Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Probing the Prof. on PFO's

‘How can you mend a broken heart?’ An intriguing question put forward by the uniquely voiced BeeGee brothers, and a question I wanted to ask Dr Simon Ray, a Consultant Cardiologist at The University Hospital South Manchester and honorary Professor in the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences at The University of Manchester… The man who just so happened to mend my broken heart.
More specifically I wanted to talk to the Professor about Patent Foramen Ovale’s, or as most who know about them, refer to them as PFO’s. The most simple way to understand what a PFO is, is to picture the heart in your head as four chambers, two up, two down, and between the upper left and right chambers, there lies a pesky little flap, a flap that shouldn’t be there… a PFO.
And although people shouldn’t have PFO’s, it might be surprising to hear that around 20% of the population have them, and in the majority of cases of people who do have them, they cause no trouble at all. Most could go their whole life without realising that there’s a bit of a draft in the upstairs rooms of one of their most vital organs.
My PFO was discovered after I had an unsuspected, paralysing stroke at the age of 21, just over two years ago. After being rushed to hospital unable to move the left side of my body, and after an ischemic stroke was determined by an MRI scan, I then underwent a multitude of tests, for doctors to try and understand why a young, healthy girl had suffered a stroke. It wasn’t until I had a Saline Contrast Study, or as I like to call it, the Bubble Test, that we started to get some answers. This test involved saline solution being shaken in to tiny bubbles, which was then injected into a vein in my arm, all the while my heart was being watched by ultrasound. Due to my PFO I could watch these tiny bubbles flow through the flap, from one side of my heart to another, on the screen in front of me. With this discovery, the next step was to discuss what to do about my flappy heart.
When I met Professor Ray for the first time before my op he explained it was possible my stroke might have been caused by a blood clot passing through my PFO and up to my brain. So the question was whether my PFO should be closed. He went on to say that although closure of a PFO is reasonable in some people who have a stroke with no apparent cause, in others it is not advised. I just couldn’t understand this, why would they not fix something that’s wrong! So in my recent visit to see the Prof. I was eager to understand the reasoning behind not fixing all PFO’s.
Most doctors involved in the field believe that a PFO is related to unexplained stroke in some patients, but the fact of the matter is that, with a few exceptions, it is impossible to prove that a PFO is the cause of a stroke. With this in mind, I asked the doctor if he personally believed that there is a link between PFO and stroke, and he didn’t hesitate to say, ‘Yes.’ But it is not straightforward! The difficulty is that at the moment there is no hard and fast evidence that closing a PFO is more effective than treatment with medication in most people with unexplained stroke. So recommendations have to be made on an individual basis.
He went on to explain that because my MRI scan established a stroke, my PFO was on the large size, I was under 50 years of age, and there were no other apparent reasons for me to have had a stroke, I was a good candidate to have a PFO closure. Other stroke survivors who also have PFO’s but whom are significantly older than I was when I had mine, may be advised that having the operation isn’t very beneficial for them, and it’s more likely that there is another more likely cause for a stroke to have happened.
I wanted to know all about the operation and Professor Ray was more than happy to talk me through the ins and outs of the procedure, and I couldn’t believe my luck when he told us there was an operating theatre free for us to go and have a look round. He first showed me a model of the device that sits in my heart as I’m writing this, and will stay in there forever. It’s called an Amplatzer and is in the shape of a small silver jammy dodger. Two almost flat circles, made of intricately, intertwined threads of metal, that when placed, fits round either side of the PFO. Think of the Amplatzer as the two biscuit spheres, and the flap in my heart as the jammy centre… I hope I haven’t put you off your biccies. In between the woven wire in both sides of the Amplatzer, lies a permeable membrane, (it looks like really thin pieces of cotton wool,) that allows blood to pass through it and encourages it to clot which in turn causes tissue to grow around the device. Then after around 6-12 weeks, the Amplatzer is completely covered.
The Doc talked me through the operation that although it only takes around 45 minutes- an hour, still requires 2-3 cardiologists, a radiographer, a physiologist, an anaesthetist, an anaesthetist assistant and 2 nurses, all present and correct.
To place my 18mmx18mm jammy dodger the doctors made a small incision in my groin. Through this hole they carefully threaded the Amplatzer, which stretches out in to a straight line while making its journey up my vein. When it had reached its destination; my heart, the device was then flattened out again, and carefully slotted around the flap between the two chambers. To make sure it was in its rightful place an xray, as well as a camera that had been placed down my throat at the beginning of the op, both showed evidence that all was successful. The doctors gave one final tug and pull on the tiny metal object that now lives in my heart, just to make sure it was secure, and then, their job was done.
On our tour of all things PFO, Professor Ray allowed me access in to the imaging suite, where on the computer he brought up an array of ultrasound and xray images of my own heart. Most of what he showed me just looked like wavy black and white lines, but when he came to the ultrasound image of my fixed heart, he pointed out the Amplatzer, sitting pretty, and I could see it, I could see the shadows of this alien object right in the middle of my heart.
I felt so privileged to be spending time with such an important doctor, and I felt honoured that he was happy to spare a couple of hours of his busy day to talk me through everything and anything I wanted to know about PFO’s. But what made my visit more special and more personal, was that this doctor who had given his time up for me, was the same doctor who fixed my heart. He’d played a massive part in my stroke journey, and I’d come such a long way from when I’d first met him in his consultation room.
Though really just a small operation in Professor Ray’s repertoire, closing my PFO was a big deal for me. There was no obvious cause for my stroke, no answers for why I had to learn to walk again at the age of 21, no reason for why a trainee hairdresser could no longer move her hand and fingers… until the PFO was discovered. And although I understand there will never be any evidence to prove that the flap in my heart let a clot through to make its way up to my brain, I feel comfort in the knowledge that the same thing won’t happen again. My heart is whole again, thanks to the Prof.

