'I would say I've been through hell on earth'
Painting has provided a new lease of life for a woman who, at the age of 37, suffered a devastating stroke
I had a brain stem stroke in 2004 when I was 37. I actually had the stroke while I was in Limerick Regional Hospital on the way to having surgery for a fracture in my ankle. The doctors still aren’t able to pinpoint the reason why I had the stroke.
I stayed in Limerick Regional Hospital for the first four months after my stroke, waiting for a place in the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) in Dún Laoghaire.
At that stage, I couldn’t do anything. I could barely blink. I was tube-fed and given medication. The television was left on all day in my room which was very frustrating.
I had what’s called Locked-In Syndrome for about three years after my stroke. It was total physical devastation.
It was like I was hit by a bolt of lightning and every physical action was out of place. I wasn’t able to scratch my nose but I knew what was going on around me.
When I was in the NRH, the staff helped me communicate with a buzzer, alphabet and colour boards. They also encouraged me to make the most of what I had. They explained to me what my future held.
I was so distraught that my life would continue like this that I was determined to prove them wrong. I have always been a very stubborn person and that didn’t change after my stroke.
My sister, Bairbre, and her husband were a huge support to me, and continue to give me hope that my life will improve.
After seven months in the NRH, I was sent back to Limerick Regional Hospital where I stayed for two months before being discharged back home.
Coming home to my husband and two sons – then aged four and nine – was horrible. There wasn’t any rehabilitation available for me. I was still being fed through a tube and had a catheter for the next two years. I spent most of my time in my room or being brought to clinics for different therapies. I had 90 hours’ home support a week.
Everything started to wake up about three years after my stroke. Now, the way I look at it is that my body was asleep for the first three years after the stroke.
I started to eat a soft diet and for the past two years or so, I manage to eat reasonably well.
I am deaf in my left ear and I haven’t got the use of my right hand. My speech has come back reasonably well and I use a wheelchair to get about.
All my injuries were physical and I don’t think my personality has changed. I’m a bit selfish and I’ve a bad temper which I always had. But, it is so frustrating to be in a wheelchair all the time. Every strip of dignity has been stripped away from me over the years. I would say that I’ve been through a kind of hell on earth.