My wife Joanne recently suffered a stroke at just 48 years old.
She joined HAVOC and used martial arts as part of her amazing recovery.
Here is her story in her own words.
A Better Me
It started with me having to take time off from work. I am a Type 1 diabetic and my blood sugar readings were worse than usual. They are all over the place, and after another trip to the doctor today I was told if I am not prepared to look after my diabetes this is what happens, and I would become very ill.
I tried to explain that I was trying to do as I was advised by a diabetic nurse, but nothing was helping. I was then told to try harder. I tried again to explain that I had cut down my food intake by half and I had increased my exercise, but he (the doctor) was not listening. I left feeling a mix of emotions. This continued between November and February.
I eventually left work because things were not improving and I was tired all the time. I now had time to try and improve my health and become well. I started to feel better after a few weeks, but my blood sugars did not improve, so it was time to go back for another visit to doctor.
I was told, “I do not think you want to get better. You are not trying very hard or we would see some improvement by now, try losing some weight”. Again I did not understand what I was doing wrong, was I overweight?
I immediately came home and weighed myself. I weighed in at 8 st 12 lb. Surely this was fine, for I am only 5ft 1. I could not understand why they were not listening to me. At this point, I was feeling sick all the time, did not want to eat anything and was giving myself so much extra insulin to try and stabilize my blood sugars.. After a while I just accepted that whatever happened I had to fix this myself because nobody else was going to help. What do I do?
I started a new job, as a carer working 12 hr night shifts, hard work and lots of training, but very rewarding/ A good start. I started taking garlic, omega 3 and coconut oil capsules to improve my immune system, I found it hard to focus and was unable to sleep. I thought it was me just getting used to doing nightshift.
I bought a carbohydrate and calorie book for diabetes care. I rebooked in with the diabetic nurse, but things were still not going well. I followed their advice and was given instructions at this point, eating plenty of fish and counting my carbohydrates. I was shown how to adjust my insulin according to my carbohydrates. I have now had two chest infections and taking antibiotics has taken its toll. I’m now having time off work again. Back at the doctors I was given another course of antibiotics and a chest x-ray.
I had now had enough. This continued over the next couple of months and I was feeling very low and drained. I visited my accident and emergency ward at the hospital. They put me on a drip for fluids and told me to learn to control my diabetes. “This is what happens with poor control”, I was told. I am telling everybody what I am doing to improve things and still being told I am not. I was then sent on my way. I had spent my day off at hospital being told I was not working hard enough and to sort things out. I began to feel worse and wanted to give up. I became insecure and needy of everyone around me.
I continued the best I could. I had the weekend off and spent all of it in bed unwell and tearful. I turned up at work and tried to tell my manager what was going on and was asked to take 15 mins and think about my actions and she would come back to me. I was upset at this. I went to pull up a chair to sit in, then I got a feeling of heaviness and tingling like pins and needles all tight down my left arm and hand with overwhelming emotion I started crying uncontrollably. I could not stop, I could not make out what was going on and was feeling very confused.
My manager then returned and seeing the state of me asked me to wait in her office saying she would be back in a minute. She returned with her partner and they said that I was quite clearly unfit for work and why had I gone in like that in the first place and that I was putting the business and the residents at risk.
I could not explain what was going on as I did not know myself at that point. I tried to explain what happened, but they asked me to leave the premises and not return, that they thought I was reliable. I left shaking and crying uncontrollably. Now I had lost my job. and I sill I still had to walk home.
It took me 45 min to walk very slowly. I had left my mobile charging indoors and I was locked out as well. On top of this I had not picked up my keys. There was nobody in and unable to phone anyone I sat and waited on the doorstep for my husband and son to come home. After I had told them what happened and I had calmed down as best that I could. I went to bed where I stayed all weekend with my arm and hand still in discomfort and unable to use. I was scared.
On Monday morning I had decided I had no choice but to go back to the doctors where I sat for three hours before being seen. I was then asked a series of questions before being told I would be going to hospital for observation. I had to wait for an ambulance, which took another three more hours. The nurses kept checking my blood pressure, which was really high at 210. They repeatedly asked me if I had a headache. I did not, but my blood sugars were sky high.
