Knitting to Recovery

I am sorry that I haven’t posted for a while. This is a long one, so go and make yourself a cuppa, and put your feet up as you catch up with what has been happening with me.
The reason I have taken so long to write is that I have been critically ill.

On Wednesday 13th February, I suffered a sub-arachnoid haemorrhage, or massive bleed in my brain. I had been feeling under the weather for the previous two days, having a strange headache on the right side of my brain. I still went to the gym and pushed myself swimming, still visited my sister Julie and carried on as normal. On the Tuesday the headache was on both sides and so I took a couple of paracetamols and after they had no effect, took two ibuprofen later on, also with no effect. I decided to have an easy day, and so went into the dining room and made a couple of project bags for my Etsy shop.

On the Wednesday, I had arranged to visit my best friend in Leek. I felt dreadful, the headache was making me feel tired, but I didn’t want to let Sue down, so took 2 paracetamols and set off. Thank goodness I did. While I was there the aneurysm in my brain ruptured, I actually felt a pop and then felt really strange. I was sitting at the side of Sue and said “something is happening”, my peripheral vision was full of flashing lights in red, blue, green, yellow and white. My arms felt as though they were made of clay and I had a sudden need to urinate, I went to stand up and fell to the floor. I was distressed at this point and Sue reassured me – running to get the commode. I had a crushing feeling in my chest and my mouth started twitching, my speech became slurred and I couldn’t get my words out very easily.

Luckily Sue and I are both retired nurses and so understood that I was critically ill. I thought I was having a stroke. I asked her to get Mike after she phoned for the ambulance. Mike arrived just after the ambulance and I remembered thinking that it didn’t matter if I died, because he was here and would know what has happened.

I was taken to the Royal Stoke and given oxygen on the journey. I kept lapsing into unconsciousness so rely on what I have been told for the following events. I was triaged and sent for a CT scan immediately, I was then sent for another one with a contrast added, that one showed up the haemorrhage. I was admitted to the neurosurgical ward and prepared for surgery. I was informed that I had three options, if we did nothing I would die, if they went in through the front of my skull I would have brain damage, or they could access my venous system via my groin, work their way up and enter my brain, putting a coil in to stop the bleeding. I didn’t have any choice really and signed the consent form with a bit of a zigzag. I was taken down to the theatre shortly after and I remember being very calm. The staff on the ward had been excellent and I felt that everything was under control, it would either work or it wouldn’t, but I was giving it a good shot.

The following few days I was nursed in a side room by the side of the nurses’ station and had regular observations. I remember being amazed that I had 5 intravenous lines set up, I was catheterized and was stuck on my back. I had a cuff that automatically took my blood pressure and was given lots of medication. Anti-convulsants, strong pain killers, something that kept my brain pressure down, and my usual GP prescribed stuff. I had double vision for a couple of days and my sense of taste totally changed. Sugar tasted like poison and everything was very salty. Luckily this wore off after a couple of weeks but my taste has changed. Coffee is not something I can drink very often now.

I had three lumbar punctures to reduce the swelling in my brain and was slowly regaining my self care skills. I was in hospital for almost 2 weeks and was keen to come home. I felt that I would be able to rest and sleep better without the bleeps and various sounds you hear on a busy ward.

The staff were absolutely fantastic. The nurses were professional and very caring, nothing was too much trouble. The ward was kept immaculately clean and everyone gave 100% to their job. They were marvellous and went above and beyond what was expected of them. My visitors were always made to feel very welcome and they were informed of my progress. The neurosurgeons came round at least once every day, even at the weekend. I was so impressed and grateful for the care I and other patients received that I wrote to the chief executive and PALS to highlight the fantastic practice on Ward 228 at the Royal Stoke hospital.

I was so weak after the operation and had to be taken to the toilet in a wheelchair, it was at least a week before I could stand and walk with assistance. I had to prove I could walk up some stairs before the physio’s would let me go home. I was advised to contact the DVLA and inform them that I was unable to drive.

I came home and was shattered. I had some bowel complications from being so inactive for so long and having lots of morphine which made me uncomfortable.
Mike took a week off to nurse me, and slowly I began to recover. My appetite changed totally. I had decided that if I made it through this, I was going to look after my health. I also decided that I would never drink alcohol again. When the pressure had built inside my brain it felt like the morning after a bottle of wine had been enjoyed, so it put me off for life. Anything that I could do to help my brain, seemed like a good idea.

Mike brought a single bed downstairs and put grab rails in the cloakroom and bathroom. I was told by the occupational therapist and nurse specialist to have someone with me at all times when I went home. Apparently I was at risk of having another bleed or a seizure.

