Saturday, 30 October 2010

Stroke Diary 16: Endings and Beginnings

It's never a good idea to start a new job less than three months post-stroke unless it involves shorter hours and a more gentle pace than your old one. But my stroke occurred three weeks after I was offered a more senior post in another local authority and only a few days days after I had resigned. I knew it would be hard but starting my new job on time and in reasonably good health became a personal goal. Besides, I had been told that my cerebellar bleed was Very Minor and really, not worth troubling about overly much.
I've now spent two weeks in my new job and life is achieving some equilibrium. The last week in my former Psychology Service drew deeply on my physical and emotional reserves. Clearing out 21 years of junk against a rapidly diminishing window of time resulted in some long days and the farewells, formal and informal, meant facing up to the consequences of the decision I had made pre-stroke; to leave behind a supportive team, an established role and close friendships. And how would I cope in the leafy suburbs and villages of rural Leicestershire, away from the chaotic but positive energy of a multi-cultural city?
With the inevitable lack of sleep over the weekend, it was a zombie who turned up at County Hall on the 18th. October. No one seemed to notice that it wasn't me and I got through each day with a fixed smile and glassy eyes, experiencing a sense of unreality (I'm only a visitor here) with waves of loss for everything familiar and known. I'd been honest with my new employers that I am, despite appearances, still recuperating from a stroke and this had been sensitively acknowleged in my induction. But a stroke is a stroke, no matter how minor and by the end of the first week my brain was protesting. I had head pains and a numbness in my lips, worrying symptoms that I had ignored in the few days prior to my cerebellar bleed in July. A brain scan had already been organised for the folllowing Tuesday, so there was nothing to do except wait. I've since had the scan and have heard nothing, so I'm assuming everything is okay.
I don't know how other stroke patients feel but for me it's as if I have little control over whether I have another stroke or not. There are no risk factors to manage, such as smoking, drinking or using illegal substances, I have no medication to take and a scan will reveal little unless I've already had another bleed. I try to pay closer attention to my body, particularly the goblin with a hammer that now lives at the base of my skull but since there isn't much I can do, it's best to try and forget about it.
The second week has come to an end and I am already feeling established and purposeful at work. With every loss there are gains. In my new world there isn't a long hours culture and I have been shocked to see the inside of my own home by 5.30 almost every evening. I can already see the strengths of the Psychology Service I have joined. I can feel the return of my motivation to finish my current novel instead of staring at undemanding TV every evening and I'm ready to get my diary out to see my friends.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Stroke Diary (15): High heels and the Backwash

I'm coming to the end of my second week of working full time. It was a struggle at first and I made optimistic promises to myself to have a proper break at lunchtime (even to try and catch forty winks). Of course I haven't done any such thing but I've managed not to work late...except for last night. It's going well but I have to remind myself that I'm not doing normal duties. It looks like I will finish almost everything before I leave on October 15th. but I have needed every moment. Things do take me longer. But my biggest achievement was to brave high heels and to risk the backwash at the hairdresser. At last, a fabulous head massage and no wet face and soaking sleeves.
I was told by my stroke consultant that the backwash would be okay, at my long awaited out-patients appointment last week. For those of you with an interest, the backwash is no problem for someone with my type of stroke, so it's worth asking.
The outpatients appointment went better than expected, even though I must have seemed intimidating, sitting with an open notebook, pen poised, frowning at him over the top of my glasses. I was given plenty of time and was able to talk through possible causes. It looks like Reversible Cerebral Vasoconstriction Syndrome is worth pursuing. I'll have another scan and a further outpatients appointment in December. Meanwhile the consultant is going to do some homework, as by his own admission, he knows very little about it.
He seemed aware of my concerns about my treatment. I wondered if he had read the blog but didn't dare ask. We settled on blaming Queens Medical Centre. It's always useful to have a third party to blame, it saves everyone getting defensive. It was typical of QMC that there was still no feedback from the scan taken on 4th. August. In their defence, the consultant felt that had there been anything to report (a need for surgery or some other intervention) we would have heard from them. I don't believe that is a good enough reason for taking two months to respond.
We also talked about my dissatisfaction with my discharge and follow up; that I had been left without information and guidance. I always try to bring solutions rather than problems, so for my next outpatients appointment I'll prepare a list of the sort of information I needed, which might form the basis of a leaflet to give to patients (how annoying is that!). I also pointed out that while the Stroke Association website is excellent, it's very thin on information about bleeds. So I got a lot off my chest and went away feeling that I had been heard, even though I might get nominated for 'Irritating Patient of the Year'.
I am happy with my progress. I still have problems with balance and being in crowded, noisy places. My head still hurts at times (although I learned that the brain itself cannot be the source of the pain) and I process information more slowly. But the 'fuzzy head' feeling has gone and even the persistent and common stroke survivors' problem of tiredness is less of a drag than it was. I have been very lucky.