Paul Burns opens up about rebuilding his life post stroke.

Paul opens up about rebuilding his life post stroke, managing cognitive and short-term memory deficits & adjusting to a change of pace.

Some of the topics discussed will get you thinking about your own experiences. If you feel any distress, talk with someone you trust—perhaps a family member, friend, or your doctor. If you need support, information or advice StrokeLine’s health professionals are available 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, AEST. Call StrokeLine on 1800 787 653 or email strokeline@strokefoundation.org.au. Lifeline is available 24 hours a day on 13 11 44.

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Video transcript

Paul: My name is Paul. My stroke was in 2018. I was driving along with an employee in my car, on the way to a meeting, and just, yeah, started getting really dizzy and feeling really, really dodgy, to the point where I was on the on-ramp to the Monash from Warrigal Road, and I had to pull over on the on-ramp. Me being me I said, “just take me back to the office. I’ll be right”. He went, “no, I don’t think we’ll do that, I’ll drop you off at a doctor’s on the way through”. I said, “Yeah, okay.” And then there was a doctor surgery and then there was a trip to a local hospital and then a trip to a larger hospital. And they said that I’d had a stroke. A stroke that’s what happens to old people, right?

Like, I mean, I was like 42 at the time. Pretty fit. It’s funny. All the things that you worry about stroke was not one, it did not even appear on my radar. Then I went to a rehab hospital for several weeks where I learned to eat food again and talk properly and learn to walk again. That was, that was pretty, a pretty big deal.

And then they discharged me home and it was sort of, yeah. Try to get back to some semblance of normality. I guess. I’m very lucky. My wife was my advocate and I was doo-lally for weeks. Like, I didn’t know who I was. They had me on some pretty wicked drugs and there was no way I could make informed decisions or to go to bat for myself at all. So I was incredibly fortunate that my wife with a three month old and a four year old at home stepped up.

Later on, it was a more of a mixed experience that a lot of the information that was coming my way, you know the pamphlets and stuff I couldn’t really relate to because it was all pictures of retirees on the front of them. You know, when you do get those pamphlets and those take-homes, and you know you’re basically sharing a rehabilitation hospital with people of my grandparents’ age at the time and you know, a little bit younger it’s yeah. It’s something I couldn’t really relate to. And it was a real, yeah, it was, it was it was a bit of a barrier.

What I used to do for a living was I was a, an IT project manager. My job was multiple balls in the air, you know running meetings, you know, managing people, you know taking phone calls, you know, go, go, go, go, go, fair chunk of stress too. All my injuries are cognitive. I lost a lot of my executive functions. I can’t multitask now. My short-term memory is shot to heck. It’s terrible. There are conversations I just do not recall having. And that’s usually directly proportional to how tired I am.

Being an IT project manager consultant and not having the ability for self-discipline, planning, managing your time, you know, multitasking, you know, that’s, that’s a real sort of issue and that’s that’s been a fundamental change to how I operate. I tend to go down rabbit holes a lot. You put an internet enabled device in my hand and I’ll disappear for an hour. And that brings its own challenges too, because I’ve had to outsource my short-term memory to my phone.

Like I’ve changed a lot since my injury. Up here got a real scramble because there is just simply some things I cannot do anymore. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with that like a long time and some days I still think I can. Some days I still think I’m a superhero. No, I’m all good, no it’s fine, I feel fine today. And you go out there and you get after it. And then 48 hours later, I’m a basket case. And I can’t afford to be a basket case. I’ve got two small people to chase after and and a wife to support.

The way I rolled prior stroke, you know, I was out there, you know, with the business you know, the main breadwinner at the time and the things that I used to take care of were, you know that was how I felt that I contributed to the family and all those things I was good at, don’t exist anymore. I now know I can’t do those things. I used to be able to do in a way I used to be able to do them. I have to approach the world with a pretty different worldview now. So I’m still in that process.

The whole concept of, you know work hard and the harder you work the more successful you’ll be is counterintuitive to stroke recovery. Well, it has been for me. I mean, you still have to put in the yards, you know you can’t just put your feet up and hope that your arms and legs and your brain starts working again. You do have to put in the yards but it’s a bit of a balancing act. The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is try to look after yourself as best you can, so you can get back out there and do what you can do as quickly as possible.