If you have the will to live it is amazing what you can achieve
By Margie Brown
I am now 91 years old and it’s been 30 years since I experienced a stroke.
You may ask why I am talking about it now, but I want people to know you can live a full and happy life after stroke. It’s not always easy, but it can be done.
While there is never a good time to have a stroke, mine happened just days before my mother’s funeral. I was living in Merimbula, on the New South Wales coast at the time. My sister and her husband were visiting to help with the funeral preparations. They had gone for a walk and I was standing in the kitchen alone, looking out over the water when I got a strange pain in my head. I moved to the loungeroom and sat down as the pain got stronger and stronger. Then it became so intense it was like an atomic bomb in my brain.
I don’t remember anything else until I woke from a coma in a hospital in Canberra eight days later. I couldn’t move. I was like a statue welded to the bed. It was horrifying for a mother of three who had been so active and capable. In that moment, I honestly wondered why the doctors had not let me die.
Then all of a sudden, my thumb moved. It was the most magnificent feeling. That tiny movement became my inspiration to live. I thought if I can move my thumb, I might just be able to move other parts of my body.
I learnt quickly that so much of my recovery was about my mindset. I had to be determined. I couldn’t allow myself to give up, even on the days when I was frustrated and angry. I was 60 years old and I was in the prime of my life, but I felt stuck in a broken body and needed that to change. I cried enough tears to last me a lifetime in the first year after my stroke, but I learnt if you have the will to live, it's amazing what you can achieve.
I spent 12 months in rehabilitation. It was strict and the team pushed me hard. We firstly worked on getting movement in my limbs and on sitting up. Then on fine motor tasks like holding a pen, writing and drawing. My ultimate goal was to learn to walk again and walk out of that centre and rejoin my family and community.
About six months after my stroke, I asked if I could focus on some practical skills like sweeping floors, making beds and cooking. I still remember the first meal I made. It was a quiche and an apple pie. I had to start from scratch with writing a shopping list. The staff picked up the ingredients for me and then I took over. The meal took me all day to complete. I cried, I was sweaty, but I was determined to put that pie on the table. It tasted terrible, but I did it!
I am thankful I had fantastic support in my recovery. My darling husband Peter disappeared in a light plane accident 20 years earlier, which left me shattered, but my friend Colin was by my side when I woke from a coma. Colin promised he would take care of me from that moment on. We were just friends before my stroke, but the day Colin took me home from rehabilitation he told my family “the day I met Margie was the day I fell in love with her.” He had just never found the right opportunity to tell me.
Colin kept his word. We had a beautiful time together. He looked after me well and we were married four years later. He sadly passed away about 15 years ago and I miss him every day.
My children don’t live close by, but they try to see me as often as they can. I also have eight grand children and great grandkids galore which bring me so much joy. I love talking to them and getting photos in the mail.
Despite my age and my left side deficit, I live independently. I have a team of helpers who I adore. I enjoy reading, television, keeping in contact with my family and cooking. I love sharing the cakes I have baked with visitors.
These days it is a bit harder to get around and I use a walking frame, but my determination to live my life has served me well. I am happy.
I am sure there are much more advanced treatments for stroke these days and new innovations in rehabilitation, but I urge anyone who has had a stroke to believe in themselves no matter what. It took many years to mentally accept my disability, but it did get easier. You may make it to your 90s like me!
My motto is whatever I can do, I will.