Since the age of 14 there have been two periods of my life when I’ve been able to walk without crutches. One was from between the summer and October of 2010 and the other is from August 2015 to right now. They were both the result of years of effort from myself and the people around me; from physical and occupational therapists to friends and family. A lot of my memories from when I was in hospital are, at best, fuzzy but I do remember what my first physiotherapy was. It was at the Western General Hospital, a couple of weeks before I moved to the Sick Kids. I wasn’t able to leave my hospital bed so the physios came to me and I had to point and rotate my feet for 30 seconds a few times a day (an exercise I still occasionally do). 10 years later, I still have one crutch in a cupboard at home and another in my car just in case but I haven’t had to use either in a while. Which is something I always hoped to be able to say but sometimes felt like a very distant goal. I was recently talking about that with a friend of mine and I used the phrase “that’s almost half my life now”. It’s true but I’ve never thought of it like that before. Exactly 10 years ago today I had my first brain haemorrhage which, after a few months of hospital-craziness, left me somewhere between having to use a wheelchair and a walking frame. I would use either at the time depending on how I felt, which, looking back, was probably one of the first signs that there could be progress. Specifically in my walking but also in my recovery as a whole. It’s that progress that I hope to focus on today.
I tried to write the first part of this without mentioning the term “brain haemorrhage”. It was bound to come up eventually but I wanted to avoid the “When I was 14 I had a brain haemorrhage and then when I was 18 I had another one” intro, that I’ve been writing and saying for so long. I’m 24 now meaning that I’ve been recovering for 10 years. To be quite honest, I’m not sure what to think about that fact. I mean, I’ve definitely been a lot worse than I am at the moment and I imagine that in those moments I’d be thrilled to know I’d be “like this” at 24. That the weekly physiotherapy I was doing, for the vast majority of that decade, actually helped. I could also definitely be better than I am now (and hopefully someday I will be) but I’ve only been getting better since the last “incident”, at 18. However, because the recovery has taken years, I haven’t always noticed the steady improvement unless something huge happened like moving from using two crutches to only needing one, for example. But now, if I look back to May 2007 and consider what happened then and a few years later, I’m pretty happy with where I am today. If you were to watch me walking down the street you’d notice that I wobble and stumble more than the average person my age but when I look back at photos of me in a wheelchair or on crutches, I’ll take it.
I’ve only really been talking about my recovery in terms of walking, so far. Partly because it’s something that’s always been the most visible and immediately obvious to others but also because it’s the area I feel I’ve most improved and it’s nice to focus on positive things (especially at this time of year). It’s certainly the thing I’ve had to work at the most but one thing I found especially useful in my struggle to walk after the second brain haemorrhage was the fact that I had done it before. It took a few years but knowing that I was even capable of recovering to the extent I did was an extremely reassuring place to start from when I came to terms with what had happened. However, the balance problems were far from the only things that the brain haemorrhages left me with. I also take anti-nausea medicine every morning, I have chronic fatigue syndrome, a tremor and slurred speech. All of which have had their own ups and downs over the years but for some reason the crutches have always been my first priority in terms of recovery. I think, the first time at least, it was because I was a self-conscious 14 year old boy trying to get back to how I was before and the crutches were a physical, tangible reminder, both to myself and everyone else, of what had happened. As for the second time, It’s probably unwise for me to have fixated on this (because, as I was often told by nurses and physios, “no two strokes are the same”) but because I’d been through the post-brain-haemorrhage recovery before, I put certain expectations on myself. I had the recovery timeline pre-written in my head and saw it as the same wheelchair to unaided walking journey that I’d already spent years of my life on, so at times I almost treated it as a race with myself. Which, psychologically, probably wasn’t the best motivational tactic I could have chosen since I was always, simultaneously, both winning and losing to myself but I think it’s just human nature to compare two similar, personal experiences. 10 years later, I’d like to think I’m still recovering but if I make half as much progress in the next decade as I have in the last, I’ll be ok with that.