Marie Walsh, a nurse living in Clonsilla in Dublin, was 33 when she had†a stroke.
I didnít know that much about strokes before I had one. As a nurse, I had cared for people in the past who had strokes, but really I was a novice.
Before my stroke in January, I thought that strokes affected older people and that to have a stroke you had to have risk factors Ė high blood pressure, family history, something like that. I had none of those things Ė I donít smoke, thereís no history of strokes in my family. I was on the pill and I knew that had a small risk of stroke, but there was nothing else that would have made me think it would happen to me.
The day I had my stroke was a Friday. I was in work and I felt fine. A slight numbness started in my mouth, it was as though my tongue was too fat. As the day went on I was feeling tired a bit strange Ė I felt like I was talking nonsense, but it was Friday and had been a long week so I didnít think anything of it. When I was finishing up and handing over to the staff nurse for some reason I said to her, ĎI feel like Iím having a strokeí. I donít know why I said that. I didnít really think I was Ė I was just trying to explain why I was talking rubbish. Normally, I drive a bike home from work and because I was feeling strange I wondered if I was safe to drive, but in the end I decided to go ahead.
I feel asleep on the couch when I got home. When my boyfriend Lee came home I woke up and suddenly I had a pain in my head and I couldnít speak properly. I felt as though my ability to speak was just going from me. Then my sight went for a couple of minutes.† Lee first thought I was joking but then he realised something was wrong.† I mouthed 'stroke' because I instantly thought, 'Iím having a stroke'. Lee was really worried and called an ambulance. He told them that his girlfriend is a nurse and sheís thinks sheís having a stroke.
I was sitting in the couch squishing my hands together because I was sure that one side of my body would soon lose power. I always thought that if you were having a stroke you would become paralysed down one side.
We live in Clonsilla in Dublin and they said there were no ambulances available in the area. Ambulance control told Lee they would send a fire engine. When the firemen [who are paramedics] arrived they told me I was grand and that I was probably having a panic attack. But I was sitting there making the guttural noise that I had heard older people with strokes making. They gave me a pen and paper to see if I could write, but I couldnít. It was an hour or so before the ambulance eventually came. In the meantime, the paramedics gave me some oxygen and sat chatting to Lee trying to calm the two of us down.
There was some discussion about what hospital they would send me to. Because I worked there, I knew that Tallaght had a good stroke service. Eventually the way it worked out, they did bring me to Tallaght.
Once I got to the hospital they gave me a CT scan almost immediately. The consultant was there waiting, ready to do thrombolysis if it was suitable for me. I think that was because while we were waiting at home Lee rang my friends in the hospital and they told A&E I might be having a stroke.
The CT was not conclusive and my speech started to come back. They thought that perhaps it wasnít a stroke, maybe a migraine. I felt a bit silly then thinking I had panicked everyone for no reason.† They decided to keep me overnight for observation.
In the morning a health care assistant came in to make my bed. She†was chatting to me and then I realised that I couldnít speak properly again. The consultant came in and he saw that my face was asymmetrical. Later that day I had an MRI, and it confirmed that I had a clot, which had caused a stroke.
It didnít really sink in that it was a stroke. I had never expected something like that to happen to me. I didnít actually tell my parents until two days later because I didnít want to worry them. In a way, I was trying to be fine for everyone else.
In the hospital I got brilliant treatment. I didnít fit the criteria for thrombolysis but it was there and waiting for me, if I had been suitable. Over the next couple of days they ran loads of tests Ė blood, echo, cardiac Ė to figure out why I had had the stroke. They were covering every base. At the end of the week, on the day I thought Iíd be going home, I met with a neurologist who gave me a full test, asking me loads of questions to see how my brain was working. It was the first time my brain was really put to†the test and I realised then that I couldnít read properly and I couldnít remember things. I thought, ĎMy head is brokení. Instead of being able to go home I was kept in the hospital for another 2 weeks.
