WOMEN’S LIVES: Coping with a stroke

Ann Garratt


Ann Garratt

WOMEN’S LIVES: Coping with a stroke
Marian Murrin wasn’t the obvious candidate for a stroke.

Marian Murrin wasn’t the obvious candidate for a stroke.

She was 56, slim, didn’t smoke, was fit and healthy and had just recovered from breast cancer.

Her symptoms first appeared when she was sitting in her kitchen with her daughter-in-law, putting on some hand cream, when she noticed her fingers seemed enormous. She went to the door to let the dog out and couldn’t remember how to open it. By this time her daughter-in-law who was a nurse was becoming concerned, and to test her co-ordination handed Marian a sweet which she promptly dropped. Two days later Marian was told she’d suffered two strokes.

Although Marian has been one of the lucky ones and not physically disabled by her strokes, she has suffered brain damage which has affected her short term memory. These days she has to write everything down, has trouble understanding and taking instructions and struggles with reading and writing. She will be on medication for the rest of her life.

Marian says: “I had breast cancer and went through chemo, but having a stroke has been far worse.

“Two years later I am still living with the effects, my mind isn’t right and I have trouble with even the simplest tasks”.

Marian says she wasn’t offered any aftercare or physiotherapy following her stroke. She just came home and got on with it. She did however, have Kinesiology treatment with Mella Britton in Donegal town. Mella set her a number of simple co-ordination tasks which she did at home on a regular basis and that helped. More recently Marian has taken up yoga to help with her co-ordination and enjoys it, although she struggles to follow the instructions of the tutor.

Marian feels philosophical about her situation. “At least I didn’t end up in a wheelchair which is a great bonus,” she says.

“My family have been wonderful; I don’t know what I would have done without them, especially my husband who is so patient. I always say don’t worry about the things that can’t be fixed only about what can’t be fixed.”

In Donegal when someone suffers a stroke they will be brought to the emergency department for assessment investigation and treatment. Subsequently they could be referred to a Medical Rehab Unit in Letterkenny which has a dedicated multi-disciplinary team to enable recovery. At present there is no community-based physiotherapy available in the county but when people are discharged from hospital they can see a public health nurse via their GP.

According the Irish Heart Foundation every year 10,000 people in Ireland are admitted to hospital suffering from a stroke. Stroke kills more than 2,000 people a year, a higher death rate than from breast cancer, prostate cancer and bowel cancer combined. Stroke is the third most common cause of death and the most common cause of acquired physical disability in this country.

One in five people will have a stroke at some time in their lives but most are over 65. Strokes can strike at any age and even children can be affected. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel which is carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain bursts or is blocked by a clot. The symptoms of stroke can be varied but lives can be saved if action is taken quickly.

In May 2010 the Irish Heart Foundation launched a 4 year TV and radio advertising F.A.S.T. campaign to alert the general public to the signs of stroke and encourage them to take action by dialling 999.

Any one of these symptoms could be a sign of stroke: Facial weakness - Can a person smile? Has their mouth or eye dropped?; Arm weakness- Can the person raise both arms? Speech problems – Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?