I knew for weeks that something big was looming

September 21, 2021

By Mel Lochran 

Sometimes you just know when things are awry in your body. I was getting headaches and earaches and was generally feeling run down. I had a couple of appointments with my GP who didn’t think my symptoms were anything serious. While I hoped this was correct, I was not convinced. These niggling issues continued for weeks and got progressively worse.  

I am a paramedic, so I am trained to treat medical issues. In the back of my mind, I started wondering if I was having a brain bleed. I mentioned this to a few people, but I was a fit and healthy 48-year-old mother of four, so it didn’t seem to add up. They thought I was under a bit of stress, but it got to the point I was taking days off work and I no longer felt confident treating patients.  

I was becoming increasingly agitated. Then one day, I woke up after a night shift and couldn’t comprehend words. I couldn’t think how to say ‘keys’ and ‘car’. I managed to make it to the GP again, which is just a few doors away from home, but by the time I arrived, I knew I was in big trouble. I honestly thought I was going to die.  

The next thing I remember is waking up in a hospital Intensive Care Unit after a stroke. It was incredibly frightening. I remember feeling pressure in my chest and realising a ventilator was doing the breathing for me. I panicked and started thinking ‘now what?’.  

Thankfully, I was brought back to reality by a nurse who gently touched my hand and said  ‘I am here for you’. In that moment, her gesture meant so much. It brought immense comfort. A simple touch is a powerful tool when your whole world feels like it is crumbling.   

But it didn’t crumble. Although I was weak, I managed to stand independently after one week. This was my first achievement. Then I became involved in a trial, which was testing the impact of early rehabilitation. I am so fortunate to have participated in this and feel like it made a significant difference to my recovery.  

During rehab, I went back to basics. I learnt to eat with a knife and fork, shower myself and walk up stairs. It was so frustrating at times and I’d get cranky. Especially when it came to language. I had to learn to speak and read again. It was like I had a computer glitch in my brain and it couldn’t process words the way it used to.  I remember being shown a picture of a dog. I knew it was a dog, but I couldn’t find the right word. Instead of dog I said a furry thing with legs.  

I had a great deal to work on and I was in rehabilitation for seven months. I could speak in short simple sentences, then learnt to increase my vocabulary and adjust the tone of my voice. I was having trouble reading, but didn’t understand why until I saw a man wearing a t-shirt with a slogan written backwards. It was a revelation. I read the slogan easily and discovered my brain had been trying to read back to front. I found this fascinating from a scientific point of view. I think I’ve been able to share some important recovery insights with my therapy team as a result of my professional background and understanding of how the body works.  

Sometimes I still need to take a moment to think about how I will tackle a task before I do it, especially if I am tired. My stroke left me with some vision loss, memory loss and affected my hearing. Things like catching a train can be extremely complicated.  

Physically, I am doing well. I had right sided weakness, but I’ve worked so hard at the gym to improve that, my left side is now weaker. I just ran my first marathon, which was a very proud moment and will be participating in the upcoming Bridge to Brisbane run.  

I have moments of feeling like nobody understands, of feeling isolated, frustrated and judged because my disabilities are hidden. But I have also felt so happy to be alive and loved and will strive to keep reaching my goals.  

Mel at a running meet