Emma Plummer

Life after brain injury…Shirley’s story

This month marks a year since Shirley had her stroke. We interview Shirley to find out more about her life after brain injury.

On 14 September 2017, Shirley was at home with her husband of nearly 50 years, Joe, who she affectionately calls Joey!

“I remember that day clearly” recalls Shirley. “As a family, we were anxious. Our daughter and her family were in Florida on holiday when two category 5 hurricanes hit. America was in a state of emergency and there was very little we could do, apart from waiting for updates. I was very stressed.”

“On the morning of 14 September I had an incredibly intense headache; like nothing I had ever felt before. I remember taking a shower. I then went downstairs whilst Joey had his shower. All I recall happening next was being uncontrollably and violently sick. When he came downstairs, he immediately called 999.”

Feeling confused

The emergency services arrived in just 3 minutes and blue-lighted Shirley directly to Colchester General Hospital, where she was assessed as having had a stroke.  She was eventually transferred to a private room on the stroke ward where she stayed for just over 5 weeks.

“It was a scary time in hospital, even though the stroke care team at the hospital were amazing” says Shirley. “I was confused and it was so difficult to order my thoughts and understand what was happening to me. I felt as if I was in prison. Every time I moved from my bed I was quickly prompted by an electronic device telling me to return to resting. I couldn’t understand why I needed other people’s permission to leave the hospital, even though it was to keep me safe. Physically, I felt fine, but inside I felt so muddled and alone.”

“Even now, if you didn’t know Shirley you wouldn’t think she is living with the effects of a brain injury. It’s a hidden injury.” says Joe.

“It’s isolating, having a brain injury” adds Shirley, even though her husband and grandchildren were by her beside every day whilst she was in hospital and spend a lot of time with her now. “I can be in a room full of people and feel completely lost in my thoughts.”

Help from Headway Essex

Shirley and Joe knew they had to take all the support that was on offer. At the hospital, the nurses recommended Headway Essex.

“We didn’t have any reservations about making contact. Reading about the charity and the type of services available, we got in touch straight away” says Joe.

“Headway Essex has been a lifeline to us. I would recommend their services to anybody who has a brain injury” adds Shirley. “I made steady progress in my recovery in the first six months, but as the support tailed-off from the NHS and ACE, I felt myself regressing slightly.

“I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and will start getting dressed thinking it is the morning even though it’s dark outside. I also struggle with using my debit card for payment and get anxious about people waiting behind me at a checkout.”

“Headway Essex though has been great at suggesting compensatory techniques” adds Joe. “We even have a Headway card that Shirley hands over to the cashier with her debit card when making a payment. It subtly lets the cashier know that she has a brain injury. So far, she’s used it in Boots and Marks & Spencer. On both occasions, the cashiers were wonderful with Shirley.”

Making new friends

Having people to talk to at the Headway Essex support groups has also been helpful for Shirley and Joe.

“Before the stroke, I was a very private person. Now, because of my injury I am really social and confident” says Shirley, who looks forward to going to the Headway Essex support groups, which help reduce social isolation.

“As a husband and carer, it’s great to be able to chat with other family members who are in a similar position to me” says Joe. “Plus, he loves to show off his cakes at each get together” Shirley quickly adds!

A bright future

The memory clinic at Colchester General Hospital is helping Shirley to move forward with her ability to order her thoughts and retain short-term information. Under the care of a Clinical Psychologist, she’s been told she has dyslexia, which she says “I’ve probably always had but the brain injury has made it much more noticeable.”

“She’s due to have another MRI soon which will help the hospital recommend suitable treatments and therapies. We look forward to updating our friends at the Headway Essex Support Group as we find out more” says Joe.

Shirley and Joe will also be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this October, having met in the 1960s when they were just 16 and 18. From everyone at Headway Essex, we wish them a very happy anniversary and hope that Joe saves some cake for the next Support Group!

Help us to continue to be there for many more people…

If you feel touched by Shirley & Joe’s story and would like to donate to Headway Essex to ensure we can be there for others in a similar situation, every little helps. Giving just £5 enables us to provide initial support to someone who has acquired a brain injury.

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