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Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Life after a Stroke

A friend asked me an interesting question last night… someone who probably knows I write blogs, make extensive use of social media and create things like YouTube videos. I was asked if I had blogged about my experiences as a stroke survivor?

Taking Simba and Ruffy for a walk this eveningWell, the short answer is that though I’ve spoken to several people about the subject and jotted down the odd note, no, I’ve not really blogged about my situation as it never occurred to me that it might be helpful to others, so here goes, I hope someone finds this useful.

There are many aspects to what is commonly known as a “stroke” and no doubt I’ll miss some important stuff here but I’ll do my best. Firstly there is “having a stroke”, there is the often long-term recovery process and then there is society’s attitude to stroke survivors – a combination of human empathy and help at best and gross ignorance and callousness at the other end. Indeed, someone asked me if this had anything to do with the brain…

In December 2017 at age 63, having recently taken the decision to retire from a very active tech and business life and enjoy simply living (preferably in the sun) rather than work as many do, possibly until they are no longer able to enjoy travel) while minding my own business on a Saturday night in my office as my wife and grand-daughter watched TV, I apparently had what is commonly called an ischemic stroke. Bear in mind that up until that point I had been a much over-weight but otherwise perfectly healthy and happy guy, completely devoid of hypochondria who was settling into “retirement” and that December was busy ignoring the cold weather in the Northeast of England by blogging and reviewing high tech gadgets in time for the Christmas.

Late Saturday night, one minute I was minding my own business typing away on my computer, the next minute I found myself on my office floor utterly unable to get up. It is all a little vague but I recall my wife appearing and getting me off the floor and from that point my memory is extremely vague (I was taken to hospital quickly), at no time did I ever experience significant pain nor have I since. Weeks before the stroke I’d started to get some minor night-time hand pain due to a carpal tunnel problem and was waiting for the NHS to book me in for an operation. As you can probably imagine that  ended up being considerably delayed. I eventually left hospital and returned home mid-February, some 2 months or so after the “incident”.

I spent a couple of days in a major hospital in the Northeast of England (as the local ones did not have the necessary scanning equipment) and then spend 6 weeks in a local hospital and 2 weeks in one further afield (we were in the process of house moving when this all started and were suffering issues with “tenants from hell” which meant my wife needed to change towns for a while and I volunteered to have the NHS move me to a different hospital to ease her travelling)..

Basically much of that Christmas was lost, some great friends visited me regularly and my wife was there just about every day. All of this happened with me being only partly with it much of the first few weeks. At first I lost pretty much all movement in my left side and my speech was slightly damaged as was my ability to get both eyes to coordinate with each other.  Staying in a hospital bed for several weeks does not come without penalties and I ended up with pulmonary embolisms (lungs) from clots which most likely originated in my feet. During my remaining time in hospital they treated this latter condition with regular injections, then put me on a new pill which I guess I’m stuck with for life now. 

If you plan to have a stoke – don’t do it at Christmas. I did thankfully, only hours after the stroke, get the “clot-buster” medicine which is common practice in the 21st century and one reason why many folk have very out-dated views about strokes and stroke victims. Because of the Christmas, the hospital was over-run with virii which thankfully missed me, staff were off sick or on holidays (specifically much-needed physiotherapy staff) for some of my first few weeks in hospital. I have no complaints about my treatment in general but as I learned (once I was able to think again), timing is key in handling stroke symptoms. I also learned that being highly motivated makes a BIG difference to results.

Unlike some others who had a stroke at the same time as me, my speech recovered rapidly and within days I was speaking fluidly but with my left side looking like it was about to drop off.

After a month or so in hospital I was insisting on handling bathroom visits by myself, refusing a wheelchair as I could see that it was important to rely on aids only when absolutely necessary.

By the time I left hospital in February I had successfully navigated stairs (twice), had been outside (in the cold weather) once, was talking more or less normally, had only a minor weakness in my left leg and my left arm was weak but usable, my eyes seemed to be ok but my left (writing and typing) hand was still somewhat useless but improving.

