Everyone’s experience of the NHS is different, especially during episodes of trauma. Horror stories abound in mainstream media and on social media. My tale is different. I am sure I had more than my fair share of luck but I also witnessed first-hand the professionalism, dedication and sheer hard work of NHS staff in often trying circumstances.
I wasn’t sure about writing this article. But so many people have asked about what happened and what my experiences were. Some are asking out of politeness, others are curious. Some want to share experiences. At least a few are thinking, “that could have been me”, and want to know the drill. And there is a degree of catharsis in writing about traumatic experiences.
No one can predict a stroke, though pre-existing health conditions and life style choices can increase the likelihood. I certainly wasn’t expecting a stroke when I got out of bed at 3.30am on Thursday, 11 January. It was a normal morning. I went to the bathroom and made a cuppa. I then sat down to catch up with overnight Facebook and blog comments, and to begin to work through dozens of unread and unanswered emails.
Sometime around 4.30am, I dropped a couple of items that I had picked up with my left hand. I noticed the hand was numb. I am familiar with the symptoms of stroke but oddly did not think of that at the time. A few minutes later, I needed to go to the kitchen. When I tried to stand up, my legs collapsed and I ended up on the floor. I struggled for some minutes to get into a chair and failed. My left arm and left leg were out of action. My right arm was fine but my right leg was too weak to push my body upward or support me.
By this point, I knew what had happened. I needed help but had one problem. I was on the floor and both phones were on the top of the filing cabinets. In the next few minutes, I perfected the art of “buttock walking”, swaying my body from side to side to move across to the cabinets. I reached for the power cord to the phone handset and pulled it. The phone shot off the filing cabinet and my brain instructed my left hand to catch it. Obviously, that didn’t work. After more buttock walking, I collected the batteries and other pieces, and reassembled the handset. I rang 111.
This was a mistake. The instructions on stroke are clear. Stroke is a time critical event and if you have a potential stroke or are with someone with a potential stroke ring 999 immediately.
It was the quiet time of night and I got a response from 111 within a couple of minutes. I was taken through the symptoms and provided my address and keysafe code. I had to repeat this a few times as my voice was not clear at times. I got the impression that words formed in my head were different from the sounds coming out of my mouth.
An ambulance was dispatched. The crew arrived in about half an hour – I don’t have an accurate recollection of timing. By this time, I had moved to face the front door and was sitting there with Mel the Collie, who was registering a mixture of concern and hope for an early morning walk.
The ambulance dispatchers hadn’t passed the keycode to the ambulance crew or the location of the keysafe. Paramedic Paul shouted through the letter box. I shouted instructions back. Again, I struggled to articulate some words that were clearly formed in my mind. At one point, I heard myself shout a number that was not the one in my head. But it all got solved in under five minutes and the crew were in. Everything was professional from that moment. The crew collected some essentials, including medications, trousers and mobile phone, and we were away.
We arrived at Hereford A&E around half-an-hour later. Paramedic Paul had already radioed ahead with a description of my condition and that I was “F.A.S.T Positive”. I was straight into triage and examined by reassuring nurses and doctors. My speech had returned to normal but not movement. I don’t have a good recollection of what happened in triage but there was much talk of the four hour window to give one treatment or another.
After maybe forty minutes, it was clear that I was stable and I was moved out into an A&E bay. I heard one nurse hurrying past say, “there are no beds anywhere in the hospital.” I resigned myself to waiting for hours on the trolley. But my luck held. I was moved within a couple of hours. I reckon I went from triage to admittance to the acute stroke unit on Wye Ward in not much over three hours.
I was treated extraordinarily well on Wye Ward. But it was an eye opener. I learnt a lot about the difficulties of mixed sex bays and the complexities of stroke and dementia. Also about the dedication of NHS staff. I’ll write on this in a second article.
. I believe buttock walking should be a new Olympic Sport.
. I have installed a new phone system to prevent any repeat of this difficulty. I needed a more functional phone system anyway.
. The keysafe will soon be fluorescent yellow.
. While I am not expecting another stroke, I am putting together an emergency bag to be kept on the hat rack. It will contain essential medication, my repeat prescription list, list of medical conditions, documentation on next of kin, friends, etc., change of undies, a phone charger (why does every phone have a different charger?) and a jar of Marmite.