Smug and the Stroke

I’m sorry, but I’m smug.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that last March 20th 2014 I had a haemorrhagic stroke which led to me spending a week in intensive care, two weeks in a hospital ward and three months at home in Torokbalint. (Find the blogs here.)(Or you could if the effing link-thingy was working).
The doctors have got me on meds to control my blood pressure which have some side effects and don’t actually seem to control my blood pressure very well.
So I did a bit of looking around and found that there’s a lot of research that says about 45 minutes of vigorous physical exercise three times a week will control your blood pressure just as well as drugs as well as helping with things like hardened arteries, stress and flab around the belly (though they lied about the flab part).
Aha! I thought, if I have to run for 45 minutes three times a week to come off the bloody pills, I will do that thing because I purely hate to take pills. (Yes, I’m still taking them but if my blood pressure goes down I’ll come off them slowly). Anyway, I’ve always exercised since I found that martial arts made me a much nicer person in my twenties.
I am now running for 45 minutes three times a week – and I just found out that on Sundays when I run for 50 minutes, I’m covering slightly under 8 kilometers – or 5 miles.
So I’m smug.

Stroke tales – food, glorious food!

I was getting better in Kutvolgy hospital. The craziness of the first day was over and I was sleeping and waking, getting up, moving around very carefully because my right side still felt a bit not there and was numb, particularly to heat. I seemed to be doing an awful lot more of the sleeping thing – being anally retentive I started to time myself and discovered I was doing up to about 18 hours asleep in the first few days.

That’s about the amount a cat can sleep, by the way, if nothing more interesting is going on, which just shows you.

It took me a while  to notice the first major change. In fact it sort of crept up one me because the hospital food at Kutvolgy is… Well, it’s terrible. In a heartbreaking way.

I’ll give you the outlines. At 8 o’clock a nice nurse comes round with a big bag of rolls and some little packs of food. Healthfood like three slices of turkey ham, or three slices of completely flavourless cheese and some cucumber. Each patient got two rolls and a little pack. At 5 o’clock in the evening she does exactly the same. If you make the mistake of asking for a gluten-free diet (guess who?) you get two slices of “bread” that makes styrofoam look appetising.

The nurses and the doctors all wear bright white, by the way. It’s a caste thing and I didn’t have time to work out the rules, but essentially the whiter your clothes, the more important you are, and if you also wear a white coat, you’re a doctor.

The main meal of the day is lunch. Someone comes in with a big tray with two covered dishes on it. The smaller one contains some kind of soup – thin soup with veggies in it, usually, a non-negotiable start to most Hungarian lunches. This is dull but drinkable, especially if you got the floating carrots down quickly.

And then there was the main course. There was usually a lot of it, which was a mixed blessing, because it tasted awful. It was always overcooked. Occasionally it was completely unidentifiable, like the sort of bready loaf with some meat in it. Sometimes it was readily identifiable, as with the meat and two veg which I kept getting, although that doesn’t mean you could identify the meat. The veg was always mushy. Sometimes it got quite exciting: there was one occasional when my roomies got meat with sour cherry sauce, thick with cornflour. Awful. There was even tarhonya which is usually a nice kind of pasta with meat. Awful. How do they make everything taste like last weeks’ leftovers?

And yet, someone down in the kitchens was clearly trying. There were lots of different ways of serving it, though it all tasted pretty much the same. You never knew what you were going to get, in a boring way.

I didn’t really care, because a weird thing happened when I had my stroke: I completely lost my appetite and my consuming (in all senses) interest in food. It’s still just not there though I’m trying to remember to eat at regular intervals. Food also has a thoroughly nasty taste after a few minutes. Apparently this is a common side effect of stroke, which means it’s only a matter of time before some supermodel or starlet tries to induce a stroke to get the cool no-appetite effect.

But it wasn’t just me: my roomies and I bonded over the question of what would arrive for lunch and how awful it would be.

