I am a survivor. I am almost fully recovered from a Glasgow scale rated 3 coma. This is my story.
I know that my being here is a small miracle. I ask myself all the time ‘why me, what made me so different?’ After surviving where so many before me had not I have been encouraged to share what I know with you, so that I may be able to help others. After a lot of consideration I am now opening a centre for ‘post-coma health potential’ at my clinic in Broadstone.
I put my survival down to my level of fitness, the right lifestyle approach, my nutritional regime, and, without doubt, to the love, encouragement and support of a great family. Since my stroke a number of people have told me that I was the fittest person that they knew.
Well, on Saturday, May 17th, 2008 I had an aneurysm and subarachnoid haemorrhage, that developed into a subdural haemorrhage. Basically that meant I had a form of traumatic brain injury. There were many complications including hydrocephalus (a build-up of fluid on the brain), meningitis and epilepsy. I spent one week in a deep coma and 3 ½ months in a light coma and underwent seven lots of surgery.
Most people with what I had would have at least hemiplegia (paralysis down one half of their body, face drop, slurred speech, contracture of arm muscles etc.) I not only survived but made a recovery that confounded everyone, even the medics that are used to dealing with these acute conditions.
In my bleaker moments I wonder why I was afflicted by a stroke? Is this negative thinking? Or am I, perhaps, just reflecting on what has happened to me and questioning why? One of my friends pointed out that perhaps I was the best choice of person to have and subsequently survive a stroke like this! After all, I was strong enough to live through it and could help myself to recover from it, and because I ran a clinic already and had a well established knowledge of medicine too there would be few other people like me with a vivid personal experience of the problem and who could go on to help others like me.
I was in a deep coma for one week and a light coma for 3 ½ months after the stroke. I remember nothing during that time. The Beijing Olympic Games of 2008 are a complete mystery to me.
I remember about three days before my stroke – I was helping my Mum to hang her curtains. I do not remember the day before the stroke though I have managed to build a jigsaw puzzle of what I had done from friends . I had cycled pass one of my friends, Phil, on one of the droves near my cottage in the morning. Later that day I knocked on a friend’s door in Broadstone, asking for an aspirin, which my friend found unusual as I was not normally one to complain. I was at a pub quiz in the neighbouring village of Sturminster Marshall that evening, complaining of a dreadful pain at the back of my head, a pain like I had never had before. On the Saturday night I was due to go to a friends’ house in the village. They were having a purple party! The idea being that everyone went dressed in purple. Apparently my friend, Wendy, with whom I was going to the party had filled my beard and my hair up with purple dye. The next day I was due to take my daughterto Heathrow airport, as she was off on her next job – taking people on the Trans Siberian Train.
However, on leaving the purple party I collapsed at the back gate – the initial and reasonable verdict was that I was a casualty to drink and the fumes of the dye in my beard and hair. It was only at the insistence of my friend Wendy, who pointed out that I was never one to drink to excess, especially in view of my early morning drive the next day that the Paramedics were called. They arrived quickly, diagnosed a stroke and took me right away to Poole Hospital, ten miles away. My friend Wendy had been performing CPR on me – which kept me alive and undoubtedly helped in reducing the trauma of the initial lesion. I am grateful to her for that.
From Poole Hospital I was blue lighted to Southampton, to the Wessex Neurological Centre. My daughter, and son were at home with their friends. When they heard what had happened they immediately went to Poole Hospital, and contacted their Mummy ex-wife who lives in Bournemouth. She then went to my Mum’s house and standing at the front door rang my Mum on her mobile to break the news to her. My Mum rang my brother , who lives in a village near Aylesbury. He had been at a Dinner party that night and On hearing the news of my stroke he jumped in his car to drive down to Dorset.
At Southampton Hospital my family waited, sleeping and waiting for news in the waiting room. . I was immediately taken to the Intensive Care Unit, where they were only allowed in one at a time to see me. At 8.30am the family was told not to wait further as there was nothing to do. At midday the following day Mr Duffield, a brilliant neurosurgeon, called my Mum to say that he knew what the problem was and was it OK to operate. She said yes and I was on the receiving end of several hours of intensive surgery, including the fitting of a stent at the site of the aneurysm. Wikipedia describes a stent as: a man-made ‘tube’ inserted into a natural passage/conduit in the body to prevent, or counteract, a disease-induced, localized flow constriction.
The fitting of the stent was to take care of the immediate problem of the aneurysm. My Mum was told to call at 4.30pm, but I was still in theatre. By 5.00pm I was back in a ward, comfortable although critical. My family went back to Southampton at 7.00pm. When seeing me they were told not to talk about me, but to me. By the Tuesday my sedation was stopped.
On the Thursday, Mr Duffield left a message with everyone to be there for the Friday. I had been on the receiving end of The Glagow Coma Scale, (GCS). This is a neurological scale which aims to give a reliable, objective way of recording the conscious state of a person. GCS was initially used to assess level of consciousness after head injury , and the scale is now used by first aid , Emergency Medical Services and doctors as being applicable to all acute medical and trauma patients. In hospitals it is also used in monitoring chronic patients in intensive care . The scale comprises three tests: eye , verbal and motor responses. The three values separately as well as their sum are considered. The lowest possible GCS (the sum) is 3 (deep coma or death ), while the highest is 15 (fully awake person). I was scoring 3! The neurosurgeon gathered all the family around on a Friday evening to tell them how grave the situation was. He told them that he wanted to see an improvement by the end of the weekend, otherwise they would pull the plug on me! So, there was I, completely oblivious to the world, in a deep comatose state having a grapple with death.
Close friends have asked me since if I had a “near-death experience?” In all honesty I experienced nothing – no floating up and looking down on my body, no tunnel of light, no hanging around at the pearly gates with St P. To me death is now oblivion – a non state. As Max Quordlepleen, the host at the “Restaurant at the End of the Universe”, says, ”After this there is nothing. Void. Emptiness. Oblivion. Absolute nothing …” All the waffle of philosophers, scientists and people of a religious persuasion means nothing, as there is nothing after life. This could be taken as somewhat depressing and nihilistic, but in many ways I now find it quite liberating. We have life and consciousness – enjoy it. As I said at the start, Pink Floyd sang, “Life is a short warm moment, death is a long cold rest.” Enjoy the short warm moment. You can’t enjoy the long cold rest – you are not there. My friend says that perhaps I did not experience the near death experience because there was no chance I was going there! Maybe she is right!