The 12th of December 2015, will be etched in my memory as the day that changed my life, more than the car accident I was involved in in 1991, where doctors had said to me upon admission to Baragwanath Hospital, I should be dead or paralysed. I woke up and bathed and dressed, and went to work. The CLI unit had a strategic planning workshop for 2015, of which I was a part of. We were at a school, Ryneveld Laerskool in Benoni over two days and this was the second day. I am not good with directions but I thought to myself, I had it because the previous day I followed a colleague on my way out and that I got the route. I was due to do a power point presentation on behalf of my unit. My unit members had been appointed to three different marking centre venues and other than myself the only two not appointed I had given them permission to stay home. My supervisor had given me permission not to attend also but three days before she called to say it would be remiss of her to say I should not be present as a unit head hence I was driving to the school. I got lost and ended up calling my supervisor’s PA for directions. I was lost but I will find my way. I drove into a BP garage and asked the workers there for directions to the school. They directed me and as I was driving past this familiar gate I saw the cars parked in the yard and knew other colleagues cars and drove in the yard.
I parked and went in the hall and because I was late I sat at a table at the back I borrowed a laptop from one of the colleagues and checked my presentation. I got to the loo and sat down to pee. I had a sudden dizzy spell and it was scary because I am not one to experience such; I thought hmm, I have locked myself in, what if I fall. I quickly finished, got dressed and got out of the toilet. A colleague came in and I asked for her help as I did not understand what was happening to me .I could not stand up straight. She asked if this was the first time I experienced this, and I responded in the affirmative. She put my hand over her shoulder and assisted me out of the toilet and as we exited there were colleagues sitting around there and I heard one ask what the matter was. I asked to be assisted to sit on a couch nearby. A colleague was there and she came over. I told her how I was feeling while in the toilet. She then asked if she should call our supervisor I replied yes but call an ambulance also as I did not know what was happening to me. The supervisor came and I think the ambulance people had also arrived and I asked her to call my husband. She did not have his number so I said give me my phone and scrolled and showed her his number. I said tell him to bring my son along so that he can drive my car.
I remember being put on the stretcher and a colleague saying she will go with me in the ambulance. They asked my name, id number, my home address and I think they were completing some form. I remember getting to the hospital then everything thereafter is a blur. I remember waking up in the medical ward and seeing all my brothers and sisters, with my husband, son and daughter. I was told that I had a stroke which turned out to be life altering for me and my family.
I am told I was in ICU for a week and those days are a blur for me. My family tell me about friends who came to see me, I do not remember anything. They tell me some days, they came during visiting hours and I would not even keep my eyes open. They would sit hoping I would wake up and they would end up leaving without me seeing or talking to them. But they kept coming to see me.
I remember waking up in the medical ward and being given a lot of medication/pills and then one day I remember being bathed by some nurses. I could not understand why I was bathed in bed. I found myself being fitted with a catheter and upon enquiring as to why was told that it was fitted by the ICU nurses upon my admission as I had suffered a stroke. It was then that I felt my left hand was heavier than my right hand, my left leg also heavy and immobile.
A lady came to see me and introduced herself as a speech therapist. She asked if I could talk and I responded that I could and that there was nothing wrong with my voice. I thought the exercises she made me do were stupid, little realising that stroke does affect speech in other cases.
After she left there was another visit but this time she introduced herself as an Occupational Therapist. She came with some exercises she wanted me to do with my left hand. I felt like she was joking because those facial exercises were for kids even my sister’s son could do, but I think I did them as she’d instructed just so she could leave me alone. She didn’t. After the facial exercises she wanted me to count from 100 minus 7, to go on until she asked me to stop. I informed her that even at school I was good in maths. This deduction of 7 from 100 until she told me to stop was so stressful that I remember telling everyone who came to visit me but I did it anyway.
The next day she brought some writing exercises she wanted me to do. I kept on asking myself why this woman did not leave me alone as all I wanted to do was just to sleep. But she persisted sometimes leaving with the unfinished exercise to finish on my own. I remember one day asking my younger sister where her son was so that he can finish the homework I was given.
