The general view, shared by the senior stroke nurses at the General Hospital, was it was not possible to identify a reason. In rehab, the stroke consultant suggested the bleed may have been caused by a fall or accident at any time in my past.
I was keen to grasp at an explanation. All I had to do was pick one of the following:
Age 2, shopping with my mother in New Haw, Surrey, a large Alsatian dog bounded towards me, knocked me flat leaving me on my back. Dog’s paws on my shoulders and a swelling, painful head.
Around 9, my adoptive grandfather taught me to ride a bicycle on a ladies’ bike he bought from junk shop for 2s6d. (Okay young-uns that was in old money. It would be 12.5p in proper money. We were very poor.) It had only two faults, apart from being a girls’ bike. It only had a front brake and a cranked saddle post, but no saddle. This was solved by tying an old cushion round the post. Granddad tried to run along, holding the bike up while I learned, but as he had angina, he had to let go and leave me to practice falling off on my own. As I improved my speed increased. I then discovered the lone front brake panicked when asked to slow down quickly and threw me over the handlebars.
Age 11, I was walking across Chertsey bridge one Saturday afternoon. Halfway over the Thames, a group of older boys grabbed me and held me lying on the parapet, daring each other to see how close to the edge they could push me. Too far, was my assessment as I hit the water. It also crossed my mind that I couldn’t swim. Fortunately, I must have learned from my Alsatian experience and I managed to doggy paddle between archways until I reached the river bank.
13, I was given a bike. It had old fashioned handlebars, but at least it had caliper brakes and 3-speed gears. A definite improvement but, by then, all my friends had progressed to sleek racing bikes. To try to upgrade, I bought drop handlebars, then replaced the central light bracket with one that clamped around the front forks. Because the forks on a clunky bike tapered from top to bottom, often when I cycled over rough ground the lamp bracket vibrated down, stuck in my front wheel and sent me over the handlebars. Often my head was the winner in these ‘first one to the ground’ competitions.
Age 16, The Winter’s Tale. All in the space of one week.
Monday. I generally cycled to my friend’s house who lived by the station, to get the train to school in Egham. Station Road was very snowy and icy and, as usual, I was late. I skidded and my bike and I slid sideways to the other side of the road in front of a lorry. Happily, lorries, in those days, were very basic. This one was also high and, by some miracle, went over the top of me and bike. (I had, of course, lined it up very carefully.)
Wednesday. Went to a girlfriend’s house for the evening. Walking home past a row of shops, there was a loud rumbling and whooshing, snow fell around me and long section of cast-iron guttering landed just in front of me.
Saturday morning, I had a part time job doing general work in a small engineering company. Next to where we took tea breaks were heavy aluminium castings, about a metre tall and weighting about 25 kilograms, stacked three high. Minutes after we got up, two castings fell across the table I’d been sitting at.
Sunday, I didn’t go out!
Many minor incursions with bad (or good) luck.
1991 – Snakes and Ladders. We moved house. The previous owners were emigrating and left several items of furniture. We also inherited a dilapidated, very tall shed. When I investigated it some months later, I discovered we had also inherited a very tall, tubular steel stepladder. The roof needed attention so I used the ladder. It was quite high and very heavy with a solid steel platform, and a locking system under the platform to keep the legs secure. Or not! There was just enough time to climb to the top before it collapsed, then even less time for me to hit the ground. Gill came out of the house just as the stepladder did the splits. I managed to throw myself backwards to avoid landing on the ladder. I gave thanks to Kingston YMCA. In my teens, a few of us tried to learn wrestling there. I was never much good at it, but at least they taught me the correct technique for falling on my back. (Arms first, to protect the head.)
2010-12 My job involved visiting business directors all over the country, clocking around 60-70 thousand miles a year. I was well into my second million miles, with no accidents. This changed a couple of years before my stroke.
One morning, I was waiting at the Bridgwater roundabout, about to turn right onto the M5. A car, travelling at 60+ mph, drove into my car. A very shaken, elderly man got out, apologising, saying he hadn’t seen the roundabout. His wife was in the car, crying. Later, I sent them flowers because however much I hurt, it seemed they were in a worse situation and at least I could go on driving.
A few months later on the A37, a teenage couple in an ancient Peugeot overtook me at about 80 mph. A front tyre burst as they pulled in front of me, causing them to swerve into a very thick hedge. Their car bounced back into the rear side of my car, which rolled over sideways. The air bags had inflated, my head hit the window and side several times and I thought was disoriented, until I realised my car was on its side. Police and Fire Brigade attended quite rapidly. An ambulance arrived to take me to a hospital in Bath. Gill collected me. No tests were done.
A year later I had nearly reached home, turning left at a busy crossroads into a country lane. There was solid traffic waiting to come out of the lane, extending back to a bend in the road. A driver was unable to stop behind the waiting cars and had to continue on the wrong side of the road, hitting the front offside corner of my car as I drove around the corner.
That was 3 RTAs in the space of two years.
My annual mileage is now negligible. My number of lives, in cat terms, is well into the second cat.
My lovely stroke consultant suggested the stroke could have been caused by a fall or accident in my past. Your job now, dear reader, is to diagnose which one!