After the ambulance finally arrived I was feeling even worse. I had lots of people come to see me and run lots of checks. I was sent down for an x-ray and a CT scan. I was then taken to a doctor’s office where I waited for what seemed like forever. A nurse arrived several times asking if I had anyone with me. I did not. My husband was at work. The nurses wanted to know how long it would take him to come up,
Then two doctors came in, with a nurse and told me that they were very sorry, but I had suffered a stroke on the right side of my brain. I needed to call someone. I then had more doctors, more tests and lots of tablets to take. It was still not sinking in. I then had to call my husband and let him know. He came straight in.
In the meanwhile, I was going to be sent down for an MRI scan. This was scary. I had to wear earplugs to block out some sounds, I was strapped to a bed then a scarf was placed around head. A cage was placed over my head and monitors placed on me and one in my hand. Everything went dark and I was moving inside the machine. A light flashes really brightly several times and then these noises start and you have to squeeze a monitor in your hand when you hear it. The sounds become very loud and intense and you can’t move at all. You can hear people talking, but you can’t move or answer them. Its also really cold. The nurse said that it was probably shock. I came out shivering they had to wrap two blankets around me before taking me back to the ward for a warm drink.
I am now going to another ward on the stroke unit.
Nothing prepares you for what you are about to see
You are taken al the way through and what you see shocks you. I felt ill and very confused with the news I had been given and as we walked through the ward some patients had given up already. They were just laying there with their faces all dropped to one side. Some able to move and some not. It became apparent in the next few days that it affects people in different ways, some more than others.
I didn’t realize things would be so hard. In your head nothing has changed. You try and process everything that has been said to you. Then you try and do simple tasks starting with coordination. What they ask you to do seems so easy. You used to do it right! Let us start with the basics, like washing in the shower. To start with you don’t expect to have someone stand there and monitor you. They ask you to use both hands and arms, so they can asses you, then they ask you to wash as you would normally. You think, “no problem”, until you try. In my case the right hand was fine, but the left… I couldn’t pick up the bottle of shower gel. It fell to the floor more times than I could count and the nurse’s voice saying,” don’t worry, you will do it eventually.” I wanted to scream at her, but what difference would it make? I couldn’t do it. I went back to my room feeling defeated and this was only day one.
Trying to pull your clothes on and off and using the bathroom was a nightmare. The last thing you want is to ask someone, “can you dress me and help me use the loo”? You should try this with one hand, not easy.
A series of tasks to complete for concentration. Right hand, no problem. left hand, no chance,
Holding a cup of water. It just falls right through your fingers. After about 20 attempts at this I threw the cup at the nurse, then got overwhelmed at what I had done.
They take you down to a kitchen to make tea or coffee. Sounds good until you try only using bad arm again. I could not even hold the kettle to fill it up,so I improvised and used my right hand to complete the task. I could not even hold the lid in my left hand! I dropped the kettle all over the floor. I left the room really upset, The nurse said it just takes practice and the more you do it your brain will learn again. I became obsessed because it was quiet at night .I would stay there and practice over and over. After about 4 days I finally got it. The instructions on what to do on what embedded in my brain. I would tell the staff I was in the tv room. I did not realize there was a camera in the kitchen for safety reasons, so they knew all along where I was.
A piece of card on a string around your wrist with clothes pegs attached. You have to remove the clothes pegs with your bad hand. Sounds easy, but it’s not. I couldn’t hold the peg with my fingers, let alone remove it, I had this given to me to practice when they tested me again the next day. It was taking me at least 30 seconds to remove one of them and still I was struggling with it.
Then it was time to start physio, I went to meet the team and this was harder than any of the previous tasks. I liked the way this made me feel though, I no longer wanted to give up, I wanted the challenge. I made a promise to myself that day that I would do whatever it took to get back to normal, or as normal as I could get for my family and for myself.
My husband had given so much support. No matter what I told him he was always there. I felt guilty, so I decided I had to do more. This must be so hard for him.
I started doing all the activities they gave me to try. I would do extra exercises before my meals each day, and within the next week, with practice, I started to complete some things on my list, This gives you a buzz and you want to do more, so I signed up for physio every day for 30 minutes. Although hard work, I was doing it.
Apart from being continuously tired I progressed to one hour of physio a day and started to complete most coordination tasks.
