Tommy, a father of six, is 63 years of age and lives in Sandyford, Dublin.
I was never sick a day in my life. The only problems I ever had were cuts and bruises, through my work as a builder. I was in the building game for over thirty years. I was so fit; I thought there was no way a stroke could happen to me. I used to put the young men I worked with to shame.
The day I had my stroke was a Saturday. It was unusual for me not to be working on a Saturday.† I was used to putting in six or seven day weeks. I woke up that morning and went down to have some tea and toast. I was looking at TV when my son came in and said, ĎWhatís wrong with you?í I didnít know what he was talking about, I felt fine. The stroke was only starting to come on then.
I had had a lot of things on mind; it had probably been coming to a head for a while. I had been going to my doctor over the last year, complaining that I didnít quite feel right. I couldnít quite put my finger on what was wrong. My doctor did blood tests and things and couldnít find anything. He told me that there was nothing to worry about and that if he had blood like mine he would bottle it!
My son called an ambulance to get me to hospital. I remember getting into it and they brought me to nearby St. Vincentís University Hospital. They gave me a brain scan and saw I had a bleed in my brain. I was taken straight to a Beaumount Hospital which treats a lot of brain injury and stroke patients.
At that stage everything was in a haze. Every now and again I would wake up and not know where I was. Then I would drift off again.
I donít know how long after it was, but when I woke up properly I was in St. Vincentís Hospital, in a bed beside the window. I got out of the bed, crawling on my hands and knees. I had to get to the window so that I could look out and see where I was. I didnít have the strength though so as I was going back to bed I fell on the floor. Eventually by crawling and pulling myself up I got back into the bed.
After that I asked the nurses to move the bed a foot closer to the window so that when I got up from the bed I could stand up holding onto the windowsill. I was always getting out and looking out the window. Everyone thought that I just wanted to look out the window, but that wasnít it, I was working on my leg. I was standing there so that the strength would build up in my leg.
While I was in St. Vincentís hospital I started getting physiotherapy. But I didnít think that I was getting enough to really make a difference. I told my physio that one hour a day is no use to me. So she got me a machine to help with my balance. When I stood on it, it would light up green or red depending on whether I was standing straight. I had to hide the machine under my bed because I wasnít meant to have it at all!
At the beginning I couldnít speak. All the things were in my head but they didnít come out of my mouth. I would be thinking of something and then, all of a sudden, something else would come into my mind.
I had two speech and language therapists Ė one was a student who was observing the sessions. I would sit facing the therapist and the student would sit off to my left. I could see her out of the corner of my eye. I thought that I was saying what I was thinking and talking perfectly naturally. But I could see the student getting embarrassed and wincing when I was talking. I was actually cursing rather than speaking but I had no idea. The student therapist had a really good idea; she put a swear box on the table for my sessions, every time I cursed I had to put money in the box. I donít know exactly how much went into that box, but it must have been an awful lot because my pockets were empty!
I really think that swear box helped me get over the problem I had with my speech.†
I used to be brought down to physio in a wheelchair. After doing therapy Iíd ask the physio to leave my wheelchair halfway up the hall so that I could walk up to it. I did that over and over again until eventually I didnít need the wheelchair to get back to bed. I walked all the way back, even though my walking was still very bad at that stage.
I think it was because of things like that, that showed that I was very determined that they told me I was the ideal type of person to go to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire.
At first, because the hospital at Dun Laoghaire was so big, I used a wheelchair to move around it. But as soon I got used to the hospital I would ask the nurses to do the same thing as in Vincentís Ė to move the wheelchair up the corridor so I would have to walk up to it. Eventually I had it taken out of my sight entirely.
They helped me a lot, the staff in Vincentís and Dun Laoghaire because they knew I had determination. After I was discharged from Dun Laoghaire I kept going there once a week as an outpatient.
My speech didnít come back properly until early this year. I found it difficult not to be able to talk to people in the way I would have been able to before. When I came out of hospital I wanted to explain to people how I felt and help them to know how to react to me. I wrote down on a piece of paper how I was feeling and I used to give it to people I met:
"The way I am now and the way I was before are two different people, before I was able to talk with ease. Since the stroke I am finding it very hard to get out my words together. It takes me time so if you take time with me, I will get to the end of the story.
Do not feel embarrassed if you do not understand what I am saying, it will all come right in the end, what I am saying to you. It may take time so do not feel embarrassed or lose eye contact. Peopleís names are particularly hard for me to remember and say and sometimes it takes a while for me to say out names of places. If I get stuck and cannot find a word, I will give a description around it so you can get what it is I am talking about. Sometimes I get things wrong, but they will only be minor things.
I can read but if it is a long sentence or I have to take my time and read it 3 or 4 times. If I need your help I will ask you".
Signed: Tommy Hankey
They say you canít give up on your rehab. The things I do at home, like putting on the washing, hanging it on the line, bringing it all in again Ė all of that is physio for me. Every day, I go for walk without my cane. The cane is more or less something for me to cling onto at the moment. Thatíll be the next thing to go. Iíll get rid of it eventually.
Wherever I am I am always working at building up my strength. Sometimes at night I fall asleep in my chair. Thatís because Iím tired from doing things all day. Even when Iím sitting in my chair I am straightening out my legs or moving my arms.
One of the things that made my recovery easier is that Iíve always been ambidextrous. I think that comes from working in the building trade and having to do things with both your hands. After my stroke that meant that I could switch to using my good hand.
My one big issue is that I donít think we get enough treatment. Iím getting physio just once a week now. And anytime you donít have an appointment for a while you go into a rut. I think Iíd be getting better faster if I was getting physio twice a week. But then again with so many people needing these services, I know I am lucky to get it at all.
Iím just about to start a new treatment Ė Botox Ė the stuff women get on their faces. It is meant to help the muscles in my arm and hand relax and straighten out. After my stroke my fist was clenched in a ball and really, really tight. I kept working at it to get more movement into it. Iím hoping that the Botox will be another way of building up power. From what Iíve heard it doesnít work for everyone, but it might do me some good. Iím motivated so I hope thatíll help.
Rehabilitation for me is about coming up against a brick wall when you canít do something. And then you get through that wall and youíre off again. Then you get to another wall and you have to work to get over that. It makes it easier the more walls you get over. I think I need the walls to be there because they keep me on the straight and narrow. If there wasnít another wall for me to get over, Iíd feel like I was doing something wrong.
- Stroke Forum
- The Call to Action
- F.A.S.T. Campaign
- Learn About Stroke
- Campaign Centre
- Media Centre
- Stroke Support
- Survivor Stories
- Lars O'Reilly
- Ciaran Dunne
- Jerry Murphy
- Michael Smithers
- Joe Fahy
- John Heraty
- Gerry McInerney
- Trish Gavigan
- Seamus Mills
- Ann Crabb
- Patrick Byrne
- Billy Mulholland
- Marie Walsh
- Noel Redmond
- Tommy Hankey
- George Bannister
- Stroke Manifesto
- Stroke Facts
- About IHF & Stroke in Ireland
- Stroke Helpline
- Stroke Action's Links
- Contact Us
- Site Map