'Your eyes are looking out but you can't speak. It's terrifying'
Labour TD for Carlow/Kilkenny Ann Phelan: 'All this power is leaving your body, you have no idea why, and it's the very same as if you are drowning and there is nobody there. ' photograph: cyril byrne
Your outlook changes when, within minutes, you go from healthy, sporty woman of 46 to stroke victim
It was extremely sudden, that was the difficulty. It was April 2008; I was 46 and a councillor in Kilkenny County Council. We were meeting the president, Mary McAleese, that day and I remember feeling really cold all day and I wasn’t hungry.
I was big into horseriding then and that evening, as usual, I went off to my riding school. I didn’t feel very well and the people at the riding school told me my co-ordination was off too.
I said to the instructor, “I have to get down off the horse, I don’t feel very well.” Then this sort of explosion happened in my head. I could hear something like electricity in my ears. My sight disappeared and there were little black spots in front of my eyes.
When I got down, I just stumbled and couldn’t get back up again. I kept thinking at some stage pain was going to set in. I knew there was something wrong but I had no idea what it was. I just kept waiting for the pain to come. We got in the car and went straight to Waterford Regional Hospital.
It’s just amazing when you have a stroke because you lose everything, absolutely everything, but you can hear what everybody is saying. I could hear what the doctors were saying about me but I couldn’t speak. Terrifying is the only way I could describe it. All this power is leaving your body, you have no idea why, and it’s the very same as if you are drowning and there is nobody there.
Your eyes are looking out but you can’t speak. You are a human being, used to communicating, but all of a sudden you can’t communicate.
To go from being able to be fully understood to not being able to communicate is heartbreaking. I remember seeing the doctor at the bottom of the bed and thinking, I’m drowning here and nobody even knows.
My husband and my daughter were with me by then, they were terrified too. When the doctor asked me to describe what happened, I couldn’t speak. I kept trying to say something but nothing came out except gibberish.
When the consultant came to speak to me the next morning, she said, “We think you’ve had a stroke.”
Because stroke happens as the brain swells, you are losing your power very slowly so you are lying there in the bed, you can feel yourself losing the power, but there is no pain so you can’t judge how bad you are.