On 18 July 2004 I wakened in an Oslo hotel to find myself paralysed and struggling to speak. During the night I had suffered a major stroke. I was alone and terrified and about to spend four months in hospital in Oslo and Aberdeen. For my wife and for me, this would be followed by years of struggling to return to some kind of normality. There’s nothing you can do to prepare for that, and you – and your partner – need psychological and practical support in the long recovery process.
When I fell ill, I knew nothing about the medical emergency that is stroke and the devastating consequences it can bring – some of which are much worse than anything I have suffered. I’ve always been a bit of a scribbler, so after many months had passed, I regained sufficient energy to write, with the help of my whippet, Hamish, Man, Dog, Stroke. This is an account of my experience of stroke and its aftermath. The book is intended to help and inform anyone with an interest in this serious health condition which each year affects for the first time approximately 150,000 people across the UK. At just shy of 100 pages, it’s a fairly short book, partly because it is aimed at other stroke survivors, many of whom will struggle to concentrate on anything longer. It is also aimed at medical professionals, in an attempt to give a patient perspective of life in their hands.
That book was uncomfortable to write and for some health professionals it may be uncomfortable to read. Don’t get me wrong. I owe my survival and continuing recovery to the work of clinicians and AHPs of several disciplines. Since suffering the stroke, I have tried to give something back by contributing to the work of the NHS in various ways, including as a Public Partner with Healthcare Improvement Scotland and then as a Non-executive Director on the Board of NHS Grampian. I am now an active volunteer with the Stroke Association, have been a member of the Aberdeenshire IJB and believe passionately that we must get integration to work well.
All of this has given me an insight into the workings of our NHS in Scotland at many levels, so I know the vital contribution that AHPs of all disciplines make to the wellbeing and recovery of patients. You are, or should be, a key part of health care teams in acute and community settings. I also understand the frustrations that may exist for some of you. Lying weak and powerless in a stroke unit in Aberdeen, I soon became acutely aware of the lack of therapists compared to what I had seen in Norway. I could not help asking myself, is this the best we could do for staff and patients dealing with a serious medical condition that affects all ages?
For some physiotherapists and other AHPs, whether working in hospital or in the community, it must be utterly frustrating to have such limited time with individuals and to know that for many patients there is unfulfilled potential there that could be realised if only there was more time and more manpower.
In my case, I left hospital in a wheelchair, but thanks to a brilliant private physiotherapist, I can now walk in the woods with Hamish’s successor. I am fortunate in that I could (just) afford this. Many cannot. It saddens me to see so many people forced to choose expensive private care for the treatment of certain conditions simply because of long waiting times and limited resources in the NHS and social care. It must sadden many AHPs as well.
On a lighter note, I was encouraged to see, for the first time, that stroke was mentioned in this year’s programme for government. We will need to see how that translates into action, but I hope its inclusion encourages AHPs who work in that field. You deserve no less.
Eric Sinclair’s book “Man, Dog, Stroke” is available from all good bookshops, on Amazon (ISBN 978-0-9570995-0-0) and on his blog at www.mandogstroke.com. All proceeds go to the Stroke Association in Scotland.