Friday, 30 June 2017

My Father's Stroke

Some readers who have been with me from the time I started my blog may remember my posts about my father. He had a crippling stroke at the age of seventy-six, and lived for another eight years, confined to a wheelchair with his left side paralyzed. He passed away in late June of 2015, so he has been on my mind more than usual as that date approached and passed.

I wrote one post about his upbeat attitude; that one is HERE.

I wrote another about the last few months of his life; that one is HERE.

He went through many things that I have yet to write about, probably because it makes me very sad to revisit those memories. It's probably not all that much fun to read about it, either.

But I've been thinking that maybe his story can help others--either a person who has had a stroke or someone who knows a person who has had a stroke. I want to thank Terry of Treey's blog for providing the motivation I needed to do this. If you want to learn what it's like to have a stroke directly from someone who's had one, go on over and have a read.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, a stroke happens when blood stops flowing to any part of the brain, damaging brain cells. The effects of a stroke depend on the part of the brain that was damaged and the amount of damage done. Damage to the right side of the brain affects the left side of the body, and vice versa.

 My father's stroke was a severe one and his life changed completely in a matter of hours. He left home to get help, and never returned. He walked into the hospital under his own power and was unable to walk or move the left side of his body shortly after. He was an active, independent person right up to the day of his stroke, spending his days gardening and doing yard work, fixing up second-hand cars, and taking long walks. After the stroke, he couldn't walk at all--not for pleasure, not for the activities of daily life, not if his very life had depended on it. He was dependent on caregivers for most of what he needed, from bathing to toileting to dressing to getting in and out of bed and his wheelchair. He even needed help to change position in bed or in his chair, which led to an increase in pain from pre-existing back issues.

He was very despondent in the first few weeks after his stroke. He kept going mentally only because the doctors told him he might regain the function in his left side. He couldn't imagine not being able to garden or walk. There were tears from both of us as he begged for reassurance that if he worked hard enough he would be able to do those things again. He was sent to the first available bed at rehab, but sadly he did not regain any ability to use his arm or leg.

Because Dad's stroke occurred in the right side of his brain, his speech was not affected. (Conversely, a left brain stroke can destroy or impair the speech function.) We were grateful that he had not lost his ability to talk. He would have had no other way to communicate well with us, as he was not familiar with typing or computers. The day that Dad had his stroke, there was another man admitted to the same hospital who had a left brain stroke. This man's hospital stay, rehab, and eventual placement in a nursing home paralleled my father's, so we had many opportunities to see the frustration and isolation caused by his inability to speak. He refused to use the picture board provided to him (to point at things like meals, toilet, bed, and so on) so he was left with only hand gestures to try to get his needs met. He was a very impatient and easily-angered person, and while I suspected from observation that part of that was his original personality coming to the fore, it could only have been made worse by not being able to communicate his needs, wants, and feelings.

There is more to tell, but I've gone on long enough for today. Some of the things that happened to Dad were even humourous, although all of them are tinged to some extent with the pain of his losses.

Thank you for reading. I'll leave you with a list I hope you never have to use.

Signs of stroke (also taken from the Heart and Stroke Foundation's website, linked above):

Face - is it drooping?
Arms - can you raise both?
Speech - is it slurred or jumbled?
Time - to call 911 right away

Notice the FAST acronym formed above: getting help fast is critical to save a person's life and reduce disability.


*****

Until Monday, please have a healthy and safe weekend, my friends.


I would love to have sat with my father on that bench in that forest. In real life, Dad wouldn't have sat--he'd be too busy scraping spruce gum off a tree trunk to chew or checking out which tree he'd be taking home for Christmas or telling me which mushrooms were good eating or digging up wildflowers to transplant into his garden ...

Thanks, Pixabay, for bringing back those memories with this picture.





36 comments:

  1. Heartfelt hugs.
    My mother's stroke was also major but left side. Her speech was affected, though she regained a lot of it. She spent nine long months in hospital, resenting it bitterly. After extensive house-hold modification she got her wish and came home, with nurses providing the twenty-four hour care she needed. Ten days later her nurse called me, saying she needed medical attention and was refusing. I went down and called the ambulance. She was furious, and said some fairly dreadful things about my motivation. She lost consciousness soon after getting to hospital and died that night. It was the only thing I could do, but I suspect if I had known she wouldn't survive that I might have let her stay where she wanted to be...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hear you. For such a little word, "if" has to be one of the most powerful in the world. But hindsight only happens after the fact. You had her welfare at heart, which is what matters. But that must have made her comments very hard to hear. I'm sorry things turned out that way. Gentle hugs, EC. Myself, I hope to go fast and tidily. Hah. Not many get that kind of end.