The visit to meet Dr Simon Ray was organised by the Stroke Association, in the lead up to Science Stroke Art 2014, a partnership between the Stroke Association and The University of Manchester to support Action on Stroke Month in May 2014.
For more information about Science Stroke Art 2014, visit www.sciencestrokeart.co.uk. For more information about stroke, ring the Helpline on 0303 30 33 100 or visit www.stroke.org.uk.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Two Years

How has your life been so far?

Oh, Hi brain, we’re being a bit deep aren’t we? I’m trying to dream peacefully here!

Just answer the question Bec…

Twenty-one years and sixty-nine days- it’s been OK I suppose. Pretty, flippin’ good actually.
Life didn’t exactly start perfectly. I mean, Mum didn’t get to cuddle me straight away after I was born because of the huge mark on my back, which later turned out to be a life threatening Malignant Melanoma… That wasn’t great. But I was a baby; I don’t remember the majority of what went on through that time. All that sticks in my head is a Tweety Pie, helium balloon hovering above my cot bed.
Because of the whole cancer thing Mum and Dad wrapped me tightly in cotton wool, so tightly I wasn’t allowed to do some of the things the other children on my street were allowed to do. Things like, crossing the road without an adult; we lived on a cul-de-sac, (still do,) and while the other kids who I played out with leisurely ran from curb to curb, I had to take my little legs, as fast as they could run, around the cul-de-sac to meet them on the other side, only for them to shortly decide the adjacent curb was indeed a much better place to play.
I was the youngest of the group and I think, at times, a bit of a burden to the older children. I still loved playing out with them though, even if they did leave me standing in my next door neighbours garden with no one but the huge German Shepard to keep me company, all because, of course, there were only six people allowed in the shed at once, (there was no room for a skinny, little eight year old.) Still the dog and I waited patiently for older kids to get bored of the shed, and back on to the street we went.
No matter how cruel kids can be sometimes, I have nothing but happy memories of playing out on the street when I was little. It was a sad time when one by one they took themselves off to High School, and the days of playing on our bikes/scooters, practising Spice Girls routines, (I was only ever allowed to be Posh Spice, even though Sporty was my favourite,) and long Summer days of attempting to play cricket on someone’s driveway, were slowly becoming memories. Happy memories. Treasured memories.
Primary School was seven years of fun. I made my first ever-best friend, and we lived in each other’s pockets, right the way through to the middle of High School. While in Primary school, almost every Friday evening, either my Mum or my best friends Mum would take us to The Wacky Warehouse, where up until I was seven, I would get hideous stomach and chest pains, and cough my guts up while flailing in the ball pool, (we soon discovered I was an asthmatic… Still am.)
Inhalers close by at all times, my best friend, our close nit friendship group, and I donned over sized, brand new school uniforms and nervously sat our bottoms on the cold, dusty floor of the main hall, where almost two hundred other nervous, eleven year old eyes stared at our new head master; High School.
High School was a festering pool of bitchy hormones and bum fluff moustaches. I loved it. Having already started my periods at the beginning of year six, at just ten years old, I was slightly more advanced in the growth department, than my fellow peers. I was becoming a woman, boobs an’ all.
Friendship groups were a-changing, and the male species were becoming ever more important in our every day lives.
As I advanced from year to year in High School, my confidence grew from strength to strength. I found a love for the Performing Arts, and through school productions I began to make a whole new set of friends, friends whom I had an awful lot in common with. Sadly, my first best friend and I were growing apart. We still loved each other dearly, and made an awful lot of time for each other, but we were growing up. Our lives, our interests were changing. High School was cruel at times. Growing older was hard, but I had to accept it.
Five years filled with friendship shifts, boys, arguments, who fancied who, Rockport’s, so much mascara your eyelids struggled to stay open, homework, hockey in the winter, boys again, and not to mention GCSE’s, I left High School on a, well… high! I had a boyfriend who I’d been introduced to through my cousin, and although he lived eleven miles away, I was completely, and utterly, head over heels, arse over tit in love with him. Chris. My six foot seven, Chris.
The year I finished High School was the year my sister started, and at the time she seemed so much younger than me, even though there is only four years and four months between us. I begrudgingly handed over the reigns of my beloved school to her, and looked forward in to what would so far be the worst year of my life.