Next was the memory. I was given a simple shopping list to take to the hospital shop. What would I remember? This affects a different part of the brain. I could only remember three out of seven things every time I went. How would I cope getting shopping at home? I had to write myself instructions to remember things.
Then there is the medication to remember. What they are all for. One for thinning of the blood to prevent clots, blood pressure tablets to be taken at different times throughout the day, cholesterol tablets to keep to a safe level and a list of what you can and can’t take with them all.
After waiting to see the doctor today I found out that 90% of the vessels in my neck are blocked on the right side and 70% on the left. I now have to go up to Kings College London Hospital for scans on my neck, I have been told there is nothing they can do about this, as I did not go into hospital soon enough with my condition. If I had the recovery may have been easier. I returned to the stroke unit in Maidstone very upset.
There is talk of me going home and this is a scary thought. Preparing food that you are new to, taking medication and what if something happens? Before you know it you’re going home and will have physio come out to you. “This is all because of the hard work you put in”, says the nurse. “You have done this.”
It’s a Monday morning and I will be leaving the stroke unit after three weeks here. I am scared and not sure I want to go. I quickly change my mind at the thought of going home to my husband. What about the patients that go home alone?
On the bright side I will have my husband and family there.
I’m going to the pharmacy now to collect my shop of medication. Here we go, emotions kicking in. I’m going home. I am crying uncontrollably again. I missed my husband so much. After getting home I am asleep within the hour. I wake up feeling like I do not belong here. It’s a strange feeling and everything has changed. What happens next?
It takes a few days to adjust to your surroundings in your own home. You are frightened to do your exercise because you have nobody watching you. I slept a lot of the time, most of the day in fact. After a stroke this is part of the healing process of the brain.
Then physio starts again. The physio is called Ben. You get a whole list of dos and don’ts. At first this is hard between wanting to sleep all the time, but you have to push yourself if you want to get any better. Otherwise you can just crumble. I hadn’t come this far to give up for my family or for myself.
Over the following weeks I have some shocking news that my hearing started playing up. I would have tv volume right up. Back to the doctors I went. They sent me to an audiology appointment where I was told I was 70% deaf and would need to wear hearing aids. This would the after-effects of the stroke kicking in.
During this process of getting better my blood sugars have started to improve. I have been back to the diabetes clinic and have been fitted with a Freestyle Libre (a blood glucose monitor and sensor). This has done wonders for me, as it shows you all the data and how well you are doing. I am now 54% in target. When I first started I was only 18% in target. After the stroke I know I still have a way to go, but its an improvement. My blood sugars are now dropping so quickly I am not realizing. A cause for concern, so another trip to the doctor.
I had bloods done and now I am anaemic as well. One more thing on my list, and as of yet, the doctor cannot find the right combination of blood pressure tablets for me and I have gained 2 stone in weight I now have another challenge and I will get there. I just have to keep trying. The problem with my low blood sugars is because of a reaction to the blood pressure medication.
As I started to get stronger I decided with some encouragement from my husband to go back to training at my his Martial Arts club, HAVOC.
This was really out of my comfort zone. What would people say, how would I cope?
The group are really great and help me feel welcome. They adapted the exercises to my needs.
A new environment can be overwhelming and its taken time to gain a little confidence.
When I first started I had no coordination and could not tell my left from my right. That’s just my hands!!
Then onto footwork. This I found harder, but everyone went out of their way to help me. From the warm-up to the cooldown they break everything down at a slower pace to enable me to learn. You will be surprised at what you can achieve and I still get very emotional over this process and at how far you can push yourself and how you want to achieve more each time you go.
I never say, “I can’t do that”, because if you haven’t tried it you don’t know. If you try and still can’t at least you made the effort.
I wish I could get everybody to try one class and try something new. We are now doing a new Fitboxing class on Saturday morning. What a challenge! Starting with one jab to the right and one cross to the left and one push up, then work your way up the ladder to ten, and then down the ladder back to one.
That’s 55 up and 55 down, making it 110 jab cross punches and a 110 push-ups. A challenge for you all out there.
Will any of you try to make a better person of yourself? What are you’re insecurities?
Work through them and see what you can achieve. I am a stroke survivor and I’m doing it. What’s your excuse?
None of this I have been working on over the last few months would be possible without the love and support of my husband Simon. I love you so much and will continue to become a better me.