Reflections on my Stroke Recovery

We were on holiday in Madeira during the half term holidays, we had just finished lunch and my oldest daughter Hannah, said “let’s go for a walk Dad and I’ll film you. Just forget I am there!”

Hannah is very talented at making short films and capturing the moment, so I was curious as to how it would turn out. When we got back to the hotel, she said “I think it would be great if you told the story about your stroke. Imagine you are talking to a friend who does not know what happened, do this as a voiceover to the film”.

Of course my brain went into “presentation mode”, what will I say and how will I structure this? She saw this on my face and said, “no dad, nothing formal, you are just telling that friend what happened”

It was a really emotional experience stepping into that film and telling the story. As the film began to roll and I started the voiceover, I got quite choked and you can hear it clearly in my voice.

The film is just me walking around some of the back streets in Madeira, near my hotel. However, I was able to step back in time, going back  7 years and seeing how lucky I have been. Hannah, probably without knowing it, has captured the metaphor about “small steps to recovery” by focusing the camera on my feet and legs. Also there are a number of shots of my arm, hand and my right side in general, which was completely paralysed at the time, leaving me unable to walk.

As I told my story, this huge wave of gratitude came over me. In fact I asked the question, what would have happened if I had not made this recovery!

Watching myself walk and doing the voiceover, enabled me to draw out some of the key learnings about my recovery and how it could help others.

The first point was about the  affirmation I used to get, from the car park in the hospital, to the entrance of the accident and emergency department “I can do this, I can get there”. At this stage my right hand and arm were paralysed and I was loosing the power in my right leg. With the support of my wife and the focus which this affirmation gave me, I managed to get to the entrance of the A&E before my leg gave way. I used different affirmations so many times throughout my recovery process.

The second point was about writing. When I was lying in a bay in the stroke ward, waiting to be seen by the doctors, I was so terrified I began to shake. I decided to take control and just write “When I wake up I will feel my right side……..” over and over. It made me feel so much better that I felt I was doing something to help myself.

The third point was about reframing, looking at my situation through a brighter lens, I noticed how much worse some of the other patients were in comparison to me.

The fourth point was about the constant gratitude about how lucky I was to be alive. As I’ve said, I kept coming back again and again to this as I did the voiceover as to how fortunate I was to be walking around Madiera with my daughter and having a great holiday with my family.

The fifth point was about visualisation, constantly running films of myself being a better man back with my family, then how at one point I had a dream where I was walking and four days later I took my first steps. I should add at this point, that I was having physio almost every day.   Then i was able to realise one of my key goals of being able to “walk” to the toilet (of course with a lot of support at this stage!)

I later reemphasise the importance of visualisation and how in fact my physiotherapist  had given this to me as my first exercise. To visualise my right hand opening, which at that stage was a locked fist. How litttle by little my fingers began to flicker and after  2 weeks I was able to open my hand completely.

The Sixth point again was about gratitude. Before my stroke I felt I was always “too busy” to take a break at lunch time and go for a walk. Now I try to make time and whenever I go, again I feel so grateful that I can.

The Seventh point was back to the power of writing and the focus it would bring by keeping a diary, noticing what works and what does not. Also, being able to track one’s progress however small.   It also helps so much in managing your mood. I stress that so often when we have a severe health setback or a setback in general we want everything to be beter “right now”

The diary is a great way of managing that gap of where you are now and where you want to get to.

My daugher Hannah said “Dad, make sure when you tell your story, the over riding message is that however bad your setback is, “Never give up” – I hope that has come across for you!

Finally, here are some key questions for professionals in healthcare which have come to mind as a result of this experience:

1. How much are patients encouraged to tell theirs stories, good and bad?

2. What is the learning each time the story is told, not only for the patient but also for health care professionals?

3. How much, can story telling in itself, help the patient in each stage of their recovery?

4. How much is the readily available technology being used, eg; video and podcasts? (especially as most mobile phone devices have the facility to record video and audio)

Bring David to Your Organisation

Would you like David to speak at your Organisation and help your teams? David is not only a Professional Speaker but a Coach at Warwick Business School, so could provide Coaching and Training in additional to a Keynote. Please call him on +44 (0)1923 663275 or email him at david@strokerecovery to discuss this further