One day she brought out a small bottle with pebbles inside. She wanted me to use my left hand to spread them on the table and to pick them up using my left hand fingers. I thought that now this woman is trying me because she knows that I cannot lift my left hand. She was very patient with me explaining that I need to try and use different fingers to lift the pebbles and place them in the bottle. I managed slowly but surely I did and my hand would tire quickly, she persisted and after our session she left the bottle with me and asked me to practise when I had time. I mean in hospital as a patient, all you do is eat, sleep, watch the clock and keep looking at the door which other therapist was coming to see you. There was one other and at some point I could not remember which therapist was which and I ended up saying to my daughter that they all looked the same and I could not tell them apart. To me their titles were all ending in ‘-pist’. As a patient in the hospital, you expectantly wait to see who would be visiting you on that day. Sure as there was light, my family would be there. I was always happy to see my brothers and sisters, my husband, my daughter and my son.
My family truly showed me how much they love and care for me. They were at the hospital during every visitation hour, I think my brothers and sisters rotated.
I did have some colleagues who came to visit, others I would remember and ask by name and I would be told that they came to visit while I was in the ICU and they were so shaken that they were sending messages of support and prayers. Some would call to find out progress on my condition. I remember while at the hospital, the food they served. There would be ladies who would come round to ask what food you would like to eat and then later an older would make rounds to find out if we enjoyed the food. My response one day to her was that all my life I hated potatoes so much, I did not eat them at home but daily my lunch and supper had them. It was at that time that other tests were being conducted and I was found to be diabetic.
On the 22nd of December, authorisation was received from medical aid for my admission to a rehab centre. Until then for me rehab was for drug addicts. Two young ladies came two days later to introduce themselves, one was a physiotherapist and the other and occupational therapist. They laughingly said you’ve done with your sleep at the hospital, here we are going to work.
Some young nurses came in the morning to wash us. I could not understand why, and I found I could not even hold my toothbrush. I remember not being able to sit, being tied to a chair with a sheet, being encouraged to try sit for at least 30 minutes.
Those days were hard, being taught to sit, taken through some exercises twice a day. But the hardest for me was being taught to stand up and having to learn to walk. When we are able, this is something we take so much for granted. Taking 5 to 10 steps using an old people walker was not easy. Having to ring a bell to be taken to the loo, no such luxury about ringing the bell again to be cleaned up and be put on the wheelchair and back to the ward, back onto the bed.
Two friends tell me later, how traumatised they were, having visited me and I could not even turn and the nurses using a draw sheet. Most of those days were spent lying on the bed. I was fortunate to have been given a bed where I could control the position I wanted to be lying in or sort of sit up. Sometime in January I was sent to another hospital for a gastroscopy.
Christmas came and went, and I remember being pushed on the wheelchair to view the outside of the rehab centre and to spend the visiting hours with family. All this time I was steadily making progress. I remember the day I was able to walk on my own two feet, though the wheelchair was nearby in case I was tired.
One Saturday morning my regular physiotherapist was not in, and her supervisor came to take me for my exercises. I was using a crutch by this time. As we left the gym room she took the crutch and asked me to walk without. I was so scared and told her I would fall, she said look at me and walk slowly and that was an achievement as I walked almost to the ward.
On the Monday my physio said we were going to tackle steps. She pushed the wheelchair up to the top of the stairs and she said we are going to go down. I was scared, I began to sweat. She said, hold on to the banister on the right and take right step first. We got down and she said we were going up in the same manner but I was to hold on to the left side. From that day we practised steps after the morning and afternoon steps.
One day in February, the doctor said to my family that they can come and take me home for the day. I was very excited even though I was on a wheelchair, but could walk short distance with the use of a quad stick. Going to the toilet I needed an escort.
On the 15th of March I was discharged from Rehab and sent home. I never thought that day would come. My family was very happy to see me at home. I was discharged with a wheel chair.
Today I celebrate blessings: I mostly walk without the aid of a stick – some days the left leg feels tight and walking is not easy; I go to the toilet unaided; I am able to bath an dress myself; I exercise daily; I am seeing a physiotherapist and psychologist; I take medication for my high blood pressure and diabetes, I eat very little carbs and mostly vegetables.
It’s a long road ahead, though I now acknowledge how far I have come, and I am eternally grateful to all the medical staff who played a role in saving me .