College.
During the summer of 2006, on a Sunday evening after a Westlife concert at Chatsworth Hall. Chris dumped me.
My world ended.
My heart felt like it now lived somewhere in my lower intestine.
Yet although I was no longer his girlfriend, I still saw him almost every week, and we still snogged!!!
Chris’s excuse for dumping me was that we were too young to be in love, and so shortly after starting college, and choosing subjects I had little to no interest in, apart from English and Drama, I made one of the worst decisions of my life.
I agreed to be another boy’s girlfriend, but only to make Chris jealous and want me back. My plan didn’t seem to be working, and the longer I stayed this boy’s girlfriend the more he had a mental hold of me… I was changing.
My grades dropped dramatically and I was scared to the leave the house. I refused to answer my phone or see my friends. My relationship with my beloved parents was at an all time low because I was turning in to a different person. My heartbreak for Chris only grew, alongside my brainwashed feelings for this other boy who treated me so badly. My wonderful High School days were over, and I was in an ever-growing pit of despair. Then after a year of complete and utter turmoil I was set free, on a bitterly cold December night when I was left crying on the side of an empty road in the darkness, waiting for my Mum to save me.
Counselling helped me. It helped me a lot. I left college to recover from my year of hell, and returned the following September to complete my A levels.
Chris and I were back together two weeks after I left my terrible mistake. We never stopped loving each other… Never will. Sometimes you need to lose your way in life, to appreciate what you had, what you need.
With everything back on track, my relationships with family, friends and Chris near to perfect, I embarked on a year at University.  What a wonderful year that was. I met some truly fabulous people; friends I will treasure forever. But it just wasn’t meant to be, and shortly in to my second year of studying, it all became too much for me to handle. Being a perfectionist and scared of failure, the constant essays and promise of exams made me unable to continue with studying. My confidence had already taken a beating from my time in college, and had never truly recovered, I made it through my A levels, by the skin of my teeth, my alopecia at an all time high, but the pressure at university was too much, and sadly I had to bow out. After another bout of counselling, and with the support of my family and friends and obviously the constant love from my Chris, I was able to accept and deal with the decision I had made and look forward in to the future and decide what I wanted to do next. For the next eight or so months I continued working at my part time job in a call centre, where luckily my now bestest friend in the world and soul sister, also worked. I’d been working in the Market Research Company since I was sixteen and instantly clicked with this girl who I’d never met before. Now twenty-one, we’ve been best friends for five years and together have gained and lost other so called friends along the years, but never lost sight of each other.
My decision to start a hairdressing course came with a sigh of relief from all of my loved ones. Of course this was the route for me. I had a natural talent when it came to hair, somehow my hands just did the work and in turn made other people look good. I was excited. After a wonderful, yet memorable twenty-first birthday party, which ended, as most parties do, with some numpty trying to ruin it, and a blissful week away in Portugal with Chris and two of our most beloved friends, I was ready and excited to start hairdressing.
I was good at it. It just came naturally, and an annoyed part of my brain questioned why it had taken me this long to realise this was my calling.

Well you do go on with yourself Bec.

Hey, Brain, you asked me the question! I was an English student you know, for a whole year… I like to go on with myself!

Bec, please just pipe down, I need to tell you something quickly. It’s almost 6am on Tuesday 18th October 2011, and you’re about to wake up, and well… Things are going to be different.

Different? Different how? What do you mean?

Bec, I needed you to assess your life, that’s why I asked you the question. I needed you to get things in to order, in to perspective. I needed you to be at peace, because things are about to change. Things are about to change forever.

Brain, you’re scaring me!

Something has happened in your sleep. I know you were fine at the pub quiz last night, I know you’ve not been ill, but a funny thing has happened and part of me has stopped working. I needed you to think about how your life has been so far. I needed you to appreciate the wonderful parts and discard the rubbish, because from the moment you wake up you’re going to be a new Bec.

