3rd July 2017
As I walked through the door to recovery my stomach lurched. My new “normal” was waiting on the other side of the doors but I didn’t know it then. I didn’t know what to expect at all. I just knew I had to stay strong for you so I fought back the tears and walked up to the bay that you were lay in. You looked different but the same. A weaker, tired version of my husband and the right side of your face was drooped. I touched your hand and you turned to look at me. Would you recognise me? Could you remember who I am? Those moments were agonising. We had no idea what damage the stroke had done at that point. “Hi” I breathed slowly. Smiling at you as I held your hand “It’s me”.
That day started just as any other might have. It was a Monday morning. Up early, we went to the gym to meet the personal trainer. You first at six and me at seven. We passed each other on the stairs briefly before you went to work.
But later that morning you called me. I’d never heard you sound so scared. You told me you couldn’t see anything out of your left eye. I told you to get down to a&e and that I’d meet you there. “I’m sure it’s fine” I told you.
I kept telling myself that. It’ll be fine. Probably a migraine or something. But nevertheless I was anxious. I practically ran to my car and headed over to the infirmary as soon as I could. I called you on the way. You told me to meet you at the eye hospital. I remember thinking that if this turned out to be nothing I was going to be so mad at you for making me this panicked!
When I found you things had improved somewhat. Your vision was starting to come back but you had a bad headache. Probably a migraine we both mused. But you’d never had migraines before… it’s stress we rationalised. You even told me you were heading back into work after this was finished!
So I waited while you went through various eye tests and we talked and smiled. The nurse called you through and we went into a small room. She took some bloods and then measured your blood pressure. It was high. Too high. Your mood changed then. I could see the worry etched in your face. When we left her room you handed me your phone and asked me to go outside and call your secretary. You wouldn’t be able to work later. You knew then didn’t you? You knew what was going to happen. I wish you’d told me.
By the time I came back you had been taken in for more tests. The nurse took me through and I joined you in a dark room. Your chin was resting on the frame as the optometrist was examining your eyes. I thought you looked strange. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why though. But then they removed the machine away and you slumped back in the chair. He asked if you were on medication for your high blood pressure. “Yes” you said. I looked at you. “No, he’s not” I corrected. “Yes” you kept repeating. Then I noticed your face. The drooping on the right side. “Yes” you were still repeating. I told the optometrist then that something was wrong. He went to you quickly and supported your body as you slumped further into the chair. “Get help” he said.
I knew what was happening but somehow it didn’t quite register. I went in search of help and found two nurses talking. It’s funny, looking back, how politely I interrupted them for help given the circumstances but nonetheless within seconds there were several people in the room trying to get you on to a trolley. I watched for a second and then I took my phone out. I text your colleague at the hospital. I didn’t have signal to phone but luckily there was wifi. I was so calm. Maybe it was the shock. But it wasn’t until I got a reply that help was on the way that I realised the gravity of what I just told them. “Finn’s having a stroke. Please come to the emergency eye department quickly.”
After that I was inconsolable. I was taken away into another room while they helped you. I didn’t know then that you could still see me. How upset I was. That must have been hard for you. I’m sorry I wasn’t stronger for you. After what felt like an eternity but was actually a matter of minutes two of your colleagues were here. They came with you to the CT scan while I waited in their office. There was a lovely nurse who sat with me. I can’t remember her name but I’m so grateful to her. She talked to me and tried to distract me from the pain and worry I was experiencing.
The CT confirmed a stroke due to a dissection of the carotid artery. Ironic really given you are a vascular radiologist. Your friend came back to tell me that you had been put in ambulance to Salford Royal. He drove me there to meet you. It was a warm day. I remember that. The sun was shining as we drove to the next hospital. Both of us were in disbelief. How could this happen to you? I’d told my family by now of course and they were meeting me there too. We were met by another colleague at Salford and he updated us on what was happening as he showed us through to the family room in the emergency department.
That’s where I saw my mum and stepdad. The tears that I was barely holding back at this point came flooding again. I was so scared for you and I needed my mum to get through this. I had to gather myself. You were awake so I didn’t want to upset you and add to whatever it was you felt at this point. We walked over but you didn’t see me at first. You saw my mum and tried to sit up. I’m sure you gave a thumbs up. That’s your personality I guess. I came up next to you and grabbed your hand. You turned to look at me and tried to speak. But you couldn’t. You just kept repeating one word over and over again.
We weren’t there long before they came to take you for the procedure. A thrombectomy they told me. A procedure where they go up through the blood vessels to remove the clot. It’s not offered routinely in the NHS at the moment but Salford is one of the places that can offer it if the circumstances fit. Luckily yours did. I came with you to the Interventional Radiology Suite. I couldn’t let go of your hand as you kept trying to get up if you couldn’t see me. It was a tight squeeze down some of those corridors but I was determined to be there for you.
The wait while you were in the procedure was excruciating. My dad had joined us at this point along with your ex-wife. Everyone tried to comfort me but we were all devastated. Barely holding it together. Would you survive this? What will happen next? Will he be able to speak again? How will I care for you? My mind kept racing. You’re such a proud man who lives for his work. If you can’t work it would kill you I thought.
They told us when you were in recovery and said we could see you when you woke up. We’d been here for hours by now and I am not exaggerating when I tell you this was the LONGEST day of my life. Every second felt like an eternity. I looked a mess by this point. My mascara stained my cheeks and my eyes were puffy and bloodshot. I didn’t care though. I just wanted to see you. When I saw you lying there I was so happy that you had survived this. I felt such love for you in that moment. But it was still shrouded with fear. Could you recognise me? Could you talk? Or Walk? I grabbed your hand and you looked up at me and smiled. “He recognises me” I thought. I didn’t get to stay long though. Your face started twitching as you went into a seizure and I was forced to leave you again.
We waited hours for you to get a bed on Neuro HDU but I know you were well cared for in recovery. It was getting later and later into the night. My family kept asking me to eat but I couldn’t face food. I felt sick with worry. I still didn’t have answers. I’d seen the doctors of course. But no-one can tell you anything when it comes to stroke recovery. I can’t count the times that I was told that every recovery is different. The brain is a wonderfully unique organ but that doesn’t help those of us who need answers. Some clarity in the storm we had found ourselves in. How can our world get completely turned on its head in the matter of moments?
I can’t remember the time we finally got in to see you on HDU. It was late though, way past visiting hours. I looked at you, covered with wires, it was heartbreaking. I took your hand again. You tried to speak but you couldn’t. You tried to raise your hand but you couldn’t. You were my husband yet at the same time you weren’t. You were a shell of the man i married and it took every ounce of resolve that I had to not break down in front of you. You did smile at me though. A tiny glimmer of hope. At least you recognised me.
I couldn’t have anticipated the way our life would turn out back then. It’s been every bit as bad, if not worse, than I imagined but it’s also been amazing. I’ve watched you grow stronger and stronger every day. I’ve found strength in myself that I never knew I had. We appreciate each other so much more since that day and our outlook on life has changed for the better. You are a fighter and it is you that has kept me sane through all this madness.