Why I chose to support The Stroke Association

I didn’t really know my Dad all that well. My parents divorced when I was 12 and I didn’t get to see him for the next nine years after that. By then I was a man who’d gone through teenage years without a father figure around. It wasn’t his fault. He’d tried every possible way he could to keep in touch but it wasn’t to be.

Over the years we missed out on a lot of the things which are taken for granted in many father/son relationships. Our lives were forced apart by circumstance, and for a number of years we each had no knowledge of how the other’s life was developing. For me this was no real problem. I was young, and probably didn’t really know what I was missing. For him it was harder than most of us could imagine.

When we met again after a nine-year gap, I was 21 years old, and suddenly – as we gingerly shook hands, or hugged, I can’t remember which – I realised what I had been missing. Instantly I could see and feel the warmth and compassion. I could see both the sadness for what we had missed, and the joy for what was to come, in his eyes, and I knew that this stranger in front of me was my father. My Dad.

In the years that followed, as I met his friends, saw his work, experienced his hobbies and felt his drive and ambition, I realised how much I liked him. I just loved the way he captivated people with his conversation. I puffed out my chest with pride when people who worked for him told me he was the best boss they’d ever had – and really meant it.

But, as I say, until the last year of his life I didn’t really know him all that well. He was more like a good friend than my father. He’d lived and worked abroad for a lot of his life so for a number of years I’d catch up with him briefly every now and again. We’d maybe snatch a game of golf or a nice meal together but then we’d go our separate ways again for months at a time.

In 2001 he was back in England, and moved close enough to where I lived that we managed to see a lot more of each other. He was happy and in love with a great lady who really encouraged us to develop our relationship, play golf together, sit and chat about stuff and to generally be like father and son. It finally felt like it should have done a long time before. I was quite gutted when I couldn’t get to a barbecue they were having one weekend. I’d already made plans and had to turn down the invitation but I was sure there would be other times.

When I got back from my night out I checked my mobile phone, which I’d left at home, and saw that I’d missed 28 voice messages. That seemed like a lot. I didn’t have to listen to many to understand why. Dad had developed a serious headache at the barbecue and passed out. An ambulance had been called and he had been taken to hospital. Christine, his fiancée by now, had been frantically trying to get in touch with me.

Cursing myself for not taking my mobile phone out with me I rang her to let her know I was on my way and headed to the hospital. She was calmer than she had been in the messages, which was reassuring. I lived close so it only took ten minutes or so to catch sight of my slightly dishevelled father in a very unflattering hospital gown. From the door I could see he was sitting up in bed and talking to Christine. I felt relieved. I’m no fan of hospitals and it looked like we probably wouldn’t be there long.

I was exhausted. I’d had a long and boozy night out and it was, by now, around 4am, so I stayed a while, chatted to my Dad and felt that there wasn’t much I could do – or was capable of doing. He was a little slurry in his speech and was complaining that everything he could see was upside-down or reversed left to right but I put it down to whatever drugs he’d been given to ease the pain for what I seem to remember thinking was probably a migraine condition developing. The staff didn’t seem concerned so I felt no need to worry excessively. They were going to keep him in overnight for observation and Chris was going to stay so I decided to go home to get some sleep and said I’d be back in a few hours.

I’d been home less than an hour when the phone rang. Christine was hysterical and in tears and I could barely understand her. What was clear was that things had deteriorated since I left so I dashed back to the hospital. I found her and calmed her down enough for her to tell me that my father was now in a coma after a massive heart attack, brought on by a stroke. We were stunned, frightened and felt completely helpless. He was now in intensive care and the local A&E appeared to be out of its depth. Frantic calls were being made to find him a bed in a suitable specialist facility.

Five days later, as Dad lay still motionless in a hospital bed, I pleaded for a miracle. I hoped that anybody or anything might be able to help, as I wasn’t ready to lose him. I still had so much to learn from him and I simply had to have more time with him. But once again it wasn’t to be. He had been kept alive by machines since the night of the stroke and there was nothing more to do but switch them off.

One of my biggest regrets is that I had no knowledge at the time of the symptoms of a stroke. I can’t say if it would have made any difference of course, quite possibly not, but I do know now that my father was exhibiting early signs of a stroke which, ultimately, would kill him. At the very least I wish I’d known what those signs could have meant. That’s where The Stroke Association come in. Recent TV adverts, produced in conjunction with the NHS, might make difficult viewing but almost nobody can have missed them, and that can only be a good thing. The increased awareness and knowledge of the symptoms of a stroke is invaluable. I wish, and not only in a selfish way, that the campaign had started a long time ago.

Every year an estimated 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke. Of all people who suffer from a stroke, about a third are likely to die within the first 10 days, about a third are likely to make a recovery within one month and about a third are likely to be left disabled and needing rehabilitation. Stroke has a greater disability impact than any other medical condition – there are a quarter of a million people living with long-term disability as a result of stroke in the UK.

The Stroke Association is the only UK-wide charity solely concerned with combating stroke in people of all ages. It funds research into prevention, treatment and better methods of rehabilitation, and helps stroke patients and their families directly through its Life After Stroke Services which include information, advice and support.

The Stroke Association also campaign, educate and inform to increase knowledge of stroke at all levels of society. I’m happy to do all I can to support them.



One Response to “Why I chose to support The Stroke Association”

  1. Greg Watling Says:

    Amazing words Tim, it covers my sentiments from that very memorable week too. I am close to tears while reading it.
    Our Dad is always in my mind and my memories, even if, like you, I didn’t know him as well as I wish I had.

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