Taking life easy one day at a time...

what is stroke
what is a stroke


On April 20th, 2022, our lives as a family changed forever. I don’t mean to sound dramatic but because of the events of that day, yes the way we lived before, no longer exists and I think we’re still processing it.

It was 4am on a Wednesday and after a day of not being able to walk properly and a weird feeling in his left side, my husband, Mac, got me up and said, “I think we should go to hospital”  The day before, we’d been puzzled, we thought he’d just slept funny or something but when he was still not feeling right at the end of the day, I phoned my sister-in-law who works for the NHS and she said we should get it checked out. But Mac didn’t want to go to hospital in case it was nothing so went to bed with an aspirin, promising to go in the morning if he wasn’t any better.

Of course, he wasn’t any better the next day so we went to hospital, they did lots of tests, including his blood pressure which was a horrifying 228/124. They confirmed it was a stroke, and whisked him off to a specialist hospital in an ambulance. It snowed. 

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur, with more tests, more waiting, arranging children and lifts (the neuro hospital we went to is two hours away from home) finally getting him into intensive care – intensive care! and promising to come back tomorrow. I didn’t go back the next day because of the stupid busses here and left him alone for two days with his fear and not knowing what the hell was going on – it was awful. 

He later told me he was too scared to go to sleep in case he didn’t wake up because he thought he knew when the actual stroke had happened. It was in the night and he said he felt like something was standing over him, really oppressive and dark, crushing him. He woke up terrified and went to the bathroom – that was when he noticed he couldn’t walk. And to think that we let him carry on – all day with a blood clot in his brain, oh my god that was the first thing to deal with – guilt.

The scary thing about stroke is that it can affect anybody and most of the time, like us, you have no idea that things might be happening inside your body to cause one. I never used to worry about stroke, you don’t do you? In fact I didn’t even know the Spanish word for it until I had to ask the doctor for a translation (it’s ictus in case you’re wondering) A stroke is always something Uncle Bob had or a friends Dad or Grandad (talking to people in the village, it seems most people’s parents have had a stroke at some point!) It is actually quite common but still, not something that happens to you. On the neuro ward in Granada I realised that it can, and does in fact, happen to anybody. I saw young people, there was even a woman of 22 brought in.

What is a Stroke?

According to the NHS website, stroke is a medical emergency and is where the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. This is really serious and scary because the brain needs blood and oxygen and if it doesn’t get it then it literally begins to die which can lead to brain injury, disability and possibly death.

There are 2 main causes of strokes:

ischaemic – where the blood supply is stopped because of a blood clot, accounting for 85% of all cases (this was the cause of my husband’s stroke)

haemorrhagic – where a weakened blood vessel supplying the brain bursts

Read on for what causes these clots and bleeds


The scary thing for me was that I didn’t know that Mac had even had a stroke, as I mention earlier he went a whole day and night before we went to hospital and given the urgency of the condition, I feel quite sick and guilty that I didn’t do something earlier. But the thing is, he had none of the symptoms I was familiar with. The NHS lists the symptoms as follows:

The main stroke symptoms can be remembered with the word FAST:

Face – the face may have dropped on 1 side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have drooped.

Arms – the person may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of weakness or numbness in 1 arm.

Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake; they may also have problems understanding what you’re saying to them.

Time – it’s time to dial 999 immediately if you notice any of these signs or symptoms.

My husband had none of this, so stroke didn’t immediately spring to mind. I knew the above things to look for, I had watched the public service announcements, read the leaflets and looked at the posters while sat in doctors waiting rooms and what happened to my husband was not that. 

He could walk, a bit unsteady sure, but he could walk, he was able to eat and lift his arms and his face & speech were perfectly normal. 

Reading further down the page on the website you see ‘other signs and symptoms may include’

  • complete paralysis of 1 side of the body
  • sudden loss or blurring of vision
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • difficulty understanding what others are saying
  • problems with balance and co-ordination
  • difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • a sudden and very severe headache resulting in a blinding pain unlike anything experienced before
  • loss of consciousness

The only thing I can pick out that my husband suffered was problems with balance and co-ordination. And given the fact that we didn’t know he had high blood pressure or high cholesterol (two main causes of stroke), we just didn’t put two and two together.

