As a Saturday morning it was the same as any other; getting ready for Park Run (Catton Park in Norwich) drinking water & Lucozade and doing a warm up. The run started off fine. I started too fast, as per my other two dozen park runs, but maintained a good pace. As I approached the halfway point I looked at my watch and it (just) under nine minutes, so I was happy.
This is where things get blurry.
I remember my left leg going weak and my left arm not moving as I tried to stop myself falling. I recall hitting the ground. I remember wobbling to the left, but not much else.
When I was asked if I hurt anywhere I did say my chest, so at first a heart attack was suspected. Now I think this was due to how I landed. I was told I hit the ground very suddenly and I recall people round me and a friend’s harsh Norfolk/Norwich accent. The rest of this time was filled in by people telling me what happened. Someone kept calling me “Matt” and I shouted to correct them. The paramedics were there within minutes. They pricked my finger (I remember that), but the rest is just a jumbled blur I couldn’t recall, no matter how hard I tried.
My brother turned up and joined me in the ambulance where we “blue-lit” all the way to hospital, so we got there very quick. The paramedics were fantastic. I recall being asked to smile and my brother replying “Nope, that isn’t right at all”. I was given morphine and had never had that before but it felt amazing, like I was floating and feeling very numb.
Once at the hospital I was rushed through and put on a bed. I felt a little ‘woozy’ and had a painful chest but other than that I thought I was OK. I was sent for an MRI and given a drug called a “clot buster”. It was in a large syringe attached to a machine and it took about 40mins to be injected. I took all this in my stride without realising the severity of things (this took weeks on hindsight), was taken back to the bed I was asked if I had eaten today. I hadn’t, so I was given a yoghurt. This was my first reality check. I said I could feed myself, but not only could I not lift the yoghurt tub, I switched hands and couldn’t grip the spoon. My heart sank and I got very angry inside, but I kept it behind a smile. My partner and brother looked on and their faces told the story.
I had all sorts of ECG items stuck to me (where they would remain for 4 days) and then the next test. A nurse had a small metal rod and it was placed on my arms and legs in different places and I was asked if I felt it – right leg and arm no problem, but left side I could feel it but not as immediate, if that makes sense? She brushed it on the bottom of my right foot, and being ticklish I giggled like a little girl and flinched. They then did the same to my left foot and nothing – no reaction at all and I felt any positivity leave my body, my heart sunk again, my stomach tightened and I looked at my partner and she saw me go grey. That was the moment it hit me. Would I walk properly again? Could I run? What condition would I leave this place in?
I ended up shelving those feelings as I was in no position to absorb it (or handle it! – I had been diagnosed clinically depressed in January of 2018 and my partner had been very unwell with her mental health and was already dealing with plenty). I was moved to the Acute Stroke Unit and within an hour of being there I felt a fraud. 6 beds in this room and everyone had much more severe symptoms and after effects than me. The gentleman in the bed opposite barely regained consciousness in the 3 nights I stayed. I pulled the curtain so I didn’t have to see. I felt as though I was wasting a bed.
For 3 days I was tested, readings taken every few hours and even during the night. Each day my strength in the left side of my body slowly got better. This was coupled with another MRI, more ECG, an echo and CAT scan with a dye injected in me that made my wee go a funny colour (not being able to leave the bed meant I had to use those cardboard urine holders, which no matter how careful you are EVERYONE can hear you doing it).
All the staff were amazing; Dr Sutton, the nurses, the cleaning staff and the catering guys. The medication I had to take was endless; aspirin, something to counter the aspirin, blood thinners, statins, etc. I recall having to have my heart-rate monitor alarm switched off as my resting heart rate dropped below 50 quite often, because I’m a runner and in decent shape. Friends came to see me and the number of messages and comments I received was humbling and very overpowering while I sat there feeling like I was wasting everyone’s time!
I went from using a Zimmer (walking aid) to starting to walk on my own by the Monday and it felt incredible to be able to walk/limp again and I went outside to get some sun. It had been 72 hours since id last seen it! (….and Little mix played a concert near the hospital, so I was already on edge!)
I remember the conversation with the doctor when he advised there weren’t any signs on any of the tests that I had suffered any physical damage, so it was declared very minor. I had the after symptoms of weakness, tiredness and co-ordination of things, like putting my glasses on or typing one finger at a time on my phone, all of which were a struggle, but I could do them. I was discharged and had two types of medication to take for the rest of my adult life.
“I didn’t feel myself after the stroke and that hit home when I left the hospital”
A side note is that I didn’t feel myself after the stroke. It’s hard to describe and I have never been able to put my finger on it, or anything specific, but across all things about me, myself and outlooks all felt a little different. My partner struggled with this as all of a sudden I was reluctant with all sorts of things and suddenly didn’t know what I wanted – in general, nothing specific. It was very tough to process and explain and this was frustrating. I have since made my peace with that feeling and began to be “me” again after nearly three months.
I stayed at my partner’s on my first night out of hospital, but was very keen to get out in my own space and just take it all in, if I could. On the Wednesday I stayed at my room in my house share and did something stupid – I went for a run! This is the stupidest thing I have done to date, but I had to know if I could. I love running and the buzz and benefits. There is a dirt track behind where I live on Henderson Park in Norwich and I did 12 laps as a 5k run. It was hard, painful and I felt pretty weak and dizzy throughout. I got back to my room and I threw up. I collapsed to the floor and then I had a drink and laid on my bed. I felt totally drained. I’d been a fool and my body reminded me for several days. Overall, I felt OK but I knew I had done it.
Then check-ups with my GP and outpatient visits dominated. Work were brilliant and I was allowed to do reduced hours. I went back sooner than I should have but I was getting bored. “Resting” is something I suck at.
A few weeks had gone past and I had full strength back in both leg and arm, but still used the bannister on the stairs when walking down them. Fatigue was the biggest problem; sleeping loads, getting tired – and with that came grogginess, being short tempered and a little unlike myself. It led to a short-term personality change and the ones closest to me took the brunt of my frustrations.
Forgetfulness really annoyed me – and still does! It’s not just little things, it was all sorts of little memory issues and being short tempered at the time I didn’t handle it well. As time passed this has been getting better and tiredness is creeping away. I still get hit with fatigue from time to time but forgetting things is a real struggle for me.
Having the webpage and the Facebook page has really helped me understand what I am going through and removes that feeling of isolation when I find out it’s not just me feeling things I mention above. There is still a long road to go, I want/need to go running again like I used too. I have to learn to change my diet and take a little better care of me. I am still very humbled by the comments and the number of visitors I had the hospital. I found that difficult to process – I don’t like the attention!
The removal of invincibility I had so easily taken for granted all my life has gone and that has really left a mark on how I approach things and what my limitations now are. I have always pushed myself, especially with running and always thought my body and mind could handle the pressure I put it under, with work, life, running, etc. Clearly not though– and I struggle to accept that!
By the end of 2018 I should estimate being back to normal. Giving things time to heal isn’t a strength – if I had the flu or a cold I knew that I would take some medicine then rest/wrap up warm for a few days and then one day wake up with the great buzz of feeling better, but with a stroke I haven’t had that…….and instead of three days it’s pretty much six months for me!