I puzzled over this and I came to a conclusion, prompted by some of the doomed television attempts to improve the food in our own lovely NHS. The ingredients were usually fine and the people cooking them not bad or evil people at all. They just couldn’t tell the difference between good food and bad food. They would make something revolting and think it was delicious. As they went about making their appalling lasagne they probably felt all warm and cuddly as they imagined the poor sick people eating it. Everybody laughs at hospital food, they’re thinking now as they stir, but mine is delicious and wonderful.

It’s an unsettling thought. At the moment, I’m one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

Stroke tales – ghost arms and nappies

It was probably the same day I arrived in Honved hospital, though whether it was before or after my amazing friend Dora arrived, I’m not sure. It’s all a bit mixed up for me. What I’m sure of is that at some point on that exciting Thursday 20th March, I became aware of myself again, a person wearing quite a lot of medical clobber including electric stickies, wires, a line going into my arm, another line doing something else, possibly blood pressure measurement. And a nappy.

Oh, I thought, I’m wearing a nappy. How sensible.

The invisible cat had… er disappeared by then, but I was still in the middle of a fight between the two halves of my body. The left hand side was exasperated. The right hand side was in a dreamy thrill, exploring how much my ghost arm could do. Which, thanks to my stroke, was quite a lot.

Although it still seemed attached at the shoulder, it could whizz around and stretch out. I knew there was another arm in there somewhere, a physical arm, but it wasn’t doing much, just lying there inertly like my right leg.

The ghost arm was much more fun. And yet for some reason, the spoilsport left side of my body insisted I had to find the physical arm and make it move.

Where was it? I looked down and felt a kind of shock, because it was lying there instead of waving around in space as I felt it was. I tried to move it. Nothing happened which was a pity, because my ghost arm was  moving just fine.

Not good enough, growled the left side of my body.

OK, I thought, feel for a difference. There was one. My ghost arm felt lighter and larkier. Underneath it was something heavy and difficult.

Quickly, I tried the underneath arm. My hand moved, the physical one. Oh good, I thought, now can I go back to the fun one?

No, said the left side of my body. Try again.

I couldn’t move the physical arm, but I was now getting interested in the feeling of having two arms one of side of my body – the left side had the normal boring number of one, so could be ignored. I tried the lighter one. Wild gyrations happened above the bed. I tried the darker one, consciously fitting my thoughts into the limb as if into a glove.

Ahah! It moved again.

For a bit I swapped between them and then somehow lost interest in the ghost arm as my physical arm came back to life. It didn’t move much but it moved and so did the almost forgotten leg.

I lay back exausted and contemplated the nappy. Was I ready to let go? Maybe. I certainly needed to go and I was far too tired from all the arm complications to ask for anything, even if there had been anyone to ask. Just to show off I moved my right arm and leg together a tiny bit; it was satisfying because after all that ghost arm hadn’t actually achieved a lot. I concentrated just as I had with my arm and felt a warmth in the nappy that was not followed by sogginess as I expected.

Great, an immense improvement on towelling nappies, I thought, as I dozed off

Tales from the stroke.

This happened towards the end of the two weeks  I spent in hospital, mostly at Kutvolgy korhaz. So I was getting physically a bit stronger, though  the fact that the two older ladies I was sharing a room with both spoke no English meant I could only communicate with big smiles and a few Hungarian words. We bonded over the godawful food, though.

She came in the middle of the night, probably two or three in the morning. There was a sense that she was a nuisance, certainly the nurse who received her gave that impression, She couldn’t talk though sometimes she would make “mamama” noises and sometimes she would hide her face on the pillow and sometimes she would make violent unco-ordinated movements. These meant she fell out of bed which the nurses seemed to think was deliberate.

At the time she arrived, the nurse on duty immediately tried to attach bed-rails, neither of which were the right size, so she compromised by putting the little bedside table in the way. There were four full beds in a room just big enough for them.

Sometimes she would sleep, sometimes she’d stare impassively at me, or the other women. They set up a drip for her, into which another nurse came and injected a dose of something I suppose was a sedative.

