There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ stroke survivor, as ex-footballer Nick Clarke can testify. After stepping back from competitive football at 40, he continued to stay in shape as he returned to civilian life.
“I had a really stressful job for an internet hosting company. I would be up at half five every day and then on the road for about six to arrive at eight,” Nick tells Stroke Rehab Times.
“People’s businesses were on the line. If there was any downtime, I would be getting phone calls from business owners wanting to know when it would be back up.
“I was second in command so I never switched off. I might be up a ladder cleaning windows on a Sunday morning, only to get a call from an engineer who’d locked himself out and needed me to travel 70 miles to the data centre let him.”
Nick woke early that morning as normal, only to collapse in the bathroom minutes later. Something wasn’t right. He had his shirt on but couldn’t fasten the buttons or tie his shoelaces.
Nick’s wife called an ambulance and when it arrived, the paramedics knew straight away what had happened.
“I was thinking, ‘I’m a sporty guy. I shouldn’t be having a stroke‘. So was a bit of a shocker. I went to the NHS hospital and it transpired that I had a large bleed on the left-hand side of my brain.”
Nick decided straight away that he wanted to stay at the private Alexandra Hospital in Cheadle. Once the medical team were sure his condition had stabilised, he was sent on.
While grateful to recover in the comfort of a private hospital, the solitude did have its downsides.
“It’s great being in a private hospital, but you’ve got no one to compare yourself with.
“One of the things I wanted to do when I was well enough, was to go back and volunteer on the stroke ward at the local NHS hospital. And I did and I loved it.
“People could relate to me because they were going through it at the same time.”
The experience sewed the seed for what was to become Stroke Information – a Stockport-based charity that supports stroke survivors all over the UK.
The charity offers a drop-in service every Monday, where stroke survivors and their families can ask questions about recovery, benefits and support.
Even with Covid and lockdowns over the past two years, the charity has gone from strength to strength.
“We can talk to via Zoom, we’ve got iPads that we can loan out. It’s magical what we do. And it really works with the peer support.
“The Stroke Association are great at what they do, but they’re more focused on being proactive about the warning signs and lifestyle changes like diet and exercise, whereas we’re more about after it’s happened. Like how to cope, how to manage, how to do simple things.
“Say you’ve got use of only one arm. How the hell do you open a bottle of milk? We’ve come up with ways to do that and we share and give people a lot of support and encouragement. There’s nothing better.”
Nick believes that acceptance is the first crucial step towards recovery. In the weeks after the stroke, many survivors dwell on why it happened and get caught up in denial.
Those six weeks to three months, it’s a grieving process, Nick says, where the survivor can feel like they’ve lost the person they once were. But really, they’re the same person – they just need to think of new ways to get things done.
“Everybody’s stroke’s different and every recovery journey is different.
“I completely lost the use of my right-hand side. It was only through peer support that I was told to have Botox steroid injection. And within 48 hours, it had made a huge difference.
“It’s quite ironic that reacting to a stroke is all about ‘FAST’ but the recovery process is far from it. It’s something that you have to get your head around.
“Our mascot is a tortoise. It’s the tortoise and the hare – that’s what recovering from stroke is about. You have to take your time and you’ll find a way.
“By the same token, a child who has three strokes at age five has got the rest of his life to improve. Whereas someone who is eighty only has limited time.”
Recovery depends on real hope, not false hope, Nick says. But he has sadly witnessed a number of medical professionals dismiss their patient’s chances of making meaningful progress.
It’s a common complaint of stroke survivors who have gone from being told they’d never walk or talk again to living full, active lives.
“I recently got asked to witness a stroke survivor who was put in a home.
“The physiotherapist who was at the same meeting, rang me and said: ‘we think he’s actually plateaued’. I asked, ‘so does that mean that you’re giving up on him? Because it sounds to me, that’s what you’re trying to say.’
“But he’s a character and he is strong. As long as you can show him compassion and feed him the motivation, encouragement and support, who is anyone to say that he’s plateaued?
“Ultimately, what I want to do with the charity is give that sense of empowerment back.
“When you’ve had a stroke, you don’t feel as though you have that right to be part of something. And I want to change that.
“I want to encourage people to volunteer for us. Help us get the message out there. And if they’re up to it, give them a job.
“If they’re of a certain age and don’t want to work again, but feel like they still got something to give, they can volunteer for us and share their experience so that, heaven forbid it, should it ever happen to that person’s family, at least they’re better prepared.”
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