FES

I have a quiet week lined up. I try to restrict my week just to a couple of things, just so that I don’t overload my body.

The only thing showing this week is an appointment with the FES people. FES is Functional Electrical Stimulation, which involves sticking a pair of electrodes on my leg, and applying a small current when I walk. This stimulates the muscle that controls my foot, artificially raising my foot to give me a more natural gait. See? I’ll be you never knew there was so much that happens when you take a step!

I’ll talk a little bit about FES. Old hat? I mean, electricity has been around for 200 years, right? Wrong. FES is actually leading edge, at least in the medical world, so much so that the NHS does not provide this treatment as “standard” – In fact, I was only offered this treatment after they’d checked my address – apparently I live in the “right” county (Wiltshire) and am eligible for the treatment. Of course, this then raises the question about what treatments I haven’t been offered, because I live in the wrong place?

The equipment itself is a couple of electrodes stuck to my calf, as I’ve said, and these are attached by wire to a control box which sits on my belt. In addition, the thing needs to know when to apply the current, and so you also wear a small, flat pressure sensor on an insole in your shoe. this too is wired. So you have two wires which run pretty much the lengt of your leg, to this control box (in which, by the way, there sits a 9V battery).

Whilst it is true that the device does improve one’s gait (which means you walk faster), there is an offset here, and this is installing the device each day, making sure these wires are placed under your trousers. So whilst, for me, there is a gain, there is also a cost in that dressing becomes slightly more complicated and time-consuming. Consequently I find myself asking myself whether I’m going to walk anywhere that particular day? If I’m just going to stay around the house, it is quicker just not to fit the device that day.

When I first got the kit (and it is probably a reasonable question to ask why I didn’t get it until 6 months after I left hospital yet another to ask why I didn’t even know about it) I got back in touch with the people with some suggestions for improvements. As you might imagine, at the top of the list was to make the thing wireless. “Ah, we’ve already done that” was their reply. But I’d been given the more basic (and, presumably, cheaper) “wired” version. So there you go – by default an NHS patient won’t get the service at all, and even if an NHS patient does qualify, you’re not offered the bells-and-whistles version by default.

Of course, the bells-and-whistles gadget is available if you’re prepared to approach the company privately. The company is called Odstock Medical, although beware – you need to create a login in order to see the prices of their products (they say this is necessary because these things attract different duty depending on which country you live in, although I don’t see why they can’t quote a price which excludes duty). I am not sure whether these guys are the only company in the UK to offer such products.

Recovery

Well, I’m having a lazy weekend, I even had a nap yesterday afternoon. I really wish I could keep up the pace that I used to, but it’s simply not possible any more. Still, I suppose, I am lucky in that you hear about stroke survivors suffering chronic fatigue, with whole days being written off. At least in my case, a few hours nap seems to set me back on course. I suppose it’s not that much worse than when I was healthy! Of course, this kind of thing will be critcal when it comes to going back to work.

Friday lunchtime a guy I used to work with a long time ago came round, and we went out to lunch at a nearby pub. Lunch itself was a lovely plate of fish & chips (what else? It was Friday after all!), although I do find myself making small adjustments on account of my newfound disability. For example, I was unable to read the specials board (my eyesight is certainly worse than it was 5 or 10 years ago – this could have been caused by the stroke, or it could have been caused by the diabetes that possibly caused the stroke, or it could have been caused by the treatment that I had because of the damage caused by diabetes, a big mess!). Anyway, I was unable to read the Specials board, so listened very intently as the people on the next table discussed their lunch choices!

I find that the best thing about this guy is that my stroke doesn’t really seem to have changed anything at all. When we discuss the stroke, or indeed the troubles that I’ve had because of my daughter, it is all done in a matter-of-fact kind of way. I meet so many people these days who seem to think that I am defined by the stroke, and it drives me crazy! I mean, for sure I had this really shitty thing happen to me, but beforehand, I’d spent almost 50 years living a life, and I’m still pretty much the same person underneath (for better or worse!).

Anyway, the upshot was that this was my third day on the trot that I’d done some kind of activity, so Saturday was a nice opportunity for my body to play a little catch-up.

This morning, a very belated breakfast of pancakes (I prefer the term “crepes”), and settling down to watch another stroke survivor, Andrew Marr. Now there’s a guy who shows that despite stroke, one can operate at the highest level!

Workshop

I had an interesting morning today. I was told about this workshop organised by the Stroke Association, I had a free morning, I secured a lift, so I popped along. Aside from being interesting to meet some new people, I had to bite my tongue when they talked about stroke care. Dial 999, priority treatment, etc.

I won’t go into massive detail here, but suffice to say that when I rocked up at hospital….they sent me straight home! It was only when I turned up again 2 days later, feeling somewhat worse, that I was admitted into hospital.

Also, the workshop raised the point that one of the biggest anxieties suffered by stroke survivors is whether they will have another stroke. But, when current technology is such that causes of strokes often aren’t known, I’d defy any rational person not to feel anxious!

But there were some fun attempts to get (mostly) able-bodied people to appreciate what it feels like to have a stroke. However, I can say with some authority, if the reader would like some appreciation of how my particular stroke feels, just go through to the kitchen and butter a piece of bread, one-handed, using your non-dominant hand. You’ll be surprised that both the tub of spread and the piece of bread appear to have wheels, and I can guarantee hours of fun (almost) as you chase these things around! Not quite so much fun if you’re trying to make your lunch.