Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Struck down in the prime of life

Wives of stroke victims struggle to come to terms with their husbands' impaired physical and mental abilities

Photo: Fostin and Margaret

By Shevlin Sebastian

On January 14, 2005, Lucy's life changed forever. Her husband, James, a surgeon, suffered a stroke. There was a huge clot on the right side of the brain. “His left arm was paralysed,” she says. Lucy did not realise it then, but her husband's career as a surgeon was over.

Six years later, Lucy says, “Initially, I thought James would recover completely. But as time passed, this did not happen. I tried to adjust to the situation, but there have been moments of anger and frustration.”

In her spare moments, she would hark back to the life they had before the stroke. “I would think about that many times a day,” says Lucy, who works as a nurse in a private hospital. “Now it is much less.” It was a happy carefree family. The couple had met in the Kottayam Medical College, fallen in love, and got married. They have two school-going girls. “We had a good life,” she says. “My mother-in-law stays with us and looks after the children. It enabled me to concentrate on my work.”

But now the rhythm of their lives has changed completely. They have to forsake family outings, or social get-togethers. “I feel angry with myself, because of my inability, sometimes, to accept the situation,” she says.

What has affected the family dynamics is the change in James's character, post-stroke. “He has become anxious about everything,” says Lucy. “James always feels a sense of doom, as if something is going to happen to our children and myself. So, he restricts us from going out.”

And when Lucy does go out, James will call her and say, insistently, “Where are you, where are you?'” Earlier, there would be more than a hundred calls a day. “Now it is much less,” she says. “I got angry with him often.”

Clearly, Lucy is under pressure now. “Yes, that is because I have to take the burden of shouldering the family now,” she says. But like most women, there are times when she becomes depressed. “My moods go up and down,” she says.

Meanwhile, P. Margaret is just recovering from a shattering experience. At 1 p.m. on May 25, her 50-year-old husband, Fostin, drove a motorbike to the medical laboratory in Njarakal, which he was running with the help of Margaret. A few minutes later, he suffered a paralysis of the hands and the legs. It was a stroke, although an initial MRI scan did not reveal any clot in the brain. “It takes about 48 to 72 hours for the clot to appear in a MRI scan,” says Dr. Sasikumar, of the Kumar Centre for Stroke and Neuro Rehabilitation, at Vaduthala, Kochi, where Fostin is undergoing treatment.

Initially, Fostin had a lapse of memory and could not recognise his wife and children, Noel, 18, and Niya, 15. “I wanted to die,” says Margaret. “I felt shattered. One moment, my husband was fine and the next moment, he did not know who we were.” But, over the past month, Fostin has gradually recovered the use of his arms and legs. But his memory is still fragile. So a therapist is showing him photos of apples and bananas, and saying, “A for Apple, B for Banana.” It is an unnerving sight. As Kumar says, “A stroke comes into the brain like a thief.”

Over the past few weeks, as her husband began to make steady progress, Margaret's hopes have soared. “I know that there will not be a full recovery, but I am happy at the improvement he has made so far,” she says. So far, the family has spent Rs 6 lakh. And Fostin has been lucky that his brothers in the UK and Canada have helped him financially.

At the rehabilitation centre, Fostin receives electrical stimulation which is directed at his brain and the legs. Apart from that, there is speech, physio, play and music therapy, apart from weight training. As she recalls the events, suddenly, it becomes overwhelming, and Margaret bursts into tears. Soon, her body is wracked by sobs. She cries for several minutes. Finally, she says, “I pray to God that such a calamity does not happen to another person.”

In today’s highly stressful world, unfortunately, there are many tragic stories of families getting devastated as bread-winners lose control of their minds and limbs and become a vegetable.

(Some names have been changed)

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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