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Friday, 18 March 2016

A Stroke of Misfortune

I haven't been doing too much writing of late, but am trying to get back into it. My brain wants to do it. The other day, I woke up at 6 am with a really good line of prose hanging in my head. I got up, went into the spare room to write it down in case it disappeared (as usually happens.) I'd snuggled back down into bed again when the other half of the idea dropped into my brain. So I had to get up again...

The reason I've not been writing is that I had a stroke. And the main reason it's taken me so long to share this news is that I couldn't believe or accept it. I still can't, really. I flinch on writing or saying the word; it feels surreal and embarrassing - like swearing in front of your nan.

                                                                                                            Beautiful flowers from my mum

But I'm much improved already (five months on). I was lucky to survive, but unlucky it happened at all. For me this means a daily mental tug of war. Happy versus angry. I'll try not to rant about misdiagnoses and clinical incompetence on this post.

I'll try.

I escaped with no seriously disabling features and few outwardly obvious signs. A bonus, for vanity's sake. But I'm not mended yet. I have residual vertigo (constantly improving), partial numbness down my right side (like frostbite crossed with dead-leg) and recent burning nerve pain that makes it hard to rest the laptop on my knee. But the worst symptom right now is sciatic bum pain when sitting. Great problems for a writer.

In hospital. Droopy eye thing 

I have some horrible pictures that I can't quite bear to put up here, so I'm going to post the best of a bad bunch. My left eye was visibly droopy for months afterwards, worse in the early stages. This is due to something called 'Horner's Syndrome' - caused by cranial nerve damage . Thankfully this has pretty much resolved now.

View from my hospital bed

I was admitted to B3 of the QMC in Nottingham before being transferred to the crazy Neurology ward once they finally worked out what was wrong with me. I can't remember which ward this is above. Overall I was in hospital for five horridly fascinating days.

         Pureed hospital food whilst I couldn't swallow properly

But I'm jumping ahead. My stroke hit on 8th October 2015 at four in the morning. I awoke with a numb right leg and a problem with my swallowing. I rolled out of bed to find I couldn't walk properly. Funnily enough, I thought I might have had a stroke because I know the symptoms (from working in a hospital.) However, when I asked Rick if my face looked wonky he said "No" - adding on closer inspection - "but I haven't got my eyes in yet."

Even with his contact lenses in I didn't look any different, so we dismissed the stroke theory. And, anyway, it seemed preposterous that I would have had a stroke. I'm under fifty and relatively fit. My blood pressure is okay and I regularly exercise. I eat healthily. I no longer smoke. I still drink a bit too much at times but who doesn't? People far worse than me haven't 'stroked out.' It was the last thing I ever expected to happen to me and, once in hospital, I discovered I was right and wrong.

I had had a stroke, but my risk factors were very low. So, in effect, I shouldn't have had one - as I'd first assumed.

Frog's legs with sexy compression stockings on

The story of that day is so painfully long that I'll try to cut it short. I ended up in AMRU at QMC - which is like a referral A&E, where we spent 12 miserable, anxious hours. Nobody could diagnose me. All the clinicians, doctors and consultants we saw were baffled by my symptoms. I ended up on a drip because I couldn't eat or drink; I was shivering, sitting in a fucking waiting room chair. I was in agony.

        Can you tell what it is yet?

I now know just about everything about my condition. I have researched extensively since it happened. I know that strokes in 'younger adults' are pretty rare, and the cause of mine yet rarer still. However, I am still bitter about the fact that medical experts failed to spot this unfurling disaster, on numerous occasions before it happened then once it had happened and was staring them in the face. Breathe. Calm.

    The puddings were actually quite nice :)

So. Yes, I'd had symptoms leading up to this. Six weeks of headaches and neck-ache which became so excruciating I was signed off work. I'd had a visit to A&E, one month before the stroke, with disabling vertigo and vomiting. The problem was diagnosed as positional vertigo and neuralgia and I was put on painkillers. But what had actually happened was that my vertebral artery had split, probably due to minor trauma (hyper-extended neck at the hairdresser's, neck cracking adjustment at the osteopaths, practising yoga, lifting weights, etc - I'd done all of these things in the months leading up to my star turn.)

