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.”