New? New, as in how?

Bec, it’s nearly time… I’m so sorry I did this to you. Be strong. I promise your family and your friends will be there for you, they’ll help you, but ultimately you have to fight, you have to take charge…

Brain… I’m frightened.


It’s time to wake up now… You can hear Dad going to work… Good luck Bec.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

My New Friend

'...Why did you think she'd had a heart attack?' My Mum asked the nurse.
I lay there, silent, waiting for her to answer.
'Well Rebecca's unusual ECG results were similar to that of a person who has had a heart attack.'
'But I've not?' I asked.
'No, your blood tests came back negative which is good news obviously, but we're still unsure why your results were unusual, so we're going to run a few more tests and keep an eye on you for a couple of days. It may just turn out to be one of those freak things with no explanation. For now I think you should have a couple of hours sleep and I'll be back later when we have a heart trace monitor available.'
'OK, thank you.'
'No worries Rebecca, if you need anything just press your buzzer.'
'I don't want you to leave me Mum.'
'I've got to Bec, they seem to be strict about visitors here, and it means I can sleep at home while you're sleeping here.'
'OK then, but make sure you're back dead on two o'clock.' On my last word I let out the hugest of yawns, so big it made my eyes water.
'I will do sweet heart. I best get back and let Dad and Chris know how you are, and see how Anna is doing.'
'OK, see you later then.'
'See you at two.'
Mum kissed me, and waved until she was out of sight. I flopped back on my pillow and grabbed my phone to see multiple missed calls off Chris. I rang him to tell him what the nurse had said and he shared the confused relief that both Mum and I had expressed. After Chris and I exchanged our, 'See you later's' and, 'Love you's,' I put my phone back on the bedside cupboard and attempted to get comfortable for a well needed nap. Since having the stroke tiredness was a feeling I was becoming used to. Not a day had gone by where I hadn't needed to take a long nap, and even with the extra sleep I was having, my body's energy levels were at an all time low.
Pulling the thin hospital covers up to my neck and wrapping my right arm under my pillow I settled down in to my new hospital bed, and in one, short blink I was swept into sleep.
It was just after midday when I was awoken by a nurse who was hovering over me with a blood pressure cuff. As if it was second nature I held out my right arm to her and pointed my finger so she could click on the oxygen monitor, after she'd shoved the thermometer in my ear and the cuff had ceased squeezing my arm, she seemed satisfied enough to leave me in peace once more.
My neck felt stiff from the position in which I'd slept, so I pushed myself into an almost seated position and took a proper look around my new hospital bay. The young woman in the corner had and oxygen mask on, but seemed contented as she watch her little hospital TV and flicked through a magazine in unison. Her hospital table was covered in magazines and an array of fruit juices, there were bunches of flowers on the window ledge next to her, and if I wasn't mistaken a huge box of biscuits perched on the shelf of the cabinet next to her bed. The lady in the bed straight ahead of me appeared to be in her eighties or even nineties. She looked frail and small, and was propped up in her bed a drip tube, leading from a stand to her arm which was covered up by blankets... I hadn't seen her open her eyes since getting to the ward.
Sighing, I looked to my right, to see the old lady in the bed next to me looking right back at me. Slightly startled, I quickly said, 'Hello,' and smiled.
'Did you have a nice sleep love? You were snoring your pretty little head off.' She giggled as she said this, and I could instantly see kindness in her eyes.
'Oh gosh, was I disturbing you?' I asked, embarrassed by my small sinuses betraying me!
'Of course you didn't love, it was nice to see you have a good rest. I do struggle to sleep in this place.'
'Oh no do you? I could probably sleep anywhere. I'm so tired all the time. How long have you been in here?'
'6 days,' The lady replied, 'I only came to get my bad cough checked out, and I've been in here ever since. They say I've got pneumonia, but I'm feeling much better than I did. I just worry about my husband, because he's been in hospital a few weeks, and they've not let me visit him.'
'Is he in this hospital?' I asked.
'Yes, and I visited him every day. He's due to be discharged soon,but he won't be able to go home if I'm not there. He's not well enough to look after himself properly. We have no children you see. I'd have loved to have a baby, but it never happened for us. We have fabulous friends and neighbours though, and I'm sure if needs must, they'll take care of my husband till I can.'
'I'm sure he'll be fine,' I replied to the nice old lady, 'I'm sure he's just as worried about you, as you are about him.'
'Yes I suppose you're right. So what brings you here today?' The lady sat up, slowly shifted her legs off the bed one at a time, and while wrapping her dressing gown around her, timidly took the few steps over to her arm chair, and settled herself down.
'Well I collapsed while I was at the cinema last night and was unconscious for a few minutes. I was really sick afterwards as well, and they didn't seem to be too happy with my ECG results. I also had a stroke last month, that's why my left arm and leg don't work properly, and why I'm so tired all the time, and I think that's why they're being extra cautious about this.'
'A stroke? You poor love! How old are you?'
'Twenty one.'
'Oh love, you're too young to go through all of this. How are you coping? And you're family? Your poor parents.' The lady looked close to tears, and I didn't know where to look.
'Oh you know, I have good days and bad. We all do. My Mum cried for a full 48 hours at the beginning, but since then she's been more than amazing. My whole family have. I'm very lucky. You'll get to meet them at visiting hours.'
My new friend and I chatted for the next couple of hours and being without my Mum wasn't as terrible as I thought it would be. Selfishly I hoped the lady wouldn't leave hospital until I did, just so I would have someone to chat to, some company. Hospitals are scary, and even though they're filled with people- staff and patients alike, they can be lonely places. You have a lot of time to think, to wallow, to be scared. The hours drag by, with the same four walls staring in on you day and night... But with someone there, someone just to chat to, it makes it that little bit easier.
As two o'clock arrived I looked up to see Chris coming round the corner followed by my Mum and Dad. I introduced them all to my new friend, just as her friends entered the bay to sit with her for a couple of hours. As we both turned our backs to each other and our attentions to our loved ones, I realised my angst had cleared slightly, as I knew when my family had left me once more, I would have my new companion to turn to...        