Physiotherapy in hospital had been good when I could get it (not often enough IMHO) but back at home, no doubt due to NHS funding, I was down to typically one visit a week. I could of course not drive during any of this.

After I left hospital, I got a new community physiotherapist who kept in touch and I was given a home treatment regime which generally worked well except that no-one got around to telling me that post-stroke “shoulder subluxation” is common. In short, my shoulder felt a if something had dislocated and it has never fully recovered though today, 18 months after the stroke, that feeling is only one of minor inconvenience. Annoyingly once it happened I end up with a semi-permanent or maybe permanent weakness that could have been avoided with the right advice early after I left hospital..

By April 2018 I’d convinced the NHS I was fit enough to drive (their tests are somewhat simplistic and are based around the ability of your eyes to work together with glasses as well as general fitness. The testing does not seem to take into account the biggest problem that occurred immediately after the stroke and which is still there in the background 18 month later, concentration and “pattern-matching” problems – techies will know what I mean by the latter. More on that below.

Despite having a no doubt skilled but utterly pessimistic specialist looking after me, in April 2018 we took the plunge, got on a plane and and went off to Spain for 2 weeks to “test the waters” before planning our normal, much longer summer trip. That went well.

By 2019 my walking and general look (apart from deliberately keeping off the weight I’d lost in those first few weeks and months after the stroke) were back to normal, the left eye was and is weaker but looks normal and is functional.

Either the stroke or the weight loss (I went from nearly 20 stones to little over 14 stones in the first 2 months and I’ve kept the weight off deliberately by eating less and doing more walking) has left me probably permanently intolerant of cold but happy with heat, an operational shift up of several degrees.

Epileptic Fits

“They say” that in the first few weeks after a stroke you might have an epileptic fit. I’d never had such a thing before the stroke and didn’t have one until long after in May 2019 when I was (not unusually) driving downhill in Spain on my own on the way to a local store and suddenly out of the blue, I felt a foaming at the mouth and did my best to get the car stopped and the clutch in. I got THAT far then went out cold. The next thing I recall, I was in a Spanish hospital having only slightly damaged my own car and seriously altered a parked car further down the hill. I can tell you as much about that as I can about my stroke – absolutely zilch.

After several hours in hospital, I was driven home by family and friends and  after a little tiredness for a day or two thereafter, I’ve been fine ever since. Spanish law says I can’t drive until I’ve been seizure-free for 12 months. I have a new twice-a-day pill to help prevent a repeat and British rules should let me drive after 6 months of no-re-occurrence so fingers crossed I could be back in the driving seat before long. My wife thankfully has up to now suffered no such health issues that we’re aware of.  I hate potential single-point-of-failure situations but we seem to be managing and her driving is just fine as usual. If I  lived on my own things would be VERY different.

Back to pattern matching – a fundamental feature of human and animal life – it seems that people who too readily form audio, visual and mental “patterns” are prone to imagining things that are not there like ghosts and aliens. In my case, since the stroke the opposite has happened to me and I tend to have difficulties in differentiating important and unimportant sounds in a crowded environment (by which I mean anything from a small party onwards). I can hear just fine but sometimes I am incredibly easily distracted by unimportant sounds. Visually I seem ok and my right eye remains totally unaffected by any of this.

In terms of concentration, I write only a little more slowly then 18 months ago and can type almost as well as pre-stroke but my left hand continues to confuse the S, A and D keys on my computer keyboard or forgets to lift off the keyboard which often leads to multiple key-presses. If I could just turn off the stupid auto-repeat, that would help.

When programming, I seem to have most of my old skills but the massive (30%) dead space in my brain has somewhat dented my ability to multi-task. If I focus I can problem-solve as normal. The (pleasant) Spanish Neuro-specialist I saw recently seems to think the December 2017 stroke caused the May 2019 fit as the damaged brain areas are adjacent to each other.