      Delete
  2. Sometimes I doze off, or wake up, thinking I should call my mother. We spoke often on the phone, back then, but she passed away twenty years ago. I wish I knew where that comes from. You know me; I have to know everything. It's good to talk and hear about brain injuries.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The brain is still largely uncharted territory. Maybe the place where that memory or urge is stored got tweaked in your accident. Strange, isn't it?

      Delete
  3. When Gran. dad had his stroke I remember how despondent he ewas. He managed to regain some use of his arm and leg....enough to be able to get around the house with a cane He had always been a sweet good natured man but after the stroke he became very demanding (most likely because of a lack of control in his own life).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Personalities can change, as well. My father was always a quiet man, but he became quite sociable after his stroke. My doctor had a bad stroke as well, but recovered enough to resume work. He told me that he had never been one to cry, but he cried easily after the stroke. The filters people use in everyday life often slip or disappear altogether after a stroke. I spent a lot of time reading about strokes after my father had his; this seems to be a common result.

      Delete
  4. I'm sorry for your loss. anniversaries and birthdays always bring back memories. Strokes are cruelly debilitating.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Red. You're right, the memories just come right back. I knew nothing about strokes before Dad's, but I learned a lot pretty fast. You've described them to a T.

      Delete
  5. Thanks for mentioning me Jenny. You told a very sad story that was hard for me to read at times. To think how somebody so brave had to go through that makes me sad. I suffer the same sort of illness. I wish I didn't. I saw so much of me in your dad's condition. It was terribly heartbreaking to read. Thanks again Jenny. Terry x.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading, Terry. I wish you didn't suffer from a stroke, too. It's very hard on a person, as you know all too well. I am always aware now of how life can change so quickly. We have to be grateful for what we have, and somehow keep going when we lose it. I'm still not sure how Dad did that, except that he had no choice...

      I'll be writing about some of the lighter moments, too, which might be easier to read.

      Delete
  6. My dad's birthday and death day are about 6 months apart. After 11 years he is never far from my thoughts. Thanks for the reminders about stroke. I hope they don't come in handy, but if they do I may be just a little quicker to respond.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The memories come right back, don't they? You would be getting over one anniversary just to have another coming up. I don't know if that's better or worse than having them close together. Just different, I think.

      Delete
  7. Dear jenny_o, thanks for sharing this. I'd like to say that you shouldn't shy away from writing about the hard parts of life, the sad things, the challenging things, on your blog, because we all have those moments in our lives as well, in roughly equal measure to the lighter moments. A blog can be about all of it, and I think we get to know a person better when they show us all sides. You're a deeply thoughtful person, and I think your readers will be there with you in the sad posts and the happy ones. Just a thought. Love.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your kindness, Angella. As much as anything, I'm just trying not to make myself sad when I don't have to. Maybe I need to do it anyway.

      Delete
  8. Thanks for sharing, jenny_o. I know it can't always be easy because it brings up a lot of emotions. I hope you have a wonderful weekend as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know you know, Mr. S. Thanks.

      Delete
  9. Your description of the guy who refused to use the picture-board reminded me of my own epiphany in rehab. I was incontinent with my bladder and having "accidents" about twice daily and my OT (Hi Gina!) came to me with a program for getting it under control, but I didn't see how it could work, so I just didn't pay that much attention to it at first. After she talked to me about it a second time, I just said fine and got with the program. A week later she asked me how it was working and I had to tell her that there had been only one "accident" that week, and that's when it hit me: These people know what they're doing and they are trying to help me and I don't get that help forever so I best get what I can out of what time I do get.
    But I did see other patients actively resisting the help they were receiving and never could understand them. To me, it was serious; more important than any discomfort or indignity that might come with the therapy. My therapists all told me I was lucky to have come to see it that way because I would get far more benefits from their attention if I worked with it rather than against it.
    And now, nine years later, I'm still working at it every day. At my last doctor appointment, I told Dr. Nelson that now that I have a back yard, I try to walk ten laps around it every day without using my cane. He said he could see the difference it made in the way I walk, and to keep it up.
    Overall, I'm just very, very lucky. I still see no rhyme or reason for who recovers most or all of their function, and who never gets up out of that wheelchair. And that's not even getting to the ones who don't even GET a wheelchair, but that's an entirely different rant, and I'll save it for another day.
    Lastly, let me once again express how much I admire you for being there for your dad when he needed it, because I feel like I sort of understand how it feels to need it.