Monday, 1 July 2013

The New Ward

'I want to go home.'
'Bec, please don't worry, your Mum is going to stay with you tonight and we'll all be back to see you tomorrow.'
Chris was holding my hand, his face creased with worry, his thumb stroking back and forth along the sensation-less skin.
'Well text me when you get in and let me know how Anna is, she looked so ill.'
After exchanging goodbyes with my Dad and Chris, Mum and I waited in Accident and Emergency while I lay hooked up to monitors that beeped every other second. From our little corner of the manic, emergency ward we watched as patients passed us by; some in chairs, others in beds, many Friday night, drunken casualties, and a few appearing to be critical. Mum rested her head on my thigh, her face tilted to face me. She looked drained and appeared as exasperated as I felt. 
Why was I back in that hospital again? I was just about getting used to my new life at home, and yet I found my self surrounded by medical staff and scary machines once again.
One of the consultants who had been hovering around the ECG machine while I was connected to it, reappeared and explained to Mum and I, that they were going to move me to a temporary ward, while they found a permanent one for me to reside in.
'Why do I have to stay in hospital?' I asked bluntly, completely perturbed by the situation I was once again finding my self in.
'Well Rebecca, your ECG wasn't completely normal, so we're going to run a couple of blood tests, just to make sure everything is OK.'
Too tired to argue with, or question him, I smiled him away from my bedside, and offered out my arm to the nurse and she took multiple samples of my now thinned blood. As if by magic a porter appeared and as the nurse collected my notes, Mum by my side, pushed by the porter we were led along the silent hospital corridors, a shiver escaping me, partly due to the open windows, and partly because I was scared to be back.
We entered a ward that was a lot less modern in comparison to the high tech' A and E department, with old fashioned, insultingly patterned curtains that hung limply, separating each bed. The porter pushed me to the furthest depth of the ward, and positioned me in to a dark, dank corner, where I was only a couple of feet away from the sleeping patient that lay in front of me, and inches away from a coughing woman in the bed next to me.
It was around 1.00am. Mum was sat in that oh-so-familiar hospital arm chair, with a blanket placed over her knees that a kind old nurse had forced upon her. Both of us drifted in and out of sleep, often being woken up by loud complaints, hacking coughs, low groans, and the unconvincing whispers of the night staff. Just as I had been used to the last time, I was purposefully woken at intervals to have my vitals checked, and after a very broken, half sleep, 8am appeared on the clock.
A young, and moody looking doctor came to the end of my uncomfortable bed and briefly introduced himself while making no eye contact with either me, or my mother. He trawled through my extensive notes, while comparing charts, and after telling me I would be being moved to a permanent ward in the next half an hour, off he went with the briefest of goodbyes and a cursory nod.
'Well someone's not happy to be here on a Saturday morning are they!' said Mum as she rolled her eyes.
'Moody bastard!'
'Rebecca, language...'
'Breakfast time.' A nurse whipped open the curtain surround us and handed Mum and I a plate of toast each with butter and jam, and two extremely welcome, strong looking cups of coffee. 
'Got to keep Mum fed and watered as well haven't we.' The nurse smiled as she pushed her trolley onwards, my Mums appreciative comments following her.
By 9 am both Mum and I were nodding off again, our heads lolling and eyes rolling, and just as we were both about to give in to our exhaustion, an overly expressive, young nurse with a sing song voice, who was tailed by a porter collected Mum and me, and we were on the road once more. 
A1...My new ward. A men's ward predominantly, with a bay just feet from the entrance dedicated to women. There were only four beds in the bay,and three of them were occupied by ladies who were finishing the remnants of their breakfasts. Two of the women were very definitely pensioners while the woman in the far corner, who was surrounded by cards, magazines and flowers, seemed to be well in to her thirties. 
I was helped off the small, slippery bed that I had lay in for the last 12 hours, and flopped on to a bigger, freshly made bed, that was enticing me in to a state of unconsciousness and dreams. 
The ward sister sidled over. She had a sleek looking, chocolate brown bob, and her make up was immaculate. With a big smile on her face she welcomed us to the ward and shook my Mums hand, while kindly, yet authoritatively dismissing the girly whirly nurse, who had accompanied me to the new ward, back to her duties. I liked her instantly.
'Hi Rebecca, lovely to meet you. I know you and your Mum must be tired, so I'll let you get your head down asap, and I'm sure your Mum wants to get home and have some shut eye before visiting hours.'
The thought of my Mum having to leave me alone made my heart skip several beats. I was used to having her with me 24/7, I needed her, but I didn't say anything. My poor Mum looked exhausted and beaten. I'm positive she hated the hospital just as much as I did. Neither her or my feet had touched the ground since the 18th October 2011. We were tired. My whole family and I were tired. 
As I was rearranging my covers and Mum was adjusting my pillows, the ward sister flicked through my notes until she found the page she wanted,
'Well I have some good news from your blood tests... You've not had a heart attack like we first thought.'

