This post is started whilst watching Ben Stokes and Dom Sibley pile on the runs up at Old Trafford. Their single thought mentality is something these last few weeks I can truly admire and aspire to attain in my own rehab sessions. My one goal however is not to grind the West Indies into submission but to gain as much control over my left side as I physically can through sheer hard work and repetition. This repetition can seem monotonous however it is all part of a bigger process. Even though day by day I see very little improvement, I have to keep reminding myself of where I was just four weeks ago to put these small steps into perspective. A useful way of doing this is by keeping a written diary of day-by-day events which Beth manages to do around all of the other things that are going on in her life.
Exercises such as sink squats – trying to focus on the left side of my body – as well as shoulder and arm stretches, which are being done daily by the now expertly trained stroke therapist wife, are now a part of our daily life and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. From my Sports Therapy & Rehab degree days, it’s okay being given a programme to work through by yourself but I am extremely fortunate to be receiving amazing daily care from the early discharge physios at NDDH who are coming out to our home and working through intense rehab on different areas of my body – not just my left side. It’s like having a group of dedicated personal trainers visiting which helps to keep my motivation levels high. The main goal of these physio sessions is to allow me to become more independent with activities of daily life such as walking but more importantly at this stage, getting down onto the floor safely to be able to play with Henry and, in the not to distant future, change a newborn’s nappy. It is not only the getting down safely that is difficult but the getting back up!
As I said before, the rehab not only focuses on my left side weakness but also areas of my body that had been neglected through years of sport. One being my terrible posture – it has taken a stroke for me to finally attempt to sort out my rounded shoulders with the help of K tape! Ultimately I would love to get back to playing competitive sport again – whether that be football, golf or something completely new. However it feels like too far away at the moment to even contemplate running, so leaping high and winning flick ons again is something I try not to think about just yet. This is hard because sport has always been a staple of my life and this was the cause of my first big ‘wobble’ at home with Beth. The fear that I may not be able to do the things I once could is what hit me hardest because you take these things for granted when you are competing in the moment. To counteract this, I feel as though I am treating the stroke as just another injury to add to the extensive list I have already endured and one day I will come back stronger than I was before.
Another motivator that has helped me maintain this positive outlook was when my 2 older cousins, Chris and Dave, as well as my little brother, John, arranged to have a catch up over Zoom. Initially I didn’t think anything of this because Zoom was how we had been taking part in Chris’ extreme workouts, over lockdown and I just thought that they wanted to see how I was doing. Little did I know that it was all part of an elaborate scheme that they had put together to raise funds and equipment for my recovery. As you can see from the video that they secretly recorded (thanks to Alice for cutting out the excessive toilet talk), I was not prepared emotionally and it still hasn’t sunk in that so many people have been so generous to help me return to some sort of normality. Already the funds have gone towards a motorised static bike and the installation of a stair lift allowing me to access a shower and not have to sleep in the living room. I’m then planning to use the rest of the money for private physio, once the incredible support from the NHS physios comes to an end. This is something we couldn’t have dreamt of and I have no doubt it will improve the quality of my and subsequently my family’s life in the future.
Prior to the luxury of a shower upstairs, personal hygiene was not a priority for me however Beth couldn’t live with my festering smell which was caused by all manner of bodily fluids. The solution to this initially was a wet wipe wash in the downstairs toilet where I almost froze to death sat on the commode. It was quickly apparent that I could not be trusted to reach every crevice and also the sight of me shivering and the noise of my teeth rattling were too much for Beth to bear so late-night flannel washes in the kitchen sink were a lovely bonding experience between the 2 of us.
After these shower alternatives, I would be wheeled into the front room to lie in bed and settle in for the night watching the TV (usually Premier League football) with an assortment of snacks such as chocolate brownie or Sensations crisps. Pre-stroke, I would have seen this as a dream come true however when it is the only way, the novelty wears off very quickly!
As the game would finish, Beth would head upstairs to initially sleep on her own until Henry would choose to wake up at an ungodly hour and jump in with Mummy. As anyone with a child knows, a wake up of 6am is the norm however for a stroke victim, this is not the case. So Beth and Henry were forced to spend the early morning watching Peppa Pig on the tiny TV in the kitchen while I continued to recover through sleep in the living room. My wake ups, an hour or so later, still felt as though I hadn’t had enough sleep. The constant fatigue from morning to evening was, for me, an unexpected side-effect of the stroke in the early days out of hospital (although I have now been told this is completely normal and expected). However by being able to participate in more ‘normal’ day to day living, the need and desire to sleep all day is becoming less and less.
Early wake ups aside, I knew that, when I had a rare day off from the physios coming out, Beth and I would have to attempt our own rehab sessions. With a 2 year old, this can be quite eventful. Having said that, one early session sticks in my mind: Craig David’s Born To Do It was playing on the iPad as I was glute bridging on the bed. Dr Downing (a.k.a. Henry) had out his medical set and proceeded to hammer away at every part of my body including my skull. Trying to encourage him to be gentle whilst also fending him off with one working arm is much easier said than done!
My improvements are now becoming more regular and noticeable than I am able to keep up with on the blog so I have decided to set up a dedicated Instagram account documenting smaller moments of the recovery. If you are interested, this account can be found at https://www.instagram.com/seansstrokerecovery/
Beth and I have thoroughly enjoyed writing these posts whilst Henry is playing at Tina’s (his childminder) so we hope to continue with them for as long as life remains this unusual!