After another eventful physio session this morning, which included more walking with my Gandalf stick, Beth and I have just sat down to finish off the last days spent in hospital.
As is the way with wards in hospitals, patients come and go like a carousel. My new-found friends, Chris and Patrick, were discharged and quickly replaced with some newbies to the ward. These newbies couldn’t have been more different to the welcoming, talkative duo that I had spent the last week with. This was understandably not their fault, as they had both suffered more serious strokes, leaving them unable to have a conversation and pretty much bed-ridden. These two gentlemen made me realise how lucky I was to still have the ability to think clearly and communicate with people – it could have been so much worse and I remind myself of this when times get hard.
A major concern for me about coming home was that normally, with a discharge from hospital, you would go home and everything would be alright. However, this was not going to be the case and the realisation set in that my wonderful wife Beth, along with her ever-growing baby bump, would have to attend to my basic, everyday needs and, until you’re incapable of doing them, you’ll never truly understand just what that entails. The support from my family and friends has been overwhelming but the 24/7 care that is needed is relentless which frustrates me more than anything because we’ve always worked as a team – especially since Henry came along.
Sitting in my hospital chair for hours at a time with the change of atmosphere on the ward, made me realise that I needed to get home sooner rather than later for my own mental health. This however, would be tricky because I hadn’t quite mastered getting between bed and wheelchair on my own (a transfer – which is now an essential part of daily life). To be able to become an expert at this – like any good teacher knows – practice makes perfect! So whilst getting bored of the snooker on ITV4 (which would never normally happen) the physios came in to see me and prep me for my next rehab session. Before we started, I asked them what I needed to do to be able to get home as soon as possible. They said transferring safely is one of the key elements alongside my home setting and ability of my family to look after me. So this made up today’s session, as although I had grown fond of my new setting, there’s no place like home. At first I was hesitant to fully trust my right leg, as this had been the one to have failed me so many times before (see footballing medical history!). A solid hour spent shuffling from bed to wheelchair was a big determiner in them being able to discharge me the following day. During that afternoon, I started to tell people the good news, especially Beth and HD who had been asking for me for the last few days – an extra incentive to get home. Although, purely based on the fact that my left arm was still incapable of moving under my control, it wouldn’t involve completing games on the N64 such as Super Mario and Banjo Kazooie, which had been the staple of lockdown afternoons for me and Henry.
The following day meant it was home time and a 4:30am wake up was probably not the best thing to happen – I wasn’t sure whether this was down to nerves or excitement or maybe a combination of them both. But before I knew it, breakfast had been served and I had my final NHS shower before getting changed ready to be escorted into the back of an ambulance. I was then chauffeured up to my front door where Beth was waiting for me with open arms and tears down her face. Through the front door I rolled and into the living room which now housed my comfy arm chair and the first piece of furniture Beth and I bought together – our 4ft bed. As we said goodbye to the paramedics who had dropped me off, I could not contain my emotions any more. We both burst into tears of happiness and understood that this was the start of what would become the new norm. One of the first moments at home, which made us realise it could be a long process, was returning to bottle-gate and having to wee without visiting the toilet. We hadn’t factored in there wouldn’t be a supply of hospital cardboard bottles to wee in. So, Beth rushed to the kitchen to fetch an old Nike drinks bottle (a Sports Direct special) for me to completely miss and end up, like Henry, feet perched in a pool of my own wee in the middle of the living room carpet. Next stop was Amazon Prime to order wee bottle version 2 and quickly dispose of the Nike bottle.
Henry then joined us after spending a lovely morning with his Nanny, Grandad, Uncle John and Auntie Meg. Throughout this whole process he has been incredible: being passed from pillar to post and now coming to terms with the fact that Daddy needs a little bit of looking after as well. It’s crazy to think that he probably won’t remember any of this when he grows up but hopefully the values he is learning about caring for others and not always being the centre of attention, will stand him in good stead for later life and especially when baby number 2 arrives in a couple of months. His dad having a stroke probably isn’t the most ideal situation for him to learn these life skills, but it’s the route we’re going to have to take.
As Henry was dropped off in the living room, my mum proceeded to empty a shoe box of goodies that she had bought for me. One of these treats was the latest Golf Monthly magazine with the headline ‘How to Improve Your Stroke’ – what a way to rub it in! Other gifts that have been received have been of a much more sensitive nature and it is overwhelming to say the least that people have taken the time and effort to let me know that they’re thinking about me. The sideboard is overflowing with cards and the cupboards are bursting with treats and I hope that I have remembered to say thank you to everyone, however if I haven’t then I hope you know that I am extremely grateful for your support.
Being the teachers that we are, Beth and I decided to try and set up a routine based around every day essentials – but who knew the nightmare of stroke recovery admin! Physio appointments, childcare, prescription collecting, equipment drop offs and construction work on a new ramp in the back garden (kudos to Joe at David Wilson for organising this for us and being so supportive) takes a lot of discussion and brain space – which I was incapable of – so it has all been thrown on my poor wife’s agenda. Something she has coped with magnificently, which I knew she would.
One thing that she didn’t account for on my first evening home was a messy transfer between armchair and wheelchair which resulted in me rolling my ankle on my left side. Due to the reduced sensation in that side of my body, I wasn’t sure whether any serious damage had been done. Because of the new ache in my ankle and how cold my foot was (which we later found out is caused by lack of circulation) we spent Sunday morning on the phone to the 111 doctors. They decided to send out an ambulance and take me back into A&E as a precaution. When I arrived, they x-rayed my foot to check for damage but luckily my flubber legs had managed to withstand the sloppy transfer and subsequent weight going through my ankle. I was escorted home again in the back of one of these all too familiar ambulances – I really feel as though my NHS tab is growing day by day! Not the perfect start to home life post stroke.
Back into my armchair I slumped and with live sport back on the TV, it wasn’t a bad way to spend the rest of the weekend. One of the necessities of stroke recovery is accepting that your brain – as well as body – needs to heal in the form of sleep. I have therefore become accustomed to afternoon naps, which I would have felt incredibly guilty about before all of this happened, however now it is a part of daily life. Although, napping is easier said than done with a 2-year-old rampaging around the house. A sound piece of advice I received from one of the physios in hospital, was to download a mindfulness app which means I can listen to forest raindrops and waves crashing on the beach to send me into my afternoon slumbers.
Waking up from these is always tricky as the aches and pains are emphasised after not moving for a sustained period of time. I can now understand why some elderly people struggle to have the motivation to get up and work hard at their recovery after a stroke. When I have woken up, one of my highlights has been taking off my pyjama T-shirt in the form of a 1990’s wrestler who is about to start a street brawl: my right-hand grabbing hold of the top behind the scruff of my neck and then pulling it off over my head.
So much has happened since we have started writing this particular blog post because we have to stagger the writing across the week. But we have nearly caught up with ourselves and I can’t wait to fill you in on current life at home and the improvements that I am making in physio very soon.