Finally, I went home. But after a couple of days I had another funny turn with the muscles in my face becoming very weak. It made me scared because I realised it could happen again. I was back in hospital then for another two weeks.
After I was out of hospital the second time, I wanted to get well enough to go back to work as soon possible. At the beginning I thought Iíd go back after a month, but it took three months until I was ready.
It took quite awhile for my speech to come back. In the first few weeks, I noticed that my speech wouldnít properly wake up until the afternoon. That made me really scared that I wouldnít be able to go back to do my job because as a ward manager a lot of my work on the wards is done before noon. Ten months on I still find that my speech slows down when Iím tired. I have to look after myself more. For example, I was never a big drinker but when I had a glass of wine about three†months after the stroke it made me feel very sleepy and reminded me of when I had the stroke. You really have to mind myself more and be a bit careful. It does take your confidence away.
I found it really hard to read initially. The lines were jumping up and down on the page. That was really difficult because I love reading. I was getting lots of speech and language therapy at the beginning and I was pushing to get better as quickly as I could. I had been doing a Masters in Health Management before the stroke and I just wanted to keep going at the same pace. In a way I had to crash and burn to realise that I was being silly. My speech and language therapist advised me to take it easy, to read light books and get back to reading that way first.
Even now months on, I find that I have to concentrate much more when Iím studying. Where once I had music on in the background while I read or did assignments really quickly, now Iím much more regimented, writing lists of what I have to do and then actually following them!
One of the things that was most difficult for me was giving my brain time to heal. The way I describe recovering from a stroke is that when you break your leg you put it in a cast to rest, but when your brain needs to heal you canít put it in a cast. You have to just give it rest, time and patience.
When I went back to work people were very supportive. But because I donít have physical signs of my stroke people can tend to forget. They might correct my grammar or something like that. They forget that mixing up words is a result of my stroke.
I think it was hard for people to hear about what had happened to me. Iím young, so itís freaky for people to hear Iíve had a stroke. If it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone. Iím very open though - my Facebook profile picture is actually the MRI scan of my brain after the stroke! And although at first people often donít know how to react, by being open about it myself I think it makes it easier for them.
One of the things Iíve done is given my stroke a name, ĎBernardí. Itís easier for me and for other people to talk about ĎBernardí, rather than Ďthe strokeí. One day I got a chance to look at my scans and I could see the clot in my brain very clearly. Everyone calls this a Ďlesioní, but I decided it was more of a ĎBernardí! It gives me a third person to blame. If I forget a word, itís not me, itís Bernard. Or if I feel a little unwell, Iíll tell people, ĎBernardís having a momentí.
There is a huge psychological aspect to having a stroke. I was afraid that it would happen again and worried about what I would do if I was on my own if something happened. Lee, my family and friends were all nervous when I did something for the first time. Everything is nerve wracking the first time, even going away for the weekend.
Iím not really into going to support groups, but I would like to meet more people like me. Because I was young when I had my stroke, I donít have much in common with the people I meet in the Stroke Clinics who are often a lot older and dealing with different issues.
Being a young woman having a stroke means you have to consider certain things. I was told that I shouldnít get pregnant for eighteen months and would have to stop taking the pill. After having a stroke having a baby would be a much more serious decision for me. There are a lot more risks involved and Iím on medicine that I couldnít take if I was pregnant.
When I had my stroke, I did what any person would do and went on the internet. I was dying to find out more, especially about young women who had had strokes. I wanted to get in contact with other women who had gone on to have a baby after a stroke. But it is hard to get information on things like that. Iíve also read a lot of books written by people who've had strokes. It is good to read about others like you.
One of my friends says to me now that Iím such a lucky, unlucky person. In that, after having my stroke Iíve made such a good recovery. Iím back at work. Iím hoping to finish my Masters soon. Iím back riding my Vespa scooter. In so many ways Iíve been very lucky.
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