    -Doug in Oakland

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It sounds like you're still making progress, Doug - that is terrific. It takes hard work and, yes, the right attitude to regain function. Things didn't really go smoothly for my dad in rehab. He was started on an anti-depressant just before he went there, and it made him very drowsy and gave him hallucinations. There was very little actual therapy done with him, and even less because he was often too sleepy to safely be in a sitting position. I had read about brain plasticity and wondered for a long time afterwards whether more intensive therapy would have allowed him to get some function back. I don't know, and it makes me crazy to think about it. I wasn't impressed with that rehab unit overall (the attitudes and the inflexibility), but it was the only game in town. I'm glad your experience was so very different and that your OT was so helpful.

      Are you saying that there are stroke patients in the US who never have a wheelchair at all? If so, that is just so sad. I read a day or two ago about patients in Britain who are reduced to crowdfunding to get the chair they need because patients get a standard issue only, and have to pay to have anything different. My dad received his chair on loan (free) through Red Cross and it was like the Cadillac of wheelchairs. I wouldn't guess at the cost. And it really made so much difference in his comfort and ability to get around and feel like he had some control in his life.

      Thanks for your understanding; I know it came at a price.

      Delete
  10. If this ever happens to me, I'm toast as I already have brain damage from birth. Thanks for sharing part of your father's story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is scary to think about, Liz. I guess you have even more motivation to do all that's possible to avoid one. Have you written any posts about the damage from birth? I'll have to check your old posts.

      Actually, I think if everyone could spend a day with a wheelchair-bound person it would open their eyes quite a lot, yes? no matter what the cause is. It might make people be more careful with a whole lot of things they do.

      Delete
  11. When I worked in a nursing home, many of my patients had suffered strokes. We had one lady who was driving a car when she had her stroke. All she could say was "oh" or "woe." After about a year with us, she was able to sit up in a chair and eat soft foods. She was fed through a tube for quite some time. Naturally, I fear strokes because I've seen what they can do to people. I'm sorry for what your dad had to go through.

    Love,
    Janie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I saw quite a few at my father's nursing home, too. I understand your fear; I have it too. I'm very thankful for the many excellent caregivers who made my dad's life better. They felt like family to us. I imagine those folks you looked after, and their families, felt the same way.

      Delete
  12. My aunt died at the age of 38 from a stroke. My mom had high blood pressure, but it was her kidneys that did her in. I worry about strokes and being unable to take care of myself. Thankfully, my blood pressure is good but I fear the time when I may have to depend on others for my care.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, man - 38 is so young. What a shame. I worry, too, Arleen. There are so many ways to end up needing care. I can't think of a single "easy" one. I've read that only 2% of people will die peacefully in their sleep. That seems like dreadful odds to me.

      Delete
  13. Thank you for sharing all this with us. I can only imagine the struggles your dad had to face. I'm sorry that he had to go through all that. xo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me, too, Martha. Thank you for your kind thoughts.

      Delete
  14. It's got to be so difficult to endure something like that, and then not to be able to recover function. I can't even imagine. It's good you're raising awareness!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's devastating for most folks. It was hard to watch my dad go through it for so long. Thanks for reading, Steve.

      Delete
  15. Thanks for posting about strokes on my blog. It's such an emotive subject. I realise that and hope you aren't offended by anything you read. My instinct is that you won't be.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not offended at all - the very opposite; I'm so glad you are writing about it so others can learn and understand. Your instinct is right on!

      Delete
  16. Thanks again. My story is so similar to your father's that I know what he must have been going through. All I can say is 'sorry' for the pain you felt. I wished you could have sat with him on that bench.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The pain I felt was on his behalf. I'd bet your wife and son and friends feel pain for you, too. It's hard to see anyone go through this, and more so when it's someone you are close to. I know you understand what my dad was feeling because you are living it. Thanks for your support and comments, Terry.

      Delete
  17. Well written and well said ......an important post for everyone to read

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unfortunately, until you see the aftermath of a stroke personally it's hard to understand how much damage it can do. But maybe reading about it will help someone. Thanks for dropping in, John.

      Delete
  18. i am feeling a deep sadness which overcame my whole body, my cries that i tried to hold for long time just brust out by your post Jenny.
    you made me cry terribly as your dear father's story reminded me my pains .
    i could not attend my father in his last days when he needed me most and this pain is cutting me from inside .
    i feel sorry that your father suffer this disease but thankfully he was able to communicate with his family .

    thank you for sharing this special post with us it touched my soul .
    like you i visit in gardens with my parents in my imaginary world and consider it a blessing

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is so hard when we look back at things we wish we could have done, isn't it? I have a few of those regrets too. But I'm sure your father knew what was in your heart. And he is at rest now, and you can let that feeling go.

      Easier to say than to do, I know ...

      Thank you for your heartfelt comments, baili; you speak from your heart and I'm glad you do.

      Delete

Comment moderation has been enabled.