Friday, 25 April 2014

Talking to the Stroke Man about Poetry - Science, Stroke, Art 2014

I was 15 when my dad had his first stroke. I was 33 when his second stroke took his life in 2000. When he died I was really grateful for those 'extra' years, in many ways they were a bonus. I wasn't fully aware of it at the time but when he was initially taken to hospital in Luton they weren't sure he was going to make it  - he pulled through thankfully, and spent around six months in hospital, first in Luton then was transferred to Barts in London before eventually arriving home.  The man who returned to the house was a different man to the one that had left for work one morning and not returned all those months before. His stroke was on the right side of the brain, so affected the left hand side of his body - this seemed weird at the time  - a bizarre sort of reflective trick, but the upshot was he had little use in his left hand and struggled to walk. When he had his stroke, the physiotherapist in the hospital had been brilliant  - they were very keen to get him doing things as soon as possible, trying to get him to stand up and doing basic physiotherapy. During the first months at home he tried really hard to carry on these exercises, I remember him sitting watching TV endlessly squeezing a ball of Silly Putty to try and build some muscles and retain his fine motor skills in what he called his useless left hand.  Of course this lack of movement in his hand, exacerbated by his leaden left leg meant he couldn't do one of his real loves - driving his car.

Whilst born in Canada, my dad was a product of Britain's motor city - Birmingham, and had grown up loving motors, cars - he did his apprenticeship there and had worked at various companies such as Chrysler, Talbot and Peugeot, before the shifting job market meant he had to endure a 150 mile round coach trip daily to work at a plant in Dunstable when there were no jobs for him in his hometown. It was there that he had his stroke, just before Christmas, and my mum always maintained that this daily grind contributed to his stroke. So having his stroke deprived him of the car driving he loved, and the tinkering on engines in the garage that we had taken for granted, and he was never able to go back to work, cut off in his prime, and was left feeling frankly useless and dejected. I'm not sure how much help I was to him initially, at the time not really empathising with the enormity of the situation and what a life changing event it was, even though its as clear as crystal looking back on it now. I know he had black moments, and felt sorry for himself. It took him years to acknowledge that he was disabled,  but he was a real fighter and eventually persuaded his GP that he was fit enough to drive an automatic car and was eventually able to start driving again. It still took him years to apply for his disabled badge though as he didn't want to deprive people who he thought more in need. During these dark times a shining beacon pulled him through - the local Stroke Club and the Stroke Association. Its fair to say that most people don't understand what a stroke is unless they have been touched by it. When I was rung by the doctor to be told that he had had his stroke I thought it was something like a heart attack and asked whether he could speak to me on the phone - I had no idea of its impact and effect, and most people float by in blissful ignorance of it. The Stroke Association  are a brilliant group that try and address this in a number of ways, and in particular provide support on a number of levels to victims of stroke and their families. It was through this that my dad found the lifeline of Solihull Stroke Club, who were fantastic for my dad on so many levels.

Recently I met Mike Garry, a lovely man who I will be blogging about soon in a different context through my Tickets of Distinction blog (as a teaser, Anthony H Wilson, Manchester, the Hacienda and the Manic street Preachers will be involved).  Mike is a poet, and does a lot of work with stroke survivors, watch this brilliant video about how poetry has helped in this context  - its a really uplifting film, and whats more, full of hope. Through Mike I also heard about this brilliant initiative, Science Stroke Art, thats taking place in Manchester in May.  There are lots of events designed to raise awareness of stroke and 'the programme includes talks, theatre, story-telling science and art demonstrations in order to capture people's imagination and challenge misconceptions about stroke'. It looks and sounds brilliant, and another reminder of the brilliant work that so many people do. These sort of things are in need of as much support as we can give. It starts on Thursday May 1st with a launch event and if anyone is around the North West please try and go along to something, or if not at least have a look at some of the brilliant things these groups do. My dad would have approved, and so do I.

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