'...What?'

Friday, 22 March 2013

Rebecca

'Rebecca?'

I was sure someone was calling me, but it seemed so distant, and the sound was slipping away into the quiet... In to peace once more.

'Rebecca?!'

There it was again. So urgent. Why were people shouting my name? I wanted to answer them, but I couldn't. I wanted to tell them to stop bothering me, to let me rest, but they carried on shouting my name. There was more than one person, there were lots of people. Why did they all sound scared, why were they all panicking?

'Rebecca?!'

Something was on my face. Get it off! Why was something covering my mouth and my nose. Who were all these people? Why couldn't I answer them? What was on my face?!

'Rebecca?! Bec?!'

Mum? I could hear Mum. Chris? Was that Chris, and Dad? But there were other people as well. They were talking fast, and it was scaring me, I could feel them acting in haste around me. My eyes felt heavy, but I wanted to see what was going on. I tried with all my might to wrench the lids away from my eye balls, but I could only see through slits. It was bright. Unfamiliar.
Hang on a minute!
Where was Anna?
Anna?
My sister?
Was she OK?
I tried even harder to open my eyes, and straight away I focus on Mum's worried face. My eyes swiftly scanned around the faces that were staring at me. I didn't recognise anybody but, my family. Where was I? Last I remembered, I was in the cinema... Surely I wasn't still there.
It suddenly occurred to me that I was lying on the floor. What happened?
'Mum?'
'Bec, you collapsed, we're still in the cinema.'
'Hello, Rebecca, can you hear me?' A woman dressed in green was looking down at me, her fingers pressed to my wrist, assessing my pulse. A paramedic? A man, dressed in the same green uniform was talking to Dad, and Chris. I looked round and finally spotted Anna's little white face, staring at me, she was sat behind one of the cinema chairs. She looked wide eyed, and worried, and I just wanted to go and sit with her.
I went to move my head, but as soon as I did a wave of nausea attacked my body, making me convulse... I  was going to be sick. The paramedics flipped me on my side in to the recovery position, but the sickness passed, and I just wanted to sleep. I didn't care that I was on the floor of the cinema, surrounded by strangers, I just wanted to close my eyes and slip back in to a state of unconscious. But before I knew it, the male paramedic was lifting me into my wheelchair, I realised that attached to my face was an oxygen mask, and as my body was being moved without my permission, I gulped in mouthfuls of pure oxygen, as I was smacked in the face once more with the unwelcome sensation of sickness.
I allowed my head to loll to one side, as I tried to ignore my body's urge to throw up, and while I was being wheeled out of the theatre, I glanced to the side to see rows, and rows of people staring back at me. I felt too poorly to allow myself to recognise how humiliating the situation was, but deep down I knew this would be a story that we would be telling for a long time.
Senior members of the Trafford Centre staff were meeting us at different points on the journey down to the ambulance but I had next to no energy to manage to even lift my head in acknowledgement. I needed to get out. I needed fresh air. I needed to be sick... very, very, sick.
I could hear the hushed, but worried tones, of the conversation my family were having with the female paramedic. My first outing since the stroke, ending in disaster... I fought the urge to cry.
Just get me home.
