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Stroke in the young: a first-hand account

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At the age of 17, Beth went from being a normal, healthy teenager to lying in a hospital bed unable to move or speak. Now spear-heading an awareness campaign for strokes in the young, she reflects on her recovery and the care she received along the way.

My story starts on the 15th September 2012. I’d been at a party the night before and woke up with a headache, thinking ”this is only a small hangover!” Throughout the day the headache got worse but I didn’t think anything of it. At 9pm, I took paracetamol and went to bed.

beth sinfield

beth sinfield

Beth Sinfield

On the 16th September, the nightmare began.

I woke at 1am with what felt like the worst migraine in the history of migraines. It felt as if my face was melting, the left side of my head burning hot. I flipped my legs over the side of the bed and walked to my parent’s room. Well, I stumbled and collapsed but I got my dad’s attention anyway.

“My eyes screamed with pain and the burning increased”

He turned the light on and instantly my eyes screamed with pain, the burning increased and I signalled to turn it off. Words just jumbled from my mouth, my brain failing to compute right.

My mum called an out of hours doctor through the 111 NHS helpline. When he arrived, my blood pressure and blood sugar were taken but there was no cause for concern. By now I had lost the ability to walk and talk at all. An ambulance was called and I was taken to A&E where doctors had no clear idea of what was wrong with me. Could it be meningitis? Given my age, they thought it might well be. They carried out a lumbar puncture and a CT scan but nothing was found.

”Words just jumbled from my mouth, my brain failing to compute right”

I was drifting in and out of consciousness, my migraine remained and my breathing began to shallow

I woke up ‘locked-in’ - I couldn’t move any muscle but my eyes rolled in my head. I was transferred to Addenbrooke’s Hospital where I had the MRI scan that confirmed that it had been a stroke in my brainstem. My prognosis was that I’d probably never walk or talk again. I would always need to be fed via a tube.

It was an incredibly dark time. All hope seemed to be gone. I went from being a normal 17 year-old girl studying at school to all of a sudden being unable to do anything. In the blink of an eye, what I’d thought was my future was gone.

Except one day my right finger began to twitch.

I moved to the Regional Rehabilitation Unit at Northwick Park Hospital in London and within a few months my whole right side returned, only my left to go. My swallowing improved too. I took my first steps in December 2012, three months after the stroke that had completely taken away my life.

”The nurses treated me as the age that I was and were not patronising or condescending”

I said my first words in January 2013 - my voice had returned (hooray!) - and soon after I began to eat again, only purees at first and thickened fluids but it was so nice to taste things again instead of having it pumped through a tube into my stomach.

The nursing care throughout my time in hospital was great. The nurses at Addenbrooke’s treated me as the age that I was and were not patronising or condescending. They understood that I may not have been able to speak but I still remained myself.

In Northwick Park, the nurses treated me like their own daughter, it was very sweet. If I got emotional, instead of speaking down to me, they just gave me a hug. It was so nice to know that I was loved and cared for.

”If I got emotional, instead of speaking down to me, they just gave me a hug”

However, there was one nurse that for some reason, didn’t seem to like me. When she dressed me she would hurl my limbs on the bed. I may not have been able to move them but I could feel! Instead of brushing my hair nicely, she would pull the brush through my hair and practically yank my hair from my scalp. If I cried she would smirk and call me, and I quote, a “cry baby”.

Apart from her, my nursing care was enjoyable. I received good care and anything I needed or wanted, was dealt with. Not straight away, as it was a very busy ward, but care was always there.

Advice for healthcare professionals

For those that are reading this, just treat your patients well; if they’re young, do not speak down them, or if they cannot talk, don’t assume that they cannot understand you. It’s more than likely that they do and will probably be thinking “what an idiot” if you start patronising them.

Your patient will more than likely have a very rough time in hospital, particularly emotionally. Just let them know that you’re there. Talk with them, hug them. Show that you really do care.

Recovery

I was in hospital for 10 months overall and endured hours of physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. My therapists were amazing and made my hospital stay more tolerable. I worked so damn hard, but there was no stopping there.

I was discharged on the 4th July 2013 and the second part of my journey began.

When I was in hospital, a hole in my heart had been discovered that may have been the cause of my stroke. After several tests and investigations, it was closed exactly a year after my stroke, another thing I wouldn’t have to worry about again.

”I pushed myself through session after session of physiotherapy and speech therapy”

I pushed myself through session after session of physiotherapy and speech therapy once again and my walking, my left arm and my speech continued to improve.

To this day, in October 2015, I am walking unaided, my left arm is stronger with movement and I can talk. None of it is perfect by any means, I still suffer with problems, so my walking is unbalanced, my left arm is still weaker and my speech is sometimes hard to understand. But I am certainly a hell of a lot better than I was.

The past three years have been the hardest of my life but it is now getting a lot easier, things are definitely on the positive side!

And I am back in education! Three years later and I’m now at college studying my A Levels again in Psychology, Sociology and English. I can also drive!

I have been in multiple newspapers and magazines to raise awareness of young stroke and have set up a Twitter page, Beth’s Story, to tell my story via my blog. I have also won a Young Person of the Year award for all my hard work, both personally and raising awareness.

I am determined to raise the issue of stroke in the young. A common misconception is that it only happens to older people and I want this stigma changed! It happens to young people, to teenagers, to babies, even the unborn. I am trying to do my bit, I would do anything to help stop stroke.

It is not something to be taken lightly, EVER.

Beth Sinfield

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