An unplanned hiatus

Three rolling through dark sky by amysgster

I’ve been counting up the number of sayings used to describe the way we cope with the ups and downs we face in life. There are lots. Without trying the adages flow: purses from sow’s ears, silver linings, and taking the rough with the smooth.

Despite the clichés, I am actually finding some solace in many well-worn proverbs. I have good reason to. Just over nine weeks ago I was (literally) bowled over by a health crisis. It’s disrupted my whole life, including the bit of it you see here on my blog (or haven’t seen as I’ve been forced to take a blogging hiatus).

While unloading groceries from my trolley at the Island Bay New World on 21 June I had a stroke.

To say this was a shock is an understatement of colossal proportions. I’m a fit, healthy man at low risk of having a stroke (according the brochures anyway). I’ve gotten over saying “How could this happen to me?”, but I still do wonder about this. Shock was mixed with disbelief and disorientation.

In the weeks immediately after the stroke I was too whacked to care that I wasn’t doing the things I normally did. After a lot of rest – with watching videos at the heart of my healing – I’ve bit by bit been about to do more and more.

At times I’ve been worried about my future. What would come back to me, and what lasting affects would I face? Amidst all this was a hint of panic that I wouldn’t be able to easily read or write again. Would I blog again? It has been quite a roller coaster ride.

Two months down the track, all agree that I’m making a very good recovery. After such a big jolt to my brain I have to admit my short term memory hasn’t returned to its usual forgetfulness. Otherwise the various examinations and tests show my speech and motor skills are unaffected.

The main lasting impact is a visual impairment. I can read children’s books, newspaper headlines and navigate on the computer, but can’t yet easily read blocks of text. Both cycling and driving a car are ruled out for now.

As the days go by I’m adapting to the visual distortion. I’m also finding new techniques and tools to access information and read. I’ve been walking everywhere since the stroke, including making the 1.3km trek down to the hospital for follow-up appointments. Cooking trusty favourites and getting recipes in large print (thanks to Roz typing them out) means I can serve up dinner for the family.

At an early age I harboured an ambition of becoming a newspaper reporter. This lead to me taking a touch typing class in sixth form (or Year 12 as my younger readers will know it). Although these ambitions have long since abandoned as the cynic in me gained ascendancy, I can still touch type. I’ve pounded out this post with some fluidity.

Throughout all his I’ve been amazingly well supported by whanau, friends and colleagues. Cranky as I may have been at times, my children have definitely benefited from having lots more time with me. The hardworking staff at Wellington Regional Hospital have not only helped me heal, but have given me plenty of hope. I’m especially appreciative for support from Sue, one of the hostpital’s occupational therapits.

Looking ahead, I’m starting part-time this week. Rest assured I’ll let people know when I’m ready to take on new assignments, and pick up some of the initiatives I started earlier in the year. I’m trying to reign in my natural drive and go slow for a while.

The enforced timeout has given me a chance to think about what I most want to focus on, and how I will earn a livelihood in the future. These of course are big questions that I’m not rushing to answer.

The health adventure is not quite over as I have further tests through the hospital cardiology department. The specialists are endeavouring to understand what caused my stroke, and determine whether there is anything that can be done to reduce the risks of a recurrence.

I’m trying to pick up where I left off with my blogging. With a visual impairment I’m doubly aware of the necessity for accessible web design. What was once a concern based on principle is now one based on daily struggles with errant websites. I find it hard to navigate around lots of websites, including some in the community sector. (No names, just yet anyway!)

I’ll share my insights on computer accessibility on this blog. Topics that occur to me include:

  • how I found computer voices for text to speech that are quite personable
  • how audio books are a saviour
  • why I ordered a Kindle book reader (which arrived last week) and why I didn’t buy an iPad
  • the reality of accessibility on a Kindle
  • attention in an age of information anxiety.

I won’t get started on these now, but will actually go and lounge on my couch to actually listen to a story or maybe watch a video. The wise words of Monty Python can be added to the proverbs I mentioned above: always look on the bright side of life (see a clip of this fatuous famous ditty on YouTube).

PS If you see me around Wellington and I walk blithely by, please shout out as I’m not always good at recognising faces.