They knew her name, she had a bag of street clothes, but there was a sense that she was in the wrong place, waiting for a bed on a more high-dependency ward which was currently full. Occasionally nurses would come and give her commands or suggestions in Hungarian (her native language) to no obvious effect.

Later that morning, she fell out of bed again, then sat there until a strapping lad could come and give us a hand to get her back again. They hauled her around disrespectfully to get her back to bed in the cramped space, but her expression never altered: there was nobody at home, as far as I could see.

I went off for another CT scan and when I came back she had gone. I caught one glimpse of her, sitting in a wheelchair, being trundled along by the two young men in white, wearing only a hospital gown, her bag of street clothes gone missing. There was no expression on her face at all.

I wish I had been kinder to her. I wish I had felt able to support her weight when she fell out of bed until help could come. Aggie, one of my other roomies, did that, the most able-bodied among us despite terminal cancer.

I wish I had sat beside her, maybe hummed to her, maybe got something out of her apart from “mamama”. I wish I had had the gumption to ask where she came from, what had happened to her, despite not knowing the language . Nobody had a moment of kindness for her except Aggie, who supported her while she sat there staring as if the last thing she could have expected was to end up on the floor.

Of course I was afraid of her, sullenly and unconsciously. She was what I could have been. Perhaps…perhaps she’d had a stroke like mine but one that robbed her of everything, not just words but sense as well. One that destroyed her as a person. I’ve no idea, only the bag of street clothes said something like that might have happened. She didn’t seem old – perhaps early 60s.

I wish I’d held her hand.

What it feels like to have a stroke.

There I was, teaching up a storm at a business in Budapest when I started to feel funny. Sort of not quite there. The English words that had been so easy to say fifteen minutes earlier, suddenly got difficult. I could hear it in my voice, a sort of mushiness. Then my right arm and right leg stopped obeying me. I didn\’t have a headache, could see perfectly well – but something odd was definitely happening.

Could I be having a stroke, I wondered.  I\’d seen the public service announcements that seemed quite hot on things like one arm and one leg having their own ideas about what would be fun to do. I\’d read a brilliant book called \”My Stroke of Insight\” by Jill Bolte Taylor which seemed to be saying the same things.

Nah, I thought. I\’m fine. This is just… a bit odd.

A deeper part seemed to be trying to get my attention. You are having a stroke, you twerp, it said.

Around then my relationship with words seemed to break down. \”I\’m very sorry,\” I explained to my round eyed students, \”I\’ll have to stop the lesson. I\’m having a stroke.\” I think I said more but I don\’t remember what, the words had gone.

I then spent a lot of time putting my pen in my bag. It took about eight goes to get my right hand to pick up my pen and put it in my bag. My right side sagged. I wonder what\’s going to happen next? asked a perkily independent part of me.

Ambulance men arrived and strapped me into a chair, then a stretcher. Interesting, said the perky part. They did things with tubes and needles.

I was much more concerned with what was going on inside. The right side of my field of vision was full of fascinating hallucinations: golden lists of words swirled by, numbers, splendid geometric shapes. In amongst it all, I felt a cat arrive and crawl along my right side.

Don\’t be bloody stupid, snarled my left side, it\’s just a hallucination.

The cat looked smug and curled deeper along my right side where a ghost arm had somehow liberated itself from its physical twin. The ghost arm took the chance to demonstrate some very interesting moves, the cat disappeared, while my left side told my right side to stop acting like a bloody fool.

I was in intensive care by now. Electric stickies decorated my chest and a snarl of wires, something went in a needle on my left side, my right side had decided not to work at all. At some stage while I had been concerned with ghost arms and cats they had taken all my clothes off and put me in a nappy.

I was quite happy. Ah look, I thought fondly as I blinked up at the vital signs moniter, I remember you when you were just a twinkle in a \”Star Trek\” designer\’s eye.

And then I went to sleep.