Ellis Graham Parker has a quirky sense of humor. This is evident by the pictures that he has his wife take of him, when they visit various places around Great Britain where they live. One picture shows him “talking” to a goat on a farm. In another picture, Ellis is wearing a huge grin and has his arms spread wide, as he faces the muzzle of an antique cannon head-on. But his sense of humor was put to the ultimate test in October 2003, when he experienced a debilitating ischemic stroke in his brain stem.
Ellis was in bed, trying to fall asleep, when the stroke took place. The 54 year old was taken to Blackpool Victoria Hospital, in Blackpool, England, where he was stabilized. He was treated for two and a half more months. Once he was ready, he was transferred to Clifton Hospital Fairhaven for three weeks of physical, occupational, and balance therapies. When this in-hospital rehab was complete, Ellis was discharged directly to his home to continue recovering under the watchful eye of his wife of 25 years.
Ellis said he put his oddball humor to good use all the while he was hospitalized, not only by telling funny jokes and stories, and pulling little pranks, but also by making light of his own difficult situation and reaching out to others who were in worse condition. This was not only to get himself through his own worst days, but to cheer up his fellow patients and the hospital nursing staff. In fact, he says four years after he was discharged, he paid an impromptu visit to the ward and was immediately recognized by several staff members who still worked there. (Ellis jokingly hoped that this was because he had made a good impression, and not otherwise.)
Even with his sense of humor intact, Ellis still had to weather a disorienting readjustment process. He says that early on, it was a huge step to admit that his life had changed forever. It also took him a long time to accept his stroke residuals and to incorporate them into a new “sense of self.” For one thing, his entire left side was affected: arm, hand, leg, foot and face. Everything was weak and poorly responsive. For another, Ellis’ balance was seriously affected. He also had trouble swallowing and concentrating.
Ellis says he learned that stroke recovery consists of very, very small steps. Any amount of progress is still progress, so he feels it pays to maintain a positive attitude throughout your recovery, and to celebrate whatever little progress that you do make.
Ellis still has all of his old residuals on board. Plus, he was subsequently diagnosed with benign positional vertigo, which affects him when he’s standing and walking. He has to be exceptionally careful when navigating uneven surfaces, so he uses a cane whenever he’s out and about.
To make matters worse, Ellis’ left arm and hand never did go back to working the way they should, and while this would frustrate anyone, it’s particularly vexing to Ellis, because he’s been playing classical guitar for more than 30 years. He couldn’t return to work, and was forced to retire from his job as an insurance company administrator. Ellis was determined to revisit (and redouble) his efforts making music with his guitar.
But, half of his playing resides in his left hand, which has been a challenge for him to accommodate. To help him improve the strength in both hands, and to be able to hold a guitar for extended periods of time, each day Ellis does 150 wrist grip exercises on both sides. He does additional neck exercises to assist his posture. He’s hoping that this will enable him to keep up with the rigors of playing.
For the last fifteen years, Ellis has been using a small, unpretentious Spanish guitar that he bought prior to his stroke. Now, using this humble instrument, he’s pushing the envelope of his on-going recovery by continuing to take on complicated guitar pieces. Here’s a link to several short video clips of Ellis playing his guitar (these were all recorded post-stroke, which took a tremendous amount of concentration and effort for him to pull off):
While Ellis says that he’s never played guitar professionally. In the early ‘90’s he performed with two classical guitar societies in Manchester and Blackburn, England. For a time after his stroke, he shared his love of music by volunteering two or so hours on Saturdays to teach “at risk” children the basics of how to play the guitar. Now, it just comes down to Ellis simply expressing himself via his favorite musical instrument, which he enjoys immensely.
Music aside, Ellis also used to be an accomplished fisherman. At one time, he traveled around Great Britain and Scotland making frequent salmon fishing trips, but since his stroke, he’s had to curtail all of his fishing expeditions.
This has left a bit of a hole in his schedule, but Ellis is ready to take on new, more-manageable activities. These days, he’s venturing into completely new territory and embracing a totally different “hobby”. Twelve years post-stroke, he’s decided to start networking on-line with other stroke survivors.
He likes to think that although he’s physically limited, he strives to maintain a positive attitude, and a generous nature. He’d like to share the benefit of his experience with others, and to learn about other stroke survivors’ unique circumstances.
Ellis would like to hear from other members of the Stroke Network. He can be contacted on The Stroke Network via his user name: eggo101