctor laid into them about the uselessness of the earlier crew. They didn’t argue and had me on the way to Worthing Hospital A&E without further delay. I remember an incredibly bumpy ride under blue lights.
At the A&E I was wheeled straight into “Majors” and the doctors and nurses were on me like a rash. After having slept for most of the morning, I was beginning to feel a bit better and the room had stopped spinning. I think I made sense answering the medics questions, and the only one that still sticks in my mind, was a female consultant asking when was I first taken ill. I told her I was first aware when I woke up at 05:45 and she asked why I hadn’t called an ambulance then, hadn’t I heard of the golden hour. I told her my Mum had dialled 999, the paramedic had arrived before six but said I had vertigo and to call my GP. It was the GP who had diagnosed a stroke within moments of arriving. Strangely that was the last time the misdiagnoses was ever mentioned.
The A&E doctors took blood, did some tests, sent me for a scan and gave me some drugs (no actual idea what, but I guess they could have been aspirin and clot busters). Then they waited for the results of the tests. Eventually, a doctor came and told me it looked like I had suffered a stroke and I was being admitted. They wheeled me up to the stroke ward and I found myself in bed. By now it was around 16:00 and I dropped off to sleep only to be woken a little later by a nurse wanting to take my pulse, blood pressure and temperature. Did I want anything to eat? Despite not having eaten all day I was not in the slightest bit hungry. I just went back to sleep. I was woken several times in the night for “readings” and to pee into a bottle.
I finally woke up as breakfast was coming round and I felt great. My head was clear, my arm and leg were feeling better, I could control them and I was starving. A bowl of cereal, a cup of tea and several slices of bread, butter and marmalade didn’t touch the sides. I wasn’t allowed out of bed, but a nurse brought me a bowl of warm water, soap, flannel, toothbrush and toothpaste. Did I need her to wash me or could I manage on my own? I could manage very well thank you.
Mid-morning the consultant did his round and I was examined by at least three of his underlings. He ordered more tests and an assessment by the occupational therapists. I was still confined to bed and couldn’t even get up to use the loo, I didn’t like having to pee into a bottle, but I was stuck with it. I took the chance in the lull between ‘rounds’ and lunch to get to chat with the bloke in the bed next to me. Nice guy, who had virtually lost all control of his left arm. Fortunately, he was right-handed. The ward had a little dividing partition halfway down. The other side of the partition was closest to the nurse’s station and housed the sickest patients. On my side of the partition were the less sick, but it was further divided, the beds on the other side of the ward were not too good and needed more assistance, my side were the least affected and most were allowed to use the WC and bathroom.
I can’t remember what lunch was, but it must have been OK because I remember the nurse commenting on my clean plate. Dessert was sponge pudding and custard and I savoured every mouthful. After lunch, the guy in the next bed and I were put into wheelchairs and taken for ultrasound tests of blood flow in the carotid arteries which supply the brain and face. The ‘scanner’ just kept saying “good, good.” I asked him if he had found anything and he said he shouldn’t really tell me but the test was normal.
When I got back to the ward, the OT’s were waiting for me. They got me doing daft things to check my dexterity, like putting tiny pegs on the edge of a plastic cup and using a Spirograph! Finally, they got me walking down the ward as far as the WC which was by the nurse’s station. I took the opportunity to use it! Back in the chair at the side of my bed, I was told I should regularly walk up and down my half of the ward between the midway partition and the TV at the end. But if I wanted the WC or bathroom I should get a nurse to walk with me. Well, at least that was some progress.
Tea was boiled fish and smelt awful, so I had an egg and cress sandwich which I demolished. The ward assistant asked if I could eat another. This time it was ham and tomato. Thursday night was interrupted several times by a guy in a bed opposite continually shouting for a nurse. In the end they moved him to a bed next to the nurse’s station and I suspect gave him a sedative, because he finally shut up and everyone else got some sleep.