Friends and relatives? Some have well and truly stepped up to the mark, some have been utterly indispensable, others have either not been helpful or I’ve heard nothing from them in and my patience for the latter disappeared completely some time ago. If nothing else, such experiences teach you much about life and people.

So, dear reader, a stroke is without doubt a life-changer but it doesn’t necessarily have to take control of your life. Even at times when things don’t look too hopeful you really MUST self-motivate. It makes a LOT of difference. I’ve taken up occasional yoga and almost every day I stretch my arms, legs and fingers at every free opportunity. I’m not particularly keen on walking for no reason so I’ve trained 2 of my cats to go for walks with me here in sunny Spain, usually at night.

I hope you find the above enlightening or at least mildly interesting and if you ever find yourself or a loved one in a similar situation to mine, hopefully this record of my experiences may prove useful.

The LED Lighting Sunday Lecture

Good morning all…

Benefit from my mistakes?.. in modernising our house lighting both here in the UK and over in Spain, we have totally gone over to LED lighting of one kind or another. Having been used to compact fluorescents, I kind of expect a couple of years at least, before lights give up.

LED lighting is currently a choice, it won’t be for long as supplies of older alternatives dry up.

The first thing I learned when fitting LED lighting is that manufacturer specs are rubbish, blindly copied from the actual LED design specs by the lamp manufacturers/sales people. The specs refer to LEDs running at reasonable (warm) temperatures. Typically, household lighting gets HOT due to poor ventilation. LEDs don’t like to run HOT so forget your 13 year life claims but 2-5 years should be do-able..

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Back to Wark

Despite the unbelievably poor state our ex-tenants left the place in (hard to believe that there are people with so little regard for where they live) the cottage is starting, slowly to take shape thanks to lots of hard work, help from friends and lots of money…. the man-cave should be largely functional within the week, the house itself will take somewhat longer. not the best of times to be recuperating from a stroke nor preparing for a carpal tunnel op but then no-one ever promised life would be fair.

The Big Change

Looks like the last time I wrote in here was late last year.  That might seem odd to some of you so to clarify, I spent much of December, all of January and part of February 2018 in hospital following a stroke in mid-December. I have since then been incredibly hard at work performing a mix of official NHS therapy and my own home brew therapy concentrating on getting my lost keyboard skills back.

The stroke initially took out my entire left side but that is now largely reduced to weakness in my arm and hand and a slight inattention in my foot and will improve in time. My back is weak but that isn’t stopping me getting around. The big one for me is the left (writing) hand which is very much a work in progress and I’m using it to type this blog, but not without hard work.

For no reason other than getting a head start when I was out of action, I’ve dropped my weight by 20% with more on the way, helped no doubt by having no desire to consume alcohol.

A shame it took something this dramatic to get me to lose the weight but there you are. I’ve only just started to resume blogging and the hand still needs lots of work but I’m making a start. Maureen is also losing weight which makes it easier for me.

The Colours of the Rainbow

 

Little did I know when I started the annual discussion with my (art degree) wife about colours that I would start a whole feud off about the subject. This blog entry is a TAD technical but hopefully not enough to put you off – if you think the 3 basic (primary) colours are red, yellow and blue then you really DO owe it to yourself to spend a moment to read on… with an open mind you’re about to learn something new and interesting…

So the argument goes that red, yellow and blue are indivisible – they’re the colours that can’t be made. So how is it that every printer on the planet makes red from magenta and yellow?  Caught your attention? Read and learn…

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To potential PlusNet customers

Last update 11/04/2017

Early in 2016, having used PlusNet for normal broadband and seeing their offer of fibre broadband in Bellingham, Northumberland, we signed up for the 80 Mb fibre service.

The PlusNet modem was supplied and initially we managed to get up to 78Mb downloads and 19Mb uploads – not quiet the headline figure – but very close.

Soon after however, we started to experience drop-outs. The modem would disconnect and reconnect a minute or so later. This would happen every day either once or several times – perhaps with gaps of 2-3 days without issue.

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Newcastle Maker Faire

Maker Faire Newcastle 2017What a great day. Newcastle has an annual Maker Faire and it is on this weekend – and what a faire it is.

