On the 9th of December 1990 my husband Ray had a stroke. It was the beginning of the journey we are still on 20 years and counting.
It was the beginning of a two week vacation. We had spent a couple of days traveling north to visit Ray’s brother. We had Trevor with us, Trevor was 15 at the time, our last one at school and so we said he could get out of school a couple of weeks early to come with us.
The morning after we arrived Ray’s brother asked him if he could repay a favour for him. A friend who had helped with some renovations wanted a cubby house built for his daughters as a Christmas present so Les had said that his brother Ray, being a carpenter, would build one for him. So they set off to first measure up the project and then drive to town to get supplies.
The day was hot and humid and in those days no-one gave dehydration a thought. I was home at the BIL’s place and answered the phone when it rang just after lunch. The voice said she wanted to speak to: “Mrs Wilkinson from New South Wales.” I said that was me. She said: “Find a chair dear I need to tell you something”. Then she told me my 48 year old fit husband had had a stroke and was currently on his way to hospital in an ambulance.
I thought she meant sunstroke and asked her if she did. She said: “No, it was the real thing.” and that was the first I ever knew that someone young and fit could have a stroke. When my BIL arrived home he said we should go to the hospital to fill in forms etc. It was a 45 minute drive and seemed to last twice that. We finally arrived and I found Ray looking much as usual but slightly lopsided in the face and he seemed to be having trouble with his left hand. The next news that astounded me was that he was a diabetic!
And so Ray was in hospital for just six days while they adjusted his diet, gave him some diabetic medication, showed me how to check blood sugars. Then they discharged him to come back home to our own state to our own doctor for advice on what to do next. It is unbelievable looking back that because each state was funded differently I was not allowed to even bring back the initial xrays and CT scans.
Our own doctor was shocked. Ray was too young, was fit, not overweight, maybe overworked and of course should have been relaxing on his holiday, not working off a debt for someone else! So it was put down to dehydration, a thickening of the blood and undiagnosed Ray and the medication for diabetes etc was all that was needed.
Ray actually went back to work six months after that. He was able to walk properly and use both hands. That was due to working with the Commonwealth Rehab unit operating especially so that people like Ray with slight strokes, or who had survived car accidents who were still young could get some help in returning to the full time work force. And Ray did! He actually returned to work for 8 ½ years.
But of course he had not changed his behaviour. Indeed there was never a suggestion that he had to do so. The stroke, unexplained, was supposedly a one-off that would never be repeated. The behaviour, working too hard, missing meals, not drinking enough water in hot times would later come against him again. But for now the doctors and specialists who had seen him said: “It’s over, you are well, go back to work.”
Which did not prepare us for the two strokes in 1999, the one in 2001 or the one in 2005.
And I became a caregiver in a sense right back then as Ray had massive fatigue issues and would come home from work, drop into a chair and be asleep in seconds, he also slept a lot at weekends. So I took over a lot of things he had been doing. I also went back to studies and got an office management certificate, a new piece of paper to help me get a job. My thinking was that if it happened again Ray could stay at home and I would be the breadwinner.
Neither of us knew how debilitating Ray’s two strokes in 1999 would be and that it would retire us both, me to look after him. How different is a slight stroke from those that leave deep and serious brain damage. They can change your whole life and the lives of families and friends and all who are in contact with the family concerned.