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.

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10 thoughts on “An unplanned hiatus

  1. Natalie Collins

    Hi Stephen,
    Wow! I was floored when I read your blog. What a shock to you an your family.
    It’s good to hear that you are on the ‘come back’ trail and it sounds like you have a lot of wonderful people, including your family to support you through this process.

    Your article highlights a situation which is not that familiar to most but a growing group of New Zealanders and Australian’s that are unfortunately growing older (by no means, referring to you :)!) or succumbing to the vision and hearing losses attributed to extended computer and portable music device use.

    There is a lot to be done in the area of web accessibility and unfortunately it is not until one has insight into the user experience that a person with a vision, hearing (or mobility) impairment has when using a website that one trully understands the inconvenience, frustration and exclusiveness!

    I very much look forward to your future blogs on these subjects you have outlined.
    I also invite you to access the Media Access Australia website where we have a lot of information about media and technology accessibility. We are also beginning to develop a comprehensive body of knowledge around practical web accessibility (and we have been speaking to people in NZ about this!).

    Best wishes,
    Natalie Collins

  2. Stephen Blyth Post author

    Thanks for your kind words….

    Natalie, you’ll be pleased to hear I actually read guidance material on the MediaAcces website when I was looking for the ‘perfect’ device to try reading on. There sure is lots of room to expand on this. Keep up the good fight!!!

  3. heather

    it seems not all the revolutionaries are going to be able-bodied… now that makes for a more complex and interesting revolution. good luck with the healing. h

  4. Glyn

    Heh mate,
    Very sorry to hear about your bad luck…but it looks like you are making a pretty impressive recovery already though – well done. Onwards and upwards.

    My cousin Rob (a fit Welsh dairy farmer) had a very serious stroke at age 39. He was paralysed for many months and very, very slowly, has made a pretty good recovery. He’s still in a wheelchair alot of the time but has all his functions back. His wife somehow managed to keep the farm going, and his three (now teenage) kids have all chipped in.
    The house was re-designed to accommodate him.

    An odd thing is he is Welsh-speaking (first language) but he was hospitalised in Bath, completely English-speaking. The nurses couldn’t understand him but once he was transferred back to Wales (after about a year) his language/speaking skills improved dramatically!

    I went to visit him (2005) and was introduced to his nurse. I said your accent sounds familiar – where are you from? Auckland she says. I said whereabouts? Grey Lynn she says. That was funny!

    Anyway, my cousin’s story is meant to inspire you to keep going. It is very possible to recover well after a stroke, even a very serious one.

    Here’s to you,


  5. michele`

    Kia ora Tipene,
    I heard you’d had a stroke, from Dave Mulholland. Glad to hear you are doing allright [just read your blog]. Kia kaha, e hoa, e piki te ora hoki!

  6. Cara Anderson

    Hey Stephen
    Just read your blog – what a shock! Glad to hear you are on the road to recovery. Just goes to show we shouldn’t take anything, particularly our health, for granted.
    Take it easy.

  7. Liz KInley

    Kia ora Stephen
    Julia here at Jigsaw told me this morning about the sudden ‘hiatus’ that had so suddenly affected your wellbeing and interrupted your usual way of life. I wanted to write to you straight away on behalf of all of us here at Jigsaw, We all send our love and care to you and your whanau and want to express our deep respect for the way that in this – as in all things in my experience of knowing you – you have found a way forward that is very open and real about the shock of having to face such a major life challenge yet so generous in sharing your experience and insights.
    Arohanui, Liz

  8. Jill Turquet

    Just a quick note to say how delighted we all are that you are making a good recovery to what must have been a truly awful experience…..and rest assured, that if I did see you out and about in Wellington, I’d run after you till you noticed me!



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