I headed off first thing to get some parking and was pleased to find that Newcastle College had some cheap parking – £4 for the day. I arrived 45 minutes to early, thankfully the security guard was a chatty type who wanted to know what all the fuss was about so we filled in time while waiting for my friend Aidan to turn up.

We got talking about cars as that was his thing and so by the time Aidan turned up in his Tesla, the guy was itching to see it and up to his armpits in questions.

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The Edinburgh Weekend

This weekend we went up to Edinburgh with our friends Karen and Dave.  Friday afternoon we drove up to Edinburgh and stopped in a little apartment in the city centre.

Of course, being Edinburgh, it poured rain most of the time..

Edinburgh

We spent the evening wandering around town after the obligatory trip to (House of Fraser) Jenners and ended up in a very nice Indian Restaurant just behind Princes Street…

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Life in Northumberland

home made humidifierNo exciting photos right now, mainly because we’ve not seen sunshine in the Northeast of England for a while now, just the usual suicide-inducing damp, cold weather.

Having said that, we’ve not had snow or anything – there is no chance of it being a white Christmas for example.  I’ve been buried away in my workshop now for some time, taking advantage of the bad weather to get stuck into some new learning.

On the right you’ll see my new toy – a home-made-from-scratch ultra-sound humidifier. The idea came to me one morning as she was griping about the room being dry. Inside the £2.99 B&M glass-with-wooden-stopper case is a £4.99 high intensity ultrasonic steamer from China, which when fed 24v (supply came with the unit) generates one hell of a lot of cold steam due to silent ultrasound vibration. Then follows an aluminium tube from B&Q, a 25mm processor fan (£1 from China) and a little convertor to take 24v down to around 3v (£ from China). The 5v fan forces air into the container and hence lots of very fine steam out. I dropped the voltage (to the fan) to reduce noise to virtually zero. Right now it is running flawlessly and I’m waiting to see how long it takes and how much water it takes to make an effective change to the room humidity – which, run by radiators and fire – tends to get a little dry at times.

The whole thing is on a Sonoff controller hooked back to my house system which knows how dry or otherwise the room is and controls accordingly. At least that’s the plan. How well it will survive cats sniffing, running dry and other daily challenges remains to be seen. Also needs a protective shield to stop the fan getting damp and make it look more presentable.  It did occur to me that a somewhat more powerful version of this would be ideal for the pergola in the height of Spanish summer. We have misters but they provide rather large water droplets whereas this is REALLY fine stuff. Could be nice for compensating for the blisteringly dry heat in August.

Other than that, Maureen is doing her usual Christmas stuff, I’m focussed on my blog which is just about to tip 6,000 signed up visitors and needs lots of attention. Some day if the sun ever gets out we’ll get around to some outdoor activities.

Can it get worse? Of course it can

Hard to believe we’ve only been back in the UK for just over 3 weeks. It seems like a lifetime.

When we left Spain the worst thing we had to worry about was Brexit – the end of Great Britain – now – there is Trump – racist, sexist, makes things up on the spot… there are many terms to describe him but the thing that worries me the most is how FAR this guy is from the people who think he will be their saviour.

Mostly white people who really think he would give two hoots about them ,the BIG thing that separates him from them is the silver spoon. While claiming to be all things to all (mostly white male) people – he has lived a life vastly, vastly removed from those who have the most faith in him.  That and the fact that this man will have his finger on the nuclear trigger. Thank heavens Americans only put presidents in place for 4 years – I should imagine anyone with a clean email record – maybe the nearest office cleaner would be a good competitor. But we have 4 years to go as the mighty dollar and the mighty pound slowly sink into the west.

I always said political correctness had gone too far but for 2 great nations to swing so far in the opposite direction.. I can only say, for once that I’m glad I’m a white male and even that won’t help much.

They always said the yellow race would rule the world – they didn’t say it would be our fault.

Counting the days to get back to our little hole in Spain, far away from it all.