A stroke survivors road to recovery

Friday 25th April 

Every year about 150,000 people in the UK will have a stroke. Here, stroke survivor Shirley Holden, 59, from
Knaresborough in North Yorkshire, describes her road to recovery. 

I was just leaving my friend’s house when it happened. It felt as if I’d been kicked in the back of my leg and I crumpled to the ground, overwhelmed by a sensation of drunkenness. My speech was slurred and I instantly knew that I’d had a stroke. I was taken by ambulance to Harrogate District Hospital, where I spent six weeks. The stroke affected the entire right side of my body and my left eye. Phc Older Female With Young Boy And Girl Playing On The Rug 6 250X200

In hospital I had daily physiotherapy to relearn abilities I’d taken for granted: walking, writing and even feeding myself. By the time I was discharged, I could walk short distances with a stick, although I was still heavily reliant on a wheelchair. An occupational therapist visited to discuss what modifications I’d need so that I could cope at home. But, while I made some concessions, such as stair rails, a perching stool to use while doing chores and a shower seat, I refused to consider myself disabled, drawing the line at a stair lift.

At first I couldn’t bathe, dress or prepare food on my own, so my husband Neil eventually took early retirement to care for me. A representative from the Stroke Association, whom I’d first met in hospital, visited several times to provide support and I made a successful application for disability living allowance.

I hit a low point when, several months after my stroke, my father became ill and had to move into a care home. I hated my inability to help him. It had also been hard to give up my job as an administrator for the prison service – I’d simply left the office one day and had never gone back. But I refused to look backwards. I had weekly physiotherapy, initially at home and then at the outpatients’ clinic, and wore splints to support my weakened ankle and hand. Although my walking improved, my right hand remained clawed and virtually useless, so my physiotherapist referred me for Botox injections to relax its muscles. I also tried acupuncture to boost my energy, having seen how this had helped a friend with multiple sclerosis.

I’ve always loved travelling and, only months after my stroke, Neil and I visited Berlin with our cricket club. Travelling with friends who understood my situation was a massive boost to my confidence.

Three-and-a-half years on, I still require help with activities such as getting out of the bath. I also still need to wear the splints and do daily exercises for my arm. But the Botox was a success and I’ve been discharged from physiotherapy. I’ve found ways to overcome some physical problems, such as learning to write left-handed and pegging laundry out using my teeth.

Fatigue remains a big handicap, but I manage an evening out at the cricket club whenever possible and have started going to chairobics to keep mobile and meet people. Neil and I still enjoy travelling, too – our annual cricket-club holidays have really helped my recovery and we have even fulfilled an ambition by spending three weeks touring Canada.

I still have some way to go before I’ll be back to my old self. But, thanks to the support of the NHS, my husband and my friends, my life is becoming easier and more normal. At times I feel frustrated, yet I’ll never give up on getting better. Having a stroke isn’t the end of your life; it’s simply the start of a different one.

Finding help after a stroke

This article was first published in issue 22 of benhealth, Spring 2013

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