Saturday, 8 September 2018

My mother's stroke

Around 1988, I was full of crazy ideas with no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was considering selling my house and in fact put it on the market for a short time. I announced to my mother that I wanted to go and live in Spain. This alarmed her greatly and probably my guardian angel too because my house was my security and ultimately provided me with a huge windfall when I did actually sell it in 2005. And I had very little money at the time. She pleaded with me that I could not afford it.
Then she had a stroke. My mother had suffered from a number of mini-strokes over one or two years but the big one occurred in November 1988, a Sunday, the day before the Clapham Rail Disaster in London when a train ploughed at high speed into another which had stopped at signals. Ah, but it was a weekend so her local GP was taking it easy. So by the time I arrived at my mother’s house, she was mumbling and alone, he had left to go back to his Sunday roast lunch. We never saw the doctor. Never. I and my brother Philip, who arrived later from Gloucester, were left to fend for ourselves. We had to borrow a commode from a local old-peoples’ home. I phoned my own doctor, he was a lot of help! “She may well die”, he said. She had a fear of hospitals because she still had memories of when my father died but we should have overruled the GP and called the emergency services immediately.
This crazy situation, with mum descending into a kind of mumbling fog and now no longer able to walk because her right leg was paralysed, continued until the next morning when she was carted off to hospital in an ambulance. The doctors in the hospital moved heaven and earth to keep her alive. For what? Four years of utter misery, for her and for her two sons who often quarrelled because we could not understand clearly what our mother wanted.

My poor brother spent that first Sunday night alone with her while I went back home, not knowing if at any time he would have a dead body on his hands. A weekend you see (excuse the sarcasm!) When I spoke to her doctor on the phone it was almost as if he "dared" me to call an ambulance which of course is what we should have done... what he should have done. Later, the doctors in the practise apologised, even doctors are not immune to making mistakes. And of course I forgive, I always do that. So I hope I have not been too harsh in my judgment.

Later when I was looking through her papers, I found a note which obviously she had intended to give me. It was full of reasons not to go to Spain, not to leave her basically. For 15 more years, I continued to live in Addlestone finally moving to Spain when I retired in 2005. And, for two or three of those years from the time of her stroke to when she finally died in 1992 I was commuting frequently and rapidly around the M25 to visit her in Woodford, as I had been doing previously at weekends. Later, I moved her to a home near to Addlestone which naturally upset my brother because he reasoned that the larger part of her family lived in Gloucester. It also upset the staff at the home in Essex where she was staying, as though she was "theirs". I was under enormous pressure and had to move her at fairly short notice. I drove her across London in my car, with her in a big panic at one stage desperately wanting a pee. 
Incidentally, my mother was right; it would have been an enormous mistake to move to Spain then. I was following my foolish heart, not my mind. Or was I testing her? Because I felt very much tied to her and wanted to loosen the ties. During the ensuing 10 years, I made good money in my company so, by the time I retired at 60, I was financially in a good state. And during those 15 years from 1990, the value of my house soared.
When I was in my early teens, I suffered from shortness of breath, especially at night. It was never classified as asthma but the symptoms were similar. Mine were stress-related, I think. And I was prescribed Ephedrine. It is based on a Chinese root and had been used for many years. It worked wonders in releasing the tightness in my chest. Ephedrine is a bronco dilator. But it is also a stimulant. I wondered why I felt so great afterwards! Now it is banned in sports and is a prohibited substance because young people used to buy it to get high. I also found that it helped me get through job interviews, normally I would have difficulty speaking clearly, I would get words round the wrong way. Or I would be very nervous. I thought it was relaxing me but in fact it was forcing me into the “speech” side of the brain.

And then I started taking it occasionally as a recreational drug to relieve the depression which used to plague me on dark winter afternoons.

A year after my mother had her stroke, on a Boxing Day afternoon when it was my brother’s turn to visit my mum, I got depressed and took one of my 25mg Spanish Ephedrine tablets - in fact, I carefully broke it in two and took half - I had a few drinks and went to bed.

I woke up an hour later feeling very odd, disconnected, with very little feeling from my body. Light headed. And what is worse, I totally lost any of my right-side imagery which used to reassure me that I was alive. I thought that this would pass and so I made myself some tea. But it never did pass, not even to this day. I was still able to imagine things but, before that day, all kinds of objects around me gave off vibrations, I cannot describe it. I could still relax into the right-side at times and my speech would become garbled sometimes until I took a leftwards jump. But it wasn’t the same.

I guess I am explaining why I was no longer the reclusive hunched figure over a beer in the Woburn Arms in Addlestone because after that day, I became a little more sociable. Partly it was due to an accident with a drug, not even an overdose – an under-dose if anything but something broke that day and never got better. Even bones repair themselves but this didn’t.

Maybe something physical changed that day, a nerve or some indigenous part of my body which carries signals around the body. I will never know will I? Most people will say that, “Oh, it is just psychological” but something happened, something changed, and it was while I was sleeping. I have never written about this before, and I only ever told one or two people. In a sense it was a move from the right hemisphere to the (logical) left. I guess it saved me from even more crazy ideas. (Ed. When I read this today, Sept 2018, when I put the story online, I had problems following it too. So don't worry if it doesn't make sense!)
After four years unable to communicate, In 1992, my mother died. Mercifully. I had spent a lot of time with her, taking her around my neighbourhood in a wheelchair, trying to give her as near-normal a life as possible and I guess it consumed a large part of my life. The residential home was costing a lot of money and selling her house in Woodford was another argumentative hurdle which I and my brother had to overcome. I wanted to delay as long as possible so that she could still re-visit it from time to time while she was still in the residential home in Woodford but when she came to live near me, it became the obvious thing to do.