I have finally forgiven myself By Louise

May 13, 2020

I didn’t experience the usual stroke symptoms. My face hadn’t drooped and I could still speak, but I knew something was dreadfully wrong.  

In fact, my diagnosis was far from straight forward. I’d been feeling rundown and was having constant headaches.  I visited a doctor, but he didn’t see any red flags and suggested some relaxation methods and general health advice. I took a blood test and there was nothing unusual in the results.

My headaches continued. I decided to get a second opinion, which didn’t amount to much either. I had a massage, did some exercise. About a week later I started feeling worse. 

I began noticing odd things and I felt clumsy.  I seemed to be catching my foot while walking, yet there were no obstacles or uneven surfaces. I started bumping into walls and clipping corners with my shoulder when I turned left and my left hand wasn’t keeping up with my right when I was typing. 

I was becoming increasingly worried. I felt like I was “away with the fairies.” My boss sent me home to rest.  

After a weekend of taking it easy at home, my condition hadn’t improved by the Monday. I went back to the doctor and told him I was frightened I was having a stroke.

He tested my general strength and resistance and they were fine. I knew something was not right and I was determined to find an answer. I was referred to another doctor who could take a good look at me from top to toe. 

A day before that appointment, I woke up with the worst headache I’ve ever experienced - needle sharp and straight up the middle of my head. I could barely lift my head off the pillow. My headache lingered into the next day.

I made it to the third doctor, and still there was no explanation. This doctor checked my strength, which was okay. I was then asked me to walk a straight line putting heal to toe, I lost balance after a couple of steps. This time I was told to have a brain scan, but frustratingly I couldn’t get an appointment for three weeks. 

It turned out I wouldn’t have to wait that long. A couple of days later I woke up in the early hours of the morning with my left leg spasming and a weird dullness in my left arm.

I tried to walk to the kitchen, but my foot was dragging on the ground. I had to push half my body to make my leg move. It was such an effort. I thought I was going to topple over. I grabbed onto furniture and steadied myself against walls. I couldn’t even pick up a glass of water or get a proper grip with my left hand. I was really scared, but I told myself to stop being silly and went back to bed. I hoped I would wake up feeling better, but I didn’t.

It was also a long weekend, so I waited until the Tuesday before I drove myself to the local doctor again.  

This time he took one look at me and called an ambulance. He asked me to do a strength and balance test, failed both. I noticed the referral letter said “suspected virus of the brain”. 

My search for answers was far from over, my two brain scans in hospital appeared clear. It wasn’t until a I had a third scan a couple of days later, that my stroke was finally diagnosed.

It sounds strange, but I was so relieved to hear those words. At first, I was thankful I didn’t have Multiple Sclerosis or Motor Neurone Disease, which I thought were worse than stroke. I simply assumed the brain recovers from stroke, but the doctor explained the affected area never recovers. My outcome would depend on how I responded to rehabilitation. 

That’s when the magnitude of my stroke it hit me. I made a decision right there that I would get through rehab with flying colours. This stroke was not going to beat me.  I spent the next few weeks at a rehabilitation centre, learning how to walk properly, eventually without the walking frame. I started being able to use my left hand again and built some strength in my arm and leg.  But I knew I’d made a breakthrough when I learned how to walk in one line heal-toe, heal-toe without holding on.  It was an enormous achievement and I cried happy tears.

My stroke was considered small stroke, yet it had a major effect on me. At first, I felt completely cut off from half my body. I was like a baby, having to start all over again to get control back. I couldn’t walk properly or use my left hand.  I couldn’t even sit up straight without being propped up.  The way I visually received and processed information was also affected. This meant walking along a busy street or going to a shopping centre was too overwhelming for me. It made me feel motion sick, dizzy and distressed because I couldn’t process information quickly enough.

At first, I was angry and had so many questions; Why didn’t doctors recognise my stroke more quickly? Why didn’t I speak up, or push harder to get answers?  Why did I go back bed and not call triple zero (000)? I would mentally beat myself up. But I’ve come to the realisation I just didn’t present with the most common symptoms, so it took longer to figure it out. I accept that now and I’m not angry anymore. I’ve forgiven myself.

Two years on, I certainly feel more whole again. I work, I do clinical pilates to continually improve my balance and I can zip through shopping centres. I’ve learnt to listen to my body when I get tired and rest.

I’m so proud of what I’ve achieved. I have changed permanently, but I like to think I’m a better version of who I was. I’ve been given a second chance and take nothing for granted.

I am definitely not a stroke victim.  I’m a stroke survivor.

Louise is sitting in the park smiling