In the UK a hundred thousand people a year suffer a stroke, including ten thousand under the age of fifty. Stroke is the third largest cause of death, and is the largest cause of adult disability.
A stroke is a serious medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to the brain is disturbed. Like all organs, our brain needs the oxygen and nutrients provided by our blood to function properly. If the supply of blood is restricted or stopped, brain cells begin to die. This can lead to brain damage and possibly death. Following a healthy diet, taking regular exercise, drinking alcohol in moderation and not smoking will dramatically reduce the risk of having a stroke.
Some strokes are caused by a brain haemorrhage – as in my case - but most are caused by a clot on the brain. Although they are all characterised by damage to one side of the brain, in fact all strokes are different.
Many people will require a long period of rehabilitation after a stroke. Some people have major damage and some are only slightly affected; some make a full recovery and some are left with some degree of disability. Sometimes memory, language or outlook on life are affected, as well as physical function. The variations are endless.
It is the most awful headache I have ever had. At lunch-time I just have to go to bed. Jade-green T-shirt. The headache gets worse and worse and I am sick. At about 8 o’clock I can’t move my hand. Alan says ‘Don’t be silly: you must have trapped a nerve or something.’ …soon I can’t move my arm either. ‘I think we need some help,’ he says.
Emerald green. The ambulance man says, ‘I’m afraid you’ve had a little stroke, dear.’ Red blanket. Bumping. Cold air. An engine starts. I try to speak but the words are flapping around in my head like fish on dry land and I can’t catch them. I stop trying and lie still as the ambulance drives…Completely lucid ….blue … I am in a big tube. Criss-cross. Loud noise …. Waiting ... Alan …I think he is holding my hand … I am very tired but not frightened … I wonder what will happen next…Completely lucid …
My daughter Erika is here. I can’t see her but I know she is here, but not Kate. I can hear people talking but it is a long way off and nothing to do with me.…getting so tired … I can’t hang on …. I know I am dying …. But Kate isn’t here. I can’t leave her without saying good-bye. There is blackness - and then she comes …
I’m in another ambulance. I can see the upper storeys of the shops … I know where they are taking me ….Why are they going this way?
….. a deep, deep bed .…Pink room … yellow sunshine to my right … Erika’s friend Sue is there. She has brought flowers … Why does she look so frightened? No words come.
Black sleep ….Thirsty … I smell terrible. ‘You smell terrible’, Alan says. … So thirsty … Alan wets my mouth with a pink sponge and I suck … the bed is so deep ……
My brother is here, and Erika. I can hear them reading out cards. What an awful jacket Richard is wearing! …
After those first six days when I was only intermittently conscious, my thoughts and my vision began to be less fragmented and the world made sense for longer and longer periods. I could not speak - the words still flapped about - but in my head I was lucid.
The fact that I couldn’t move my right arm and leg didn’t at that stage seem very important.
Stroke 1 (detail) (2007), multi media
A few days after I came home from hospital, I was looking in the drawer for a pair of socks to wear. Most of the socks were jumbled up because, at that stage, I was barely able to pair socks up because my right hand was barely working. But at the back of the drawer there was a pair that was beautifully rolled.
This ‘before’ pair seemed a metaphor for the brain and its perilous order.
Brain Attack 1 (2007), b/w photograph
This image is taken from my MRI scan.
Brain Attack 2 (2007), b/w photograph
The brain is a vulnerable, delicate organ, within the hardness of the skull.
Brain Attack 3 (2007), b/w photograph
Exploring the notion of the vulnerability of the brain. Damage, whether from a stroke or some other trauma, can be catastrophic.
Apparatus (2002-2009), b/w photograph
Consider a small child clumsily feeding itself or handling a pencil or trying to dress itself. Consider its tottering first steps. A stroke survivor - not 'victim', please! – may have to re-learn those skills, and many more.
This apparatus supports stroke survivors to stand while re-learning basic manual skills – cooking, using tools, manipulating door-handles and locks etc – that are necessary for independence. It all requires a lot of concentration and very focused effort.
Unravelling (2008), graphite on paper
As a result of the stroke, the ‘wiring’ of my brain was disordered and my body didn’t work as it had done. On the other hand, this experience has been a great source of creative inspiration.
So is this drawing about the falling apart of what was once in order? Or is it about disentangling what is in disorder? Or is it both?