As Mum finalised our details with a manager from the Trafford Centre, and Anna and Chris kissed me goodbye, and promised to meet us at the hospital, Dad followed as the paramedic wheeled me in to the back of that, oh-so-familiar, ambulance, and the doors were only shut as soon as Mum was seated.
Squeezing my forehead with my right hand, I tried to answer the questions the paramedic was throwing at me, but my concentration could focus on nothing but the vomit that was rising through my body, and this time there was no stopping it. Quick thinking from Dad, I keeled over the grey cardboard bowl he held in front of me, and then when I had filled the first one, he rubbed my back as I began to empty my guts in to the second bowl.
Fluctuating from boiling to freezing every two minutes, with sweat dripping from my brow, and my body shaking uncontrollably, I closed my eyes as Dad stroked my head, and listened to Mum's worried sobs as we travelled closer to the hospital.
Chris and Anna were waiting for us as promised, and my poor sister looked terribly pale, her big brown eyes ringed with grey circles, and her hands shaking from the cold she couldn't escape.
As I lay in my bed on wheels in the hospital I had been discharged from only a couple of weeks ago, I listened to the story of what had happened in the cinema.
It all began as Dad heard Anna making a choking noise. He thought, at first, that she was coughing, but as he asked her if she was OK, he realised that she was choking. He shouted my Mum while at the same time, trying to wrench Anna's jaw apart, when he finally managed to get in to her mouth he had to pull her tongue from the back of her throat. While this was happening, I apparently grabbed the back of my Mum's top, and said, 'Mum, I'm going too,' and as she turned back to see if I was OK, I fell from my seat and began to shake uncontrollably. Mum who's attention was torn away from Anna, shouted Chris who had re-entered the cinema, (as he had been out to call an ambulance for Anna,) to help me. In the time from Chris re-entering the cinema, to see the commotion, Anna had come round and was  talking, and said she felt OK. Dad took over from Mum, and lifted me over the seats to Chris, so Chris could get me on the floor in a more open space. Mum went over to check on Anna. The first aid staff from the Trafford Centre, along with two nurses who had been watching the film, were apparently checking over my vitals, and giving me oxygen, all while I lay unconscious, being watched over by around 100 sets of strangers eyes.

At the same time as being told the story of the night's events, I was also being given an ECG which we all noticed was being checked over by more than one senior doctor... something wasn't right.

'Rebecca? I'm afraid we're going to have to keep you in.'

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Imagine



Imagine living life as an immortal. The world around you gliding through the seasons, everyday a change occurring, whether it be life changing, or excruciatingly mundane, yet you're not floating along with it. In a heartbeat gentle buds escape from stark, skeletal tree branches, accenting that the brutal cold is now a memory, as sunshine forges it's way into people's hope, creating false promise everyday until the first leaf fall-a sure sign of the cycle beginning once more. Imagine watching people live what they believe is a normal life, with every confidence in themselves that they know what the future holds, their plans exciting them, the unknown nonexistent. Imagine being at a standstill, time ticking away, yet you are stark, a statue. Imagine watching people achieve, progress, even fall back a few paces, while you wait for life to remember you. While you beg to live again. Imagine.

