Written by Rebecca Schmidt-Lachlan, Altered Abilities
How did I get through this?
Let’s be honest, nobody wants to spend time in a hospital for more than even one night. Unfortunately, it does occur more often than not…. especially when a stroke occurs. If you’re lucky it may be as short as a week for a minor stroke if things bounce back fairly quickly. Sadly, most people can end up expecting to stay a month or more. In my case, it was 7½ months between 3 hospitals, with one of these specialising in Rehabilitation. I suffered a brain stem stroke and was informed this was the worst possible place a stroke could occur. On waking, the only function remaining in my body was my eyes. I wasn’t even able to talk, move or point. This is an example of an extreme stroke with all movement or communication restricted. My main tool was answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with the blink of my eyes. All strokes will impact each individual differently, depending on the area of the brain affected. Some lose sight, hearing, smell, speech or mobility…. At the beginning I had a little of all missing except hearing and smell. These were my only senses left working. I found that these heightened to almost super-senses where I could hear things others couldn’t and my nose was very sensitive to odours that no one else was able to pick up on.
So, this is the part where people ask me how I could get through this. At the very start you need to decide to remain positive and believe you are going to get better. It does not matter the timeframe. It isn’t important the number of times you try and fail at something you would like to restore to your previous state. The truth of it is this is a learning experience, and you may find a better method than the one you used before. All that matters is you complete whatever you set out to achieve. Despite what others may tell you, only you need to be happy with the time it takes to finish something!! If you are unhappy with your progress or feel you can do it quicker, practise makes all the difference.
Know your limitations
You know the limitations of your body and it can be hard when others are pushing you past your limits. This is where it comes in handy to utilise your voice or any other communication method available to you. My preference once I first started moving my hands was the universal hand sign of the middle finger. This not only clearly indicated I was not impressed with what was happening, it also let the doctors and nursing staff know my brain was still functioning even though most of my body did not want to play the game. It also let them know I wasn’t going to be a pushover that would just do everything they said, I was able to choose. Each person will have their own style and unique method of communicating with others around them and whatever works for you is best, even if it is not appreciated by family or staff at the hospital.
Gaining confidence to speak up
It can also be hard when your family speaks on your behalf. Adding the skill of letting your opinion be understood can save a lot of drama down the track for both sides. Gaining the confidence to speak up is a hard thing to do, although as I see it, if I don’t give it a go now it may never happen. This was a big motivator in making sure I got the treatment and respect I felt I deserved!! Afterall, I was still a person with thoughts and feelings although I was largely trapped inside myself. Charades is a great method of communication and allows the chance to relax a little while playing a strategic game as well. I soon found out who was good at playing this and often indicated by pointing to the person I wanted to relay my information.
I chose to look at my time in hospital as a bit of a break from the everyday stresses of life and this I believe made all the difference. I was concerned internally at times and told myself it was great practice if I had to do it again, I can only improve at the way I handle each new hurdle in my way. I may not get it the first time but leave it with me and we can talk about it later if I still can’t do it. My focus was solely on improving and I didn’t have time for those people that wanted to tell me I can’t.
Change your mindset
Luckily my family had a similar mentality and refused to believe what the doctors and staff had told them of my condition. Don’t get me wrong, there are times this information is correct and the outcome is what has been relayed. But, and this is a big but, do not give up on hope that this may be wrong and the person may surprise everyone. Every person has a unique set of skills and abilities which can sometimes enable them to achieve the impossible. With encouragement and support comes confidence in the ability to surpass what is expected of the person in question. In this instance, you can be selfish at times you feel necessary. This is one of the hardest challenges you will face in your life. What you get out of it is what you put in. It can be extremely traumatic and completely overwhelm you or you can accept what has happened and move on to bigger and better things with a whole new outlook on the world.