In the first of two accounts of medical emergencies Geoffrey Garnett and his wife Liz recall in conversation with Patrick Middleton the night, just over a year ago, when he had a stroke.
“It was around three o’clock in the morning,” begins Liz. “I woke up and realised that Geoff had gone to the bathroom. Then I heard a thud. I went to look. I think he’d fallen down, then managed to get up again. I wasn’t quite sure what had happened.” “Nor was I,” recalls Geoff. “I felt weird, woozy, and I had no feeling all down my right side.” When he said that Liz realised the situation was serious. “I rang the SAMU and they were there in fifteen minutes. I followed the ambulance in my car. When I reached the hospital in Antibes they’d already got Geoff in the machine for a brain scan.”
“Hard physical routines”
“I never lost consciousness for a single moment,” he says, “but once I was at the hospital I started to get worried. In fact, for a while I was saying to myself that I was done for.” That didn’t last long, happily. Liz again: “After the scan and a first examination they were able to tell us that Geoff had had a stroke. A blood vessel had burst in his brain. I was very relieved – and so was Geoff – that his thought and speech seemed unaffected but they warned us that these first early days in the intensive care unit were critical and that there was always the risk of a second stroke. That didn’t happen and he was soon on an ordinary ward and then off for reeducation.”
Did Geoff have any warning that he might suffer a stroke? “Not really. I didn’t smoke and drank only moderately, but I realise now I was dangerously overweight. I’ve lost five stone over the past year and I’m not planning to put it back on. I was being treated for high blood pressure, too, but the cardio seemed to think it was well under control. Anyway, as Liz says, I was lucky not to have any problems with thinking and speaking, as some people do. I realised, though, that for some time to come – with the paralysis down one side – I’d be physically handicapped. I decided I’d do whatever was necessary to overcome that and Liz gave me fantastic support and so did my staff.”
So what did he have to do? “It’s a matter of reeducation. Hard physical routines, every day, for several hours. I’ve been doing as much as possible; even more than the doctors recommended, and you can see I’ve made a lot of progress.” And he certainly has. Geoff still walks rather slowly with a couple of sticks but he’s achieved a remarkable measure of physical recovery. “I’ve still got another year of reeducation and that will take me, they say, to the limit of my likely improvement. I’m able to work again and I’ve just flown to London and back on my own. I owe a lot to the medical staff and the physios but I’d also say – to anyone facing my situation – that you’ve really got to want to get better. Determination, perseverance, are the things that count ...”
For a medical comment on Geoff’s case I turned to Dr Walt Ambruster. “Well, he’s right, of course. The outcome of reeducation does depend to a significant extent to really working hard at it. I’d say a few other things. Firstly, and here we see once again the quality of French medical services, the SAMU were on the scene very fast – good job that Liz called them at once – and the hospital was geared up to deal with Geoff’s case immediately. Rapid intervention is essential to minimise the effects of cerebral vascular accidents, as we call them. If you suspect someone has had a CVA – a stroke – get medical help at once. Secondly, Geoff was lucky, I have to say, not to suffer worse consequences. His kind of stroke – hemorrhagic, as we say – where blood leaks into the brain often has a worse outcome than the embolic variety, involving a blood clot. In some cases victims are left very severely handicapped. Lastly, it’s important what Geoff said about being overweight. That’s just one of several conditions that can predispose to strokes. It’s well worth going for a regular check-up for this reason alone.”
And it’s also worth memorising the SAMU’s number: 15.
From Riviera Reporter 117 - Oct/Nov 2006