This type of arterial damage is called a dissection. And once it's happened, the inner wall of the artery tears further and blood clots start to form. These clots readily break off, lodging further up inside the smaller arteries of the brain - causing a stroke (if you are unlucky enough.) Goodo.

                                                                             Struggling to find a flattering angle. Ha!

I was finally diagnosed on symptoms and circumstances rather than from the inconclusive MRI/MRA. But a repeat scan recently confirmed the dissection (now healed) plus damning evidence of the small stroke in the left brain-stem (Medulla). I'm therefore official. And now left with another rarity called Wallenberg Syndrome - a collection of ongoing symptoms due to the damage in that particular area of the brain. These issues will gradually improve; my swallow is significantly better already though I still struggle with dry foods and have to be constantly attentive with fluids. I don't know if the pain will resolve, or whether I'll ever be able to sense temperature on my right side again :( Oh yeah, I also have a faster pulse and dry eye syndrome...

But I "mustn't grumble" - as my Granddad used to say. At least I'm still alive :)

                                                                                   Home from hospital. Cat helped :)  

Famous dissection cases: Sharon Stone, Andrew Marr, and the deceased Aussie cricketer Phillip Hughes. R.I.P

Other links: Strokes in Younger Women.

Thanks for reading. Hopefully my next blog post will be all about the bloody novel, lol. :)


  1. Shit, Sara!

    Sorry, I mean that's absolutely bloody dreadful news - I had no idea...but then, why would I? Now look what I've done...the shock has made me use nearly every grammatical no-no all in one sentence!

    Seriously, I'm so pleased you're on the mend and hope that your residual symptoms get better and disappear very soon. I'm looking forward to an update on your novel and will keep popping by to read your next post.

    Sending a big hug.

    Ange xx

    1. Hiya Ange & thanks so much. Sorry, I thought you knew. I had a vague mental snap of who had reacted to my first face-book post back in October-ish, & I thought you were one of them. That's why I didn't mention it whilst we were talking on twitter about photo sessions! Btw, you can't tell on my 'professional' pictures, so that's a bonus! I'm getting better all the time and people can no longer tell it's happened (which is good although I still have hidden issues.) People are now shocked at how 'normal' I look and seem! Hope to see you soon x

  2. Oh la la my lovely little sis !!
    Well written and super choice of photos... even if they are 'best of a bad bunch'
    What an ordeal and how brave and positive you have been throughout ! It's great that you have written here on the blog to explain why you have not been writing... All your followers and friends would have missed your writing and humour all this time.. and now they know why and can look forward to hearing from you again !! I love you loads xxx

    1. Ah, thanks Zeemy! You're so very nice & kind :) I had some 'professional' pics taken a few weeks back through the writers' group I'm in, so I'll stick one up on facebook to show that I look much more normal! (Now I've got the sob story out of the way :) Had my hair cut yesterday too, first time since you did it in October!! Not sure how I've managed that long without looking like a complete yetti, lol. Love you too xxx

  3. Sitting here thinking about all the above and how courageous you have been throughout this horrendous ordeal Sara. I was so shocked when Zeem told me last year and I have to say I for one am delighted to hear that you are on the mend (how could you not be with all the positive vibes heading your way). Little did you know when you chose the title Abnormal for your book, that in real life the past few months must have been just that and more for you. So I await with eager anticipation to be clutching your book in my hands so I can finally read it again. All the best Sara xx

    1. Chrissie, you've always been so kind and supportive of me, thanks for your lovely words. Yes, I've always been a bit abnormal, haha (as most of my family and friends would tell you) - I think this is why I was drawn to my subject matter in the first place. And now it's super fitting! I've had a few failed attempts to get back into editing. I think I was trying to do too much all at once (when I went back to work on a 'phased-return' in January.) But I'm definitely starting back in April, no more excuses. I'm going to do it gently though and build back up. I always feel better when I'm writing, it's the getting started that is the problem. I don't know if you have this same issue with crafts?! Hope to see you soon! Loads of love :) xxx