First and foremost, I should probably say a word about stroke. I write this blog from the perspective of being a stroke survivor. But really, until I had one myself, I knew very little about strokes, despite my father having them, so I wouldn’t really expect an average reader to know any more than I did. If you’re interested in learning more, there’s a high-level link here. It is something which used to be a killer, but over the years care and treatment has improved, and some people can walk away from a stroke, although the majority are left disabled somehow. Current fatality rates run at about 12%. An aspect of stroke is called aphasia. This is a very over-arching term, covering the communication process. Within that process, it could be any of receiving what somebody says, understanding what somebody says, and responding to what somebody says. I’ve noticed a slight slowdown in this process, speaking for myself, but not enough for anybody else to notice – it manifests itself as occasionally taking a fraction of a second longer to find the word I’m looking for. I challenge myself by speaking, or rather by writing, in a foreign language sometimes. From day-to-day, in English, I can still communicate at full speed, as near as anybody can tell, although I still work with survivors and see this quite frequently.
The links I just embedded into the previous paragraph are supplied courtesy of the UK’s NHS, which most likely needs no introduction, since it must surely be known the world over. It is the National Health Service, and covers the vast majority of health services offered in the UK, including hospitals and doctor’s surgeries (and my eye clinic, to which I make regular visits). Its great boast is that it is free at the point of contact, although we all pay a hefty amount for it in our taxes. Because the government of the day is so integral to its funding, it is a punchbag and a frequent target when the government wants to save money. There is a (growing) private health sector in the UK, but the NHS is pretty much universally-used for acute emergencies, although the quality of these provisions, as I try to convey in my posts, is extremely variable, with one factor being whereabouts in the UK you happen to be. As an estimate (such data is not made public), the cost of a hospital bed is around £400/day (April 2017, some say the figure is closer to £1000), meaning that my own stay in hospital (and, very roughly, the ballpark cost of a stroke – although many spells in hospital are longer than mine) cost the UK taxpayer around £14k. This, in turn, accounts for one of the reasons why hospitals are so reluctant to admit people. Of course, this amount excludes both the benefits I have been receiving since the stroke (around £400/month), and the tax that I would have contributed to the economy had I been fully fit (of course, this value is hypothetical, although based on previous years it was roughly a few tens of thousands of pounds). On a related note, there are bound to be times when I talk about “the hospital”. Obviously it will be dependent upon context, but it is likely that I will be referring to my local hospital in Salisbury, Wiltshire.
Again regarding health, for anybody unfamiliar with UK prescriptions, they are issued by somebody’s local doctor (called their GP), and are basically a paper slip which they sign. For people with chronic illnesses, who require the same medication time and again, these are known as “repeat prescriptions”, and most doctors’ surgeries have some kind of system whereby someone can just request the prescription when they need a fresh batch of meds, without having to see the doctor.
Armed with this slip, one then goes to a pharmacy, and exchanges the slip for the meds. At that point, there is a charge to pay, although many people are exempt from this. The charge is a flat one, per prescription I think. Underneath this, prescriptions can include a variable number of meds, and each med can vary in price, but the consumer is protected from these variations by paying the flat fee.
There is an equivalent electronic system, where this exact same process takes place online, and ends with either a visit to the pharmacy to collect the meds, or (increasingly common) with the meds delivered to your home. This electronic system seems to be UK-wide now, although rollout was very slow and my own surgery didn’t jump on board until early 2018. There are still issues with delivering meds through the post, for example where they need to be refrigerated.
The DWP is the Department for Work and Pensions, an agency of the UK government, responsibly mainly for the benefits system. Until last year, I had never had anything to do with the benefits system, though I now receive ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) and PIP (Personal Independence Payment).
On a more personal note, I am diabetic so sometimes talk about my eating habits. When I mention supper, I’m talking about my evening meal. This meal can have different names even within the UK, let alone abroad.
I do have quite an interest in politics, and the Conservative Party, UKIP (UK Independence Party), and the Liberal Democrats are all UK political parties. If I talk about a party with a more “international” name, such as the Labour Party or the Green Party, then unless I state otherwise, I’m referring to the UK flavour of the party.
I mention UK supermarkets a little. Supermarkets which I would rate as “premium” would probably be Waitrose or Marks and Spencer. Other chains include Tesco (the market leader and our normal destination), Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda. We have a local Co-op, which is another chain, smaller, I think, and a couple of budget supermarkets, Lidl and Aldi. These two have their origins in mainland Europe, and now have a foothold in the UK. Traditionally, their prices and quality have both been good, but the range quite poor – you couldn’t do your full weekly shop there. This has improved over recent years to the point where you probably could do your shop there, as long as you’re not too fussy. The established supermarkets still offer better selections.
Another charity that I have found useful is called Different Strokes (hopefully its name gives its purpose away). This UK charity appears to focus on younger survivors, so is a little feistier than other charities. My main contact with them so far has been through their Facebook group – I get a little more of a “can do” vibe from its members, rather than “poor me”. I tend to get fed up quite quickly when people post things like “good morning”.
Disability Rights UK is a pressure group which lobbies UK authorities on behalf of disabled people. Many stroke survivors, including myself, fit the legal definition of “disabled”, so this group is particularly relevant to me.
I mention coffee shops very occasionally. Of course, Starbucks is a global brand, but chains like Costas – a like-for-like competitor to Starbucks – also exist in the UK. I’m not sure that they exist outside of the UK, but I mention it just in case…. there are other chains, such as Nero or Pret a Manger, although personal preference dictates that I hardly ever go to either, and numerous independent shops – I very much doubt there’s any difference between the UK and the USA in terms of the popularity of outlets.