On March 23rd 2016 I had a TIA – although I did not know it at the time. A slackness of jaw and slurred speech for….about ten seconds. I was driving at the time – and continued driving.
The next day I telephoned my GP and suggested we meet up, but the wait would be 2 weeks. He asked me about symptoms and then stressed I should IMMEDIATELY go to A&E. That point was made very clear.
At A&E blood pressure was taken, blood tests, CT scan, interview and an ECG. My blood pressure was ‘slightly high’ which is not surprising as I was talking throughout and had a thermometer being pushed in my ear at the same time. My cholesterol was also high(ish) but then I knew that because at 16st 5lbs and sitting down a lot of the day, I was not a fit 60 year old!
The ECG showed nothing unusual. The cholesterol – for me – was nothing unusual either. However, when I was told that I had had a TIA (which meant nothing) also known as a mini-STROKE (!!!) …a STROKE!!! …then things changed. Changed quite a lot.
Firstly, I was due to start a new job in three weeks time. This would involve commuting. I couldn’t do this as I was not allowed to drive.
Secondly, I was faced with a choice as to whether to take blood pressure lowering medication and statins…or not and face the consequences which might well be a full-blown stroke.
Thirdly, I was worried. Dr Google is always there but provides so much conflicting information. Whilst in the hospital I was reading articles telling me that statins would cause/prevent a heart attack; aspirin would help/harm me.
I now had time on my hands – and started nosing around the various charities. What I needed was information, reliable and plenty of it. I also needed to talk with others who had had TIAs and/or strokes. A TIA is ‘transient’ by its nature as cells do not die they merely become inflamed but the psychological impact can be long lasting. Plus, many people who have had a TIA go on to have a full stroke because they have not managed to reduce the risk factors enough.
The more I learnt about a TIA the more I realised what a narrow escape – a warning – I had had. Socrates wrote about an unexamined life not being worth living, so taking that to heart, I have made numerous changes to diet, exercise, sleeping habits, stress levels and alcohol consumption.
I also decided to try and help the ‘stroke community’ and take steps to prevent others getting a stroke. I started to look at the Different Strokes facebook group and charity.
Immediately several things struck me. Firstly, those who posted seemed polite, constructive and the forum moderators both regularly posted and gave helpful advice as and when required. It was very much a team effort and the whole fbook group seems constructive, supportive, and open to ideas. As someone who slowly learnt more abut TIAs this was indeed a bonus.
In terms of research I read many many papers. I also participated in a TIA research study and peppered the charities with questions, it was with some positivity I noticed that the new Different Strokes website www.differentstrokes.co.uk has an ‘ask an expert’ section which is great. It also has a FAQ section which is very useful.
Interestingly there is a ‘Take part in Research’ section http://www.differentstrokes.co.uk/stroke-information/take-part-research and I did apply for one study but the research criteria was you had to be registered with certain GPs and my GP was not on the list. Nevertheless, I will keep an eye open…
During the last 15 months or so I have lost 11 kgs, sleep better, eat better and drink no alcohol. My ‘stroke health’ is probably better than before the TIA. I have learnt a lot about strokes and hopefully slowly have stopped being a ‘worried well who over examines his life’. By that I mean with Dr Google one can dig and dig and dig and still not find the definitive answer or the right foods, right exercise (walking or HIIT) diets (LCHF or vegan or…?) or even medication. In the end try and improve your life as much as possible – and one way of doing that is by helping others. To that end I have filmed a 23-lecture video about preventing strokes which will soon be available for free on Udemy.com. I also filmed a series of stroke poems and plugged ALL the stroke charities at the end. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PFA5QfrIug
I also enquired about starting a Different Strokes group in my area (Oxford) and worked alongside Different Strokes and another Volunteer Emma to get this established. We held our first meeting this month and plan to meet twice a month. You can go here http://differentstrokes.co.uk/what-we-do/find-a-support-group/ to find details of the Oxford Group or to find out if there is a group in your area.