After Breakfast on Friday, a nurse asked me if I wanted to use the bathroom to wash and shave or should she bring me a bowl? I jumped at the chance of a proper wash and shave. She found me a disposable razor and some shaving cream it was bliss to feel clean. Back in bed, as the consultant was coming round again, I was approached by a nurse with a measure of some liquid for me to take. I asked what it was and was told it was a laxative. I asked why. I was told it was because I hadn’t opened my bowels since I was admitted. I had been in hospital less than 48 hours and they seemed to more worried about me having a shit than my having a stroke!
I pointed out I had a huge dump when I was in the bathroom before breakfast. The nurse demanded to know why I hadn’t told a nurse, so that she could rate it on the Bristol Stools Chart. I answered that if someone had told me that they needed to see it I would have happily called them. She wandered off muttering and returned with a stools chart and asked me to point to the type of shit it had been. Solid with smooth sides and a tapered end so that the cheeks of your arse don’t close with a bang. She scuttled away and took her laxative with her.
The consultant turned up and didn’t bother examining me. He looked at my notes muttered with his colleagues and then said could I demonstrate walking to the bathroom and back unassisted. Easy, peasy. Then he told the ward sister that he wanted the OT’s to check me out going up and downstairs. If they were satisfied, I could go home that afternoon.
I sat there for the rest of the morning, no OTs. I had a lunch of fried fish, chips and peas. Still no OTs. Mid-afternoon the OT’s finally turned up and I walked down the ward, along a corridor and down a flight of stairs. I was told to turn round and climb back up the flight. Halfway up they notice I wasn’t holding on to the handrail and admonished me. Why hold on when it was unnecessary? I got back to my bedside chair and the OTs (they always operated in pairs) went to see the ward sister. Shortly after that, I was told I could go home just as soon as they could arrange transport.
Another wait. Nothing ever seems to happen quickly on a ward. I refused tea because I anticipated the transport at any moment. It was 18:00 before the transport turned up and I was put in a wheelchair and taken to a sit-up ambulance, basically a minibus with a tail lift. We went all around Worthing dropping people off. Care homes, bungalows, houses, seafront flats and last but not least me, by this time it was nearly 19:30 and my old Mum was panicking. The hospital had rung her late morning and told her I would be home that afternoon. I walked into the house and two lots of neighbours were rallying around her with tea and sympathy.
I had left hospital with a bag of pills enough for 5 days, a letter for my GP, an appointment for a follow-up appointment at the stroke clinic and a warning that it was up to my GP to sign me off work and I was warned that I couldn’t drive for 40 days. I didn’t need to tell the DVLC of the stroke. That was only necessary if after 40 days my GP said I still couldn’t drive, then I should lodge my license with the DVLC and it would be returned, without the need for a retest, when my GP said it was OK for me to drive.
I got an appointment to see my own GP on Monday afternoon and he was great. He read the hospital letter and gave me a prescription for a month. He asked me what I did for a living and where. I told him and he said that without being able to drive for 40 days I clearly couldn’t get to my job so there and then he sighed me off for 40 days. He said to come back and see him just before the 40 days were up and if I was still in the same state as I was then as I was now, he would let me drive and I could go back to work.
For the next 40 days I felt a complete fraud. The weather was super. I painted the garage door, I treated the garden fences and shed. I had a long walk every day. I sat in the garden reading and got a cracking tan. At the end of 40 days the Doc said I looked fitter than he had ever seen me. He said I was OK to work and to drive.
At the stroke clinic the consultant said the bleed on my brain appeared to have been a small aneurysm and it was probably a weakness I had been born with. They had detected no blood clots or blockages and I didn’t, and still don’t, have high blood pressure. I have had no problems in the intervening years, so I guess he was right. Well not strictly true, I have one recurring problem, every time I want to get holiday insurance I have to declare that once upon a time I had a stroke and the cost of the insurance gets ramped up.
© WorthingGooner 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file