It's a year to the week - to the day, nearly - that my grandad left hospital after a massive and debilitating stroke. That he left hospital at all was amazing, but that he left with the ability to walk - a few steps, with a stick - was nothing short of a miracle.
Mum was back at the hospital with Grandad this week for his ongoing physio, and saw a couple at the very beginning of their journey. The man - in his 60s, mum guessed, so a good couple of decades younger than Grandad - had obviously suffered a similarly catastrophic stroke. The pair looked broken, mum said; he couldn’t sit up, and kept slumping, and had clearly lost the use in one side of his body. She just looked like all hope was lost.
And there’s that word: hope. When Grandad was rushed into A&E after falling to the floor one Sunday morning, and lay on a hospital bed being kept alive by tubes and oxygen tanks (he developed pneumonia, too, just because life can be a bit of a prick sometimes), and was barely conscious but every now and again would look at us in sheer terror, we had no hope. The doctors and nurses told us as much, in the nicest way possible.
In those dark few days afterwards, in a miserable room in intensive care, the doctors warned us that his chances were slim - if he survived the pneumonia (unlikely) then he’d more than likely suffer another stroke. In any case, his original stroke was so spectacularly devastating that he wouldn’t have much to live for anyway. Honest to god, this was the message we were constantly told. He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t swallow. A tube had to be put directly in to his stomach to feed him, and we were told that if he refused this - which he could, despite not knowing which way was up - we’d have to say our goodbyes and let him go.
And the whole time - from A&E, to intensive care, to the rehab ward - I was looking for hope. I’d accost doctors and nurses in the corridors - “Yeah, but you must have seen WORSE cases, surely?” - and try to explain that YES, he was 85, but that was just a number, that he had more fight and energy and vitality than most men half his age. He played golf, and went dancing twice a week, and walked 10km every day, and played snooker on a Tuesday (all of this to get out of the house, I grant you, but nevertheless, he was FIT), but they just shrugged gently and told me his stroke was massive (no shit) and that if he did ever return home, we’d likely need a mechanical winch to lift him from the bed to a wheelchair, and that there was no way my 80-year-old nan could care for him in that state. That, my friends, was the hope we were given.
Well I’ll tell you. They didn’t know my grandad. And they didn’t know how much we loved him, or how much he loved us, and what effect that can have on the human spirit. I’m a big fan of love, have been since I met Paul. I know it can change the world. But after Grandad’s stroke, well - and to paraphrase Frankie Goes to Hollywood - I discovered the power of love. If my grandad hadn't loved, and been loved so deeply in return, then every time he opened his eyes he wouldn't have seen his wife, his daughter, his granddaughter - even his three grand bairns - begging him to get better. No, he'd have seen unfamiliar nurses - or worse, no one.
Because he loved, and was loved, he got better. He was transferred to the stroke unit at Osborne Park Hospital, where - for the next couple of months - he learnt to eat, and speak, and - yep! - walk. And he came home. Against the odds, he came home. Which was pretty horrendous itself, those first couple of months, and nearly finished my poor mum off, after she became a full-time carer to both nan and grandad, and was on call 24-7, and possibly didn’t sleep or rest or eat for longer than is right or necessary, but he was HOME, and he was cared for, and he improves every single day. Still, at 86, he’s improving. Mum takes him to the gym twice a week, and the other day he walked - unaided - through the length of the shopping centre.
If you’re looking for hope - if you’re scrambling around desperately searching of a skerrick of hope - then may I introduce my Grandad Tommy. Deadset legend, and loved beyond measure. Eighty six in number alone.