Mike wanted to stay with me but we had to try to return to normality, so he agreed to go to work on reduced hours, going in at 10.00 instead of 8.00 so that he could hand over my care. Sue devised a timetable and told me to ask visiting friends and family to put their names down on a slot. By now I could walk to the toilet by myself but still felt very weak. I couldn’t stand for long without feeling faint. They were all marvellous, I would like to say a very big thank you to my gorgeous husband Mike, my Mum and Dad, my sister-in-law Brenda, friends:- Sue Sumner, Liz Ayre, Karen Baker, Debbie Bough, Gillian Lea and all my other family, friends and neighbours who brought cards, flowers, cakes, and other goodies to keep my spirits up. They really helped.

Bev Hodgkinson wished me well, and suggested that I write this blog about how knitting helped my recovery. I thought that this was a good idea. Mike had taken a photograph of me knitting to reassure my sons that I was getting back to normal.

I was knitting a cardigan for my expected grandson, due in September, but the stitches kept on slipping off the needles. My close friend, Karen had the great idea of trying bamboo needles – which worked. Hurray, at last I could try to proceed. It all felt very strange, the yarn felt like plasticine, I had to watch what I was doing all the time, whereas before, stocking stitch or knit a row, purl a row, wouldn’t need me to watch my progress at all. I had to really persevere. My tension was really erratic, and I didn’t like the first section so undid 2 inches and tried again. It was exhausting too! I managed 2 rows the first day, the next day saw me doing a few more and so it went on. As time went on it felt easier. Doing the rhythmic movements was very calming.

I was in a lot of pain and felt very weak. I had to be helped into the bath, and helped to dry myself afterwards so being able to do something by myself felt great! It took my mind off my pain and I felt as though I was getting myself back. So many finer motor movements were very difficult. I remember trying to look relaxed as I tried to find my mouth with my fork. I had to practice my writing because my hand wanted to do sharp zigzag shapes instead of my usual big, curly writing. Fastening buttons, taking bottle tops off, using my phone, all proved a great struggle. It was illuminating, as a nurse I had helped people with similar problems, my sister Julie had experienced problems with co-ordination with her epilepsy and now here I was, cognitively intact, able to spell and understand the words I wanted to use, but writing it down was a huge challenge.

I was fortunate that I could talk. I was able to express my needs, and appreciation and so Mike and my family and friends were able to understand how to help me. Everyone was very positive and recovery focused and kept reminding me to be patient, that time will help me regain my strength and abilities.

When I completed the babies’ cardigan I was thrilled and wanted to do something really special for my sister Helen. I was able to knit her a beautiful lacy scarf in River Knits superwash blue faced Leicester 4ply yarn in the “Starry night” colourway. I adore Becci’s use of colour in her dyeing and urge you to have a look at their stand if you are at a wool show, or visit their website I find really brilliant is that she keeps a record of each colourway, so that she can repeat it. I have used a few of her skeins and the standard of dyeing is brilliant!

Helen was suitably delighted with her scarf, which was following the pattern 2nd Sister by Katrine on Ravelry. Helen is the 2nd of 3 girls so it seemed appropriate. She also had a star in the Sagittarian constellation named for me so that I would know something is always shining down on me, wishing me well. Hence the perfect choice of “Starry Night”.

It is now just over 3 months since my haemorrhage. I am now back driving, I have been for my review and the Doctor was very pleased with me. I am still under their care, and will have an MRI scan in August to check that the aneurysm hasn’t grown back, and then another 2 years after the bleed. If all is well I shall be discharged.

I had to cancel all the shows this year because I am still recovering and don’t have me full strength or energy back yet. I was totally gutted because we had some splendid shows to look forward to. The Knitting Companion was due to appear at most of the shows I had applied for. Everyone was very understanding and have promised me a stand at the next show in 2020, and I was fully refunded. I have instead, planned to use the time wisely. I am knitting!

I am doing myself an aran cardigan which will appear in a later podcast. It is a bit of a start and then put down kind of project as I have to knit tiny things too. I have a grandson due any time now, and another grandson due in September.

I am also busy designing a project which will be revealed later in the summer. It is very exciting and I have to pace myself! I have been very thankful for my creativity and understand that it has been tremendously beneficial in my recovery. When I was unable to stand, or walk without assistance, I could still knit! I had a focus, something to encourage me to practice, something to help me relax, and something that has improved with time, that has given me a sense of achievement as I moved from slow, awkward movements, to the flowing, familiar craft of my favourite hobby. I focused on the positive aspects of my life and there are too many to mention.

I had another boost this week when I received confirmation that I was able to exhibit at Kendal Wool Gathering at the end of October. I had cancelled this show when I cancelled the others, but after recovering so well, thought that I would be fine by then. I thoroughly enjoyed KWG last year, both as an exhibitor and as a customer. I bought so much wool I still haven’t knit it all yet! The venue is brilliant, we were so well looked after, and the other stands were really good, just in time for Christmas. I had made some Christmas cards with my youngest sister Julie, and we had put stitch markers on so the recipient would have a card with a gift included. It was just a bit of fun for Julie and I, and these cards sold like hot cakes! We will make some more for this year, plus a few extra surprises too!

I can’t promise to post another blog in two weeks, but now that I am up and about, it won’t take as long as this one!

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