I was beginning to fall in to a routine just like I had done on the ward. I was woken up by mum every week day when Chris was at uni, and she helped me to the bathroom and stood with me as I brushed my teeth. She then proceeded to sit me on the toilet seat as she undressed me for my shower and then gently washed me as I sat on my new bath bench. Mum would then go on to help me get dry and dressed in to comfy day clothes and she would help me downstairs to my now allocated spot on the settee, while she made my breakfast and I nonchalantly flicked through the usual drawl that is daytime TV. 
We had had at least one visitor every day since leaving hospital. Each of them wanting to know the story of what had happened and how I had been affected, what the prognosis was and how I felt about it. I tried to be upbeat for each of my visitors and engaged in whatever conversation they wanted to involve me in, but it was painfully difficult to ignore the tiredness that plagued my whole being from the moment I awoke till the precious second I lay my head on my pillow. 
As it had been in hospital, napping was very much still an integral part of my new daily regime. At times I would fall asleep while Mum was still entertaining a guest, but I was never chastised for what some may deem a very rude thing to do. People pitied me... I pitied me. 
The penultimate film of the Twilight series, 'Breaking Dawn pt1' was out in the cinema, and on a day where I felt particularly upbeat I decided I'd like to go to the cinema and watch it with my family. As a fan of the Twilight saga I had been anticipating this film and didn't want to wait till it was out on DVD to watch it. I asked my Mum if we could all go and see it and with a grim expression of uncertainty, she reasoned the request with my Dad and they finally agreed.
I had napped in the afternoon of course, and so was sure I'd make it through the film without falling asleep. 
I was helped in to the front seat of my Dads car while Chris, Mum and Anna squashed in to the back. We waited as Dad wrestled the wheelchair in to the boot, and then we made our way to the Trafford Centre. All of a sudden I felt quite unsettled at the prospect of going to a place filled with strangers. I was nervous about the thought of seeing people we recognised and having to make polite chit chat and also worried about the sympathy stares I would get from passers by I didn't know, just because I was in a wheel chair.
I attempted to bury my anxiety's in to the back of my mind, eager to enjoy an outing with my family, desperate to have a night out as close to normal as possible in the state I was in. 
When we arrived and parked up, I waited as everyone piled out of the car, turning my head to see Chris heave the wheelchair out of the boot and assemble the foot rests... My carriage awaited. 
Dad wrapped his arm around me and gently helped me exit the car and assisted as I reseated myself in the chair. My heart strained with embarrassment as I received my first mercy look, and I felt my cheeks warm in discomfort. 
Both Dad and Chris tried to make light of the situation and both had me giggling as they ran pushing the wheel chair and when the path was clear, let go of the chair handles, so that for a couple of seconds I was wheeling along on my own with absolutely no means of being able to stop myself. I loved the men in my life for being so silly and carefree. They didn't treat me like I was delicate glass waiting to be broken. They made everything not so bleak. Thank God for them.
We made our way through the Trafford Centre and went in the lifts up to the cinema complex. I waited with my sister and Chris as Mum and Dad went to buy the tickets and I allowed myself to get a little bit excited about watching the film.
I focused on chatting to Chris and Anna, who I felt, without them knowing so, were acting as my bodyguards, protecting me from the prying eyes of passers by. 
I was eager to get in to the screen room that was showing our film where it would be dark and I could focus on the story and be confident that everyone else's attention would lie within the projection too.
Mum and Dad waved us over when they had paid for the tickets and discussed wheelchair formalities, and when Mum had checked that I felt well enough to watch the film and I convinced her I was excited, we followed a bustling crowd to claim our seats in the theatre.
I watched as the beautiful people on the screen laughed and cried their way through the fictional drama, and found myself sighing away the weight of my own storyline and immersing myself in the very made up lives of these layered characters. 
I clung on to Chris's hand as I clung on to the normality of my current situation, guessing by how long we had been in the cinema that there couldn't be much more of the film left. I didn't want it to end as I had enjoyed it so much, but I was also pleased with how successful the outing had gone.
The film was nearing a crucial point and I was deeply involved in the scene until I heard my Dad shout for my Mum. 
My attention was clawed away from the film and I searched for my Dads face in the darkness to see what he wanted my Mum for.
'She's swallowing her tongue... Anna's swallowing her tongue. Quick! Call an ambulance!'
Mum leaped from her seat to Anna's aid, while Chris ran from the theatre to get help from staff and call an ambulance. 
I looked on from my seat at the very real scene that was occurring just feet away from me, and then my head began to feel funny, as though it was falling through space and not reaching a landing point. The last thing I remember was reaching out and grabbing the back of my Mum's t-shirt begging her to help me, as I slammed in to an unconscious state...

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Swish Swoo

Having a stroke has actually made my life quite exciting, I get asked to do things and go to things that previously I would never have known about.
Back in November I had an email from a friend at the Stroke Association telling me about a girl of a similar age to me wanting to put on a charity fashion show in Liverpool, in aid of raising money for the Stroke Association.
Of course I was interested.
Being a young Stroke Survivor the message I always want to get across is that there is Life After Stroke.
This message is something the girl who wanted to put on the fashion show also wanted to put out there.
Her request was for me to make a speech about my life pre stroke, then tell people the story of when I had my stroke, but most importantly, my life after stroke.
I was nervous about standing up in front of a room full of people and telling my story, but I want to get the message out there.
I had to ignore my nerves, put on my biggest smile, get out there and do it... So I did.
Here is a video of my speech.
Also an explanation about the man who is standing next to me... I couldn't hold a microphone and my speech at the same time, and apparently they couldn't find me a microphone stand... So I made a new, half dressed friend...
Enjoy.