Since February 2010, my life suddenly changed beyond all belief! Disbelief, would actually be more accurate. I suffered a catastrophic brainstem stroke. Yeah me, the thirty nine year old, obsessive, uber fit 70 mile-a-week fell runner and mum of three dependent children! But that wasn’t the worst part. I awoke from my medically induced coma, on life support, completely unable to move a single muscle, but I could think, feel, hear and see everything in my field of vision. The diagnosis my husband was given was Locked-In-Syndrome.
Yes, I felt ‘buried alive’ or ‘trapped inside my body’ but I was scared shitless and in so much physical pain.
After two weeks, my friends’ noticed my eyelid flicker slightly and set about trying to ‘unlock’ me. They always knew I was still ‘Kate’ inside and not vegetative as thought by the medics. With their instructions, I attempted to flicker once for ‘no’ and twice for ‘yes’, as Jaq pointed to a letter on a piece of A4 paper. The first three letters I spelt out was ‘S-L-E’. Fortunately for me, Jaq guessed the word ‘SLEEP’! So I flickered twice. Then said, ‘what, can’t sleep?’ I flickered twice. ‘At night?’ she went on. So I flickered twice! OMG in that moment I became ‘unlocked’ – although I would still be totally paralysed for months to come. I was euphoric! In that moment, it was like all my birthdays, Christmases, children’s’ births multiplied by one hundred!
The nurses kept me live, but I suffered horrific emotional distress, fear, anxiety and loneliness. From people dying, to the boredom, to conversations about me without me, to talking over me, to the painful leg cramps, the separation anxiety, the nil-by-mouth, the ‘monthlies’, the insomnia, the loss of all my dignity, the dreadful hallucinations I wasn’t warned about …. Yes, it was horrendous. By week eight, all that moved was my right thumb 3 millimetres! But after nine weeks in ICU, I was transferred to a rehabilitation unit at The Northern General hospital.
After 6 weeks in my rehabilitation unit, I was written-off big time and told I needed discharging to a nursing care home as I was in a wheelchair in that meeting dribbling like a Saint Bernard dog! I was totally devastated, very angry, outraged, shocked and extremely vulnerable. Seemingly, my ‘no significant improvement’ in six weeks, meant that my life wasn’t ‘worth’ treating and worse still, my children would no longer have their hands-on, fun mum at home.
Well ‘sod you’ all, I thought! Over my dead body (literally).
I was mad and I was now going to try damned hard to prove all the doubters wrong! The best way I can illustrate the mindset of my rehabilitation team was a conversation between my best friend, Alison and psychologist in an ante room.
The psychologist said, “Alison we have a problem. Kate’s expectations are here [pointing up to the ceiling] and our expectations are here [pointing to the floor], so you need to bring Kate’s expectations down.” “‘No’” Alison said. “You need to go up to her!”
So I ‘willed’ every minute and hour of the day, after my morning therapy sessions, in front of crap TV, while my visitors came, in the shower, sat out in my electric wheelchair as I ‘people-watched’. I was as obsessive about bringing my body back to life, as I was being a long distance runner! Repetitively, frequently and intensively, I used to focus one part of my body and try by willing it to bring it back to life. I’d have conversations in my head like ‘Bloody move big toe’ or ‘move further finger or wrist’. I just had to re-wire my brain, then I’d be fixed and could go home. So, I came up with some ridiculously ambitious goals to focus on (and to annoy my therapists). Like, ‘I WILL walk again and walk out of hospital’, ‘I WILL hug my kids’, ‘I WILL eat again’, hell, I WILL even run by the first anniversary of my stroke!’
My mindset was never ‘IF’ these things would happen, but ‘WHEN’.
I WAS going to get better myself, I had to no one believed in me. I took ‘considered’ risks, failed a lot with setbacks but also broke some rules along the way!) Do you know anyone who got a verbal warning in hospital?!
My five year old son Woody, gave me the confidence to have the self-belief to try to speak again in hospital. This, whilst my speech and language therapist had told my husband that I’d never speak again with my severe dysphagia and tracheostomy.
From the moment I had been written-off, I had a point to prove and nothing would stop me achieving my goals, however outlandish they seemed to others. I’d found my self-belief and my motivation to TRY because I had nothing to lose, but an awful lot to gain. Since 2010, much has happened in my physical recovery and my subsequent new peaking career, but that’s for another blog!
Suffice to say, just 9 months after my severe stroke, I walked four times further than I’d ever walked in my rehabilitation session to ‘escape’ hospital, as you can see here. https://youtu.be/zVDmBNr136U.
Klaudia (24) moved her arm in 10 hours after being given the permission to believe she could do it. See for yourself….
Headteachers and leaders must instill the self-belief in teachers, pupils and employees to think differently so that they too can do it. Failure will happen along the way, but they will get there. Sooner or later they will achieve!
As my hero Winston Churchill said,
“Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts.”