Written Off — by Kate Allatt – 1st September 2014.

Kate Allatt loves to run.

In February 2010 she was run­ning for two hours around Chatsworth with her run­ning mates, trying to get super-fit ready to attempt a climb of Kilimanjaro.

She developed a severe head­ache and her hus­band took her to the walk-in centre. The triage nurse said she should go to the A & E depart­ment at the Northern General.

The junior doctor on duty examined her and took her blood pres­sure, which was in the normal range (systolic around 140).  Kate thought that this was high for her because her fit­ness brought hers down to around 90.  The doctor con­sidered that Kate’s life – look­ing after three chil­dren, trying to start a digital-media mar­ket­ing com­pany, a hus­band whose job took him abroad a lot and her run­ning – caused her to be suf­fer­ing stress symp­toms.  He sent her home to rest.

Four hours later she was back in the Northern General, in a coma and on a life-support machine, having had a severe stroke.

She was kept in a drug-induced coma for three days.  When she was again awake, she was com­pletely cog­nit­ive but unable to move any­thing but her eye­lids.  The staff thought she was in a per­sist­ent veget­at­ive state but she could see and hear everything and her brain was work­ing well.

There were extreme frus­tra­tions in this period.  She could not tell anyone that she suffered ter­rible leg cramps or that she could not sleep or that she was feel­ing acute sep­ar­a­tion anxi­ety because her chil­dren were not allowed to come to see her.

She also thought that it was pos­sible that the doc­tors might think that she was so far gone that they should with­draw food and water and let her slip away.

She was unable to com­mu­nic­ate for two weeks until her friends brought in a simple alpha­bet board at which she blinked once for “No” and twice for “Yes”.  She also learned to swear with her eyes!

This method was very slow and very exhaust­ing for her but she was able to tell them that she had not slept for two weeks (pre­sum­ably because of the life-saving drugs that were being pumped into her).  The staff were told and that even­ing she was given sleep­ing med­ic­a­tion and slept bliss­fully for about seven hours.

The drugs caused her to have hal­lu­cin­a­tions on top of her isol­a­tion but she didn’t lose her sense of humour and laughed inside when one nurse said, “If there’s any­thing you want just give us a shout!”

During the first weeks the bore­dom was awful because all she could see was a TV and a clock at the bottom of her bed.  The TV was never switched on because the staff thought she was a veget­able and the clock seemed to go so slowly that the days were end­less.

Her Mum brought in an Ipod to play music but the music was Country and Western! (She will never listen to C and W music ever again!)

Most of the staff didn’t look her in the eyes because they thought she was veget­at­ive and she found the indig­nity of being help­less unbear­able.  She was fed through a tube up her nose (and later through a PEG – a tube through her side dir­ectly into her stom­ach).

She had to have her nappy changed and have bed-baths and was not able to even wipe the dribble from her chin.

She was 9 weeks in the ICU before being trans­ferred to Osborne4.

At a review after 6 weeks the con­sult­ant and all other staff told her family that they thought that they were look­ing at long-term nurs­ing care.  Kate had had a tracheotomy by this time, to help her breath­ing, and was puff­ing and suck­ing like mad because she had no inten­tion of being in long time care but, of course, she could not tell them!

She slowly gained enough use of her fin­gers to hold a pencil and if someone held the paper she could labor­i­ously write a few words.  Her young son, Woody, was vis­it­ing and he said, “Mum, don’t write my name, say it.”  For the first time she tried to speak and man­aged “Oody”!   She prac­tised all day every day.  When her favour­ite nurse came in car­ry­ing a box and said his cus­tom­ary, “Good morn­ing, Kate” she said, “Orning, Oliver”.

Oliver was startled he dropped the box and burst into tears.

Oliver brought in a speech ther­ap­ist and from then on every­one who thought she was a lost cause changed their atti­tude and much more ser­i­ous ther­apy began.

Five months into her recov­ery she used to stare at her left big toe and will it to move.  She was always a person with self-belief and, after three weeks con­stant strain­ing, moved the toe a flicker.

From then on she made pro­gress by split­ting her big goal (she had told the staff that when she left hos­pital she would walk out) into small sec­tions.  Eventually she could lift her pelvis off the bed when lying on her back and she did it con­stantly.  The occu­pa­tional ther­ap­ist told her to stop or she would look like a Russian shot-putter.

She was given an elec­tric wheel­chair and man­aged to escape from the ward and was head­ing down the drive away from hos­pital but was caught and brought back.

The hos­pital had sug­ges­ted that her family should arrange to con­vert her kit­chen into a bed­room and shower room because she would not be able to get up stairs.    She had a new kit­chen and did not want it spoil­ing so after seven months, on a visit home before her dis­charge, she per­suaded her step-dad to help her climb the stairs at home.

Her step-dad said, “Don’t tell the hos­pital!” but she did, and the ther­ap­ists intro­duced stairs into her recov­ery regime.

She did walk out of the hos­pital when she was dis­charged, even though she was on crutches, and later on began to run again.

Nowadays Kate tries to inspire other stroke suf­fer­ers to keep trying, but her spe­ci­al­ity is with “locked-in” sur­viv­ors.  She feels that the emo­tional side of stroke ther­apy is very badly under­stood and is not dealt with prop­erly.  She thinks that med­ical staff should not give long-term neg­at­ive views to fam­il­ies but should say, “We are not gods and cannot give any prom­ises, but there are pos­sib­il­it­ies.”

Her final line was,

“Writing me off was a BIG MISTAKE.”