So please, if you do nothing else today, go and get yourself checked out, ask for blood tests and read the list of symptoms carefully (not just the FAST ones) the other ones too, it might just be the difference between life and death. And if you notice any of the symptoms in this article, go to the hospital or, if you feel like it might be too much trouble, then at least phone the doctor and get medical advice.

Again, I don’t want to seem dramatic, after all as I sit here any type my husband is in front of the computer, working more or less the same as he was before the stroke, yet not the same at all.

I feel incredibly lucky that he had what is termed, a mild stroke’ everyone in the hospital said it had been a warning to change, to do things differently, to start looking after ourselves. The changes began in hospital, of course they did, there is not much else to do is there? I had managed to get my youngest organised to stay with a friend so I could go and stay with Mac in hospital, I was with him for 9 days.  And even though the time in hospital was awful (I will write about this in a blog post) I woke up every single morning (from an uncomfortable hospital chair) grateful to have him, and to have him as he is – because looking around the ward, things could have been, and are for so many people, so much worse.

Why did it happen?

Again looking at the NHS website and the causes of stroke – diet and lifestyle have a lot to answer for. 

  • smoking
  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • obesity
  • high cholesterol levels
  • diabetes
  • excessive alcohol intake

Trouble is I thought we were pretty healthy! 

My husband and I quit drinking in 2018, so that’s over four years ago as I type. We both quit smoking in January 2022, and as I have said, I thought that our diet was pretty good in the sense that we don’t eat ready meals, pre-prepared stuff, we didn’t eat foods from jars or packets or have takeaways. I cooked from scratch, we ate ‘real food’ and the last time we had a Macdonald’s was in 2017!

But still my husband had high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

This was the reason for my fear and panic and feeling totally out of control. What else can we do? Clearly we needed to do even more because there is no way I want this to happen again. This is a real fear because once you’ve had a stroke, there is an increased risk of you having another. My husband said the other day that ‘it’s like having a black cloud hanging over your head’.

So, cue total overhaul of everything and becoming a little bit obsessed with food because let’s face it, it’s an awful feeling to think that what you put on your family’s plate could kill them. And if I’m honest, despite cooking real food from scratch with real ingredients, there were times when our diet was pretty shit.

All those cakes we ate in lockdown, the days when lunch was a bag of crisps, not bothering with an orange because it was too much of a pain to peel and having pork sandwiches with mayonnaise and salt, oh so much salt for dinner because it was quick and easy. 

Our weekly fish dish came out of a tin and while olive oil, garlic and tomatoes were a constant, and the lasagnes, pizzas and hummus,  homemade, the bread was white, the dessert usually chocolate, and the milk full fat. And while I love veggies, they were, I’ve come to realise, more of a garnish (except for mashed potatoes)

It’s not that I didn’t value good food and healthy eating, I did, and I did also think that I could have been doing that little bit more to be that little bit healthier, but as is often the case, time, budget, convenience and habits got in the way. Such an excuse, but it is what it is.

As for diet and lifestyle well, stress also plays a big part in high blood pressure as does lack of exercise. Over the years we have worked hard, being self employed it is difficult to switch off and prioritise your body over your business so instead of dedicating our mornings to going to the gym or meditation, we would find ourselves in front of the computer, often before the sun was up.

A wake-up call

lifestyle after stroke

While I can’t undo the past I can pave the way for a fitter, healthier future. I know what needs to be done, I’ve always known we could have done something more, but it has taken a shock like this to put it all into perspective and force us into change. Sometimes we do need this wake-up call in order to force change.

It is my wish that you will learn from my wake-up call and start to make some changes in your own life right now because stroke, and heart attack can be prevented if we listen to our bodies, heed the warning signs, start to take care of ourselves and change the way we eat and live our lives.

One thing I’ve learned in my journey to quitting drinking, and this new chapter is there is never a right time and please don’t wait for a wake-up call of your own, you might not be so lucky. If you want to make some changes, whether that is just walking more regularly or swapping your biscuits at 11 for a piece of fruit, then do it, give it a go.

I have been incredibly lucky, but sadly, not everyone is.

As always if you are worried about anything please speak to your doctor and do your own research to dig deeper on anything covered in this website. I am not a doctor or dietician nutritionist or even that great a cook, just a mum trying to cut through the overwhelm and minefield of information as I experiment and learn how to help myself and my family live the best lives possible.

For further information regarding stroke, do check out the following resources:

Lifestyle after stroke? – Check out my journal posts >>>

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what we ate this week