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Monday, 16 April 2018

Different strokes

Your life is meant to flash before your eyes when you're dying.

But I seem to have suffered some kind of brain damage, so mine doesn't flash so much as flicker fitfully, and I haven't got past the time my brother wrote 'Miss Bryan is an arse' on my English jotter, getting me into terrible trouble, when we arrive at the hospital, the ambulance crew manhandles me into a wheelchair, and we hurtle along the corridor into A & E at Forth Valley Hospital.

Larbert is a place I know only through road signs, so I'm pretty vague about where I am. Who I am and how I am are also questions to which I have no clear answer. Dongles Something and not so good, I'm guessing, or I wouldn't be here.

I try to relax in the comfy bed, as smartly-uniformed young women bustle around, taking blood from my arm and measuring its pressure. Not the same blood of course. Once outside my veins it's at atmospheric. Inside my arteries it hit 180/150 in the ambulance, but is now back at a high but survivable level of 150/100. 

Having poked, pricked and questioned me, the doctors and nurses depart to deal with other patients, while using their test results to ponder what happened and how they're going to respond. 

One slim young woman, who got her nursing degree last year from Stirling University, takes my right hand in hers and tells me to squeeze as hard as I can. She repeats this with my left. "Yes there's some loss of strength in your right hand," she declares. 

"I wasn't squeezing as hard as I could," I confess. "I didn't want to hurt you."

She tut-tuts and shakes her head. "As hard as you can this time please," she says and the habits of a lifetime kick in as I follow a female's instructions exactly.

"Fine," she says and strides off, leaving me to lie on the bed and reflect on how I got here, now that normal brain activity seems to have resumed. 

The day had begun so well, as the rows and columns on the giant spreadsheet I created when I became self-employed danced into line, summing consistently in all directions. This meant I was ready to transfer the incomes and expenditures to my tax return, and submit it. 

But then a small, strange incident occurred, like the fluttering leaf that's the first sign of a violent storm approaching. 

I lost peripheral vision at one side. My right hand coming in to the keyboard kept taking me by surprise, appearing out of nowhere as if it belonged to somebody else. I'd had a similar episode a couple of days earlier, which passed uneventfully, so at first I wasn't concerned. I did email Rachel to say "I've got vision disturbance again." 

When she read "I'be got vidion disturvance" she figured there might be something going wrong, smart cookie that she is, and Skype phoned me.

The second leaf fluttered down when I tried to explain the incident as a result of visual stress caused by peering for hours at thousands of numbers. "There's 500 rows in my spreadsheet," I told her. "And 50 columns. So that makes ....."

I couldn't do the sum. Only blankness lay in my brain, where a number should have appeared. Rachel insisted it was a hard sum. But I knew it wasn't. My brain is below average at many things, such as organising, talking sense and understanding what it's told. But it is good with numbers. For simple sums it just sees the answer. 

Blankness is scary. So I'd guess this was when my blood pressure began to rocket. Suspecting a stroke, Rachel started asking questions, such as my sons' names and the current Prime Minister. I got the former but not the latter, but encouraged her to continue, hoping the mental activity would help me recover.

The third leaf came tumbling down when I started stumbling over the words I was trying to say. Clear in my head, they were coming out garbled from my mouth. Rachel asked me to count in threes and I didn't understand. She simplified to "What is 3 plus 3?"

I had no idea and the gathering storm engulfed me. I slumped to the floor, convinced my brain was suffering irreparable damage and I'd be confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak, for the rest of my life. I hoped I'd die instead.

Rachel phoned an ambulance, which came within 10 minutes, and brought me to Larbert hospital, while the paramedic sat in the back, chatting calmly and monitoring my blood pressure. My speech slowly returned and by the time we reached the hospital my brain was still fuzzy but just about working.

After all the tests and talking, the hospital staff sent me home late that day, with a driver and a diagnosis of transient ischaemic attack, also known as mini-stroke. 

The diagnosis was probably wrong, the doctors decided two weeks later. But that's a story for another day.

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