A Stroke of Serendipity


Eight days ago at 12.32, I stepped outside and phoned my wife.

Unusually for me I was in England – albeit 160 miles away in Southampton at my company’s UK offices. Two days earlier I had driven south from our home in the east midlands. Then I had flown to Guernsey flown back to Southampton that morning on the very early flight.  Most weeks I am in Copenhagen, one of the other Nordic countries or the Netherlands. This was my first non-overseas Wednesday for over three months.

I had spent the morning wrapped up in meetings and talking to people I hadn’t seen for a long time. It was a long time since breakfast, but I was finally strolling out to the delicatessen to pick up a salad. At 12.32, I called my wife and the call lasted 8 minutes.

That morning my wife had driven to IKEA in Nottingham with a friend. First they had a coffee and a chocolate muffin in BHS. As they walked into IKEA, she felt very unwell, and said to her friend that they would have to go home. Despite feeling unwell, somehow she drove the 30 minutes back home, cautiously staying in the inside lane of the motorway. She dropped off her friend and parked on our drive. There was a note on the doormat to say there was a parcel around the side of the house. She brought it in, walked into the living room.  She felt nauseas and dizzy and was violently sick all over the coffee table and rug. There went the chocolate muffin.

She had the presence of mind to open the front door and phone a friend. She was in her car – her phone connected to bluetooth, and therefore was able to take the call and set off for our house, 10 minutes away. My wife lay on the settee, feeling dreadful and increasingly anxious. She managed to call her work to say she would not be able to teach that afternoon.

It was 12.32 – the phone rang. Remarkably it was her husband.

She sounded to me like she was in a rush “Hi darling, is this a bad time?”. She said she felt awful and had been sick, but that her friend was on her way. “Is the front door open?” “Yes – I think I might be having a panic attack”. She was highly anxious and breathless. “Stay calm and try to breathe normally” was the best I could muster.

I walked around the lake outside the delicatessen, phone to my ear, reassuring her as much as possible. I said I would drive home right away. We didn’t know what was happening. We found out later that she was having a stroke.

Her friend arrived and I rang off, saying I would call back in 10 minutes, which I did – at 12.50. Her friend answered – they had called 999 and an ambulance was on its way. They took her out of the house in a chair and speeded her into Leicester Royal Infirmary, with blue flashing lights and everything. Her friend cleaned up, packed a bag and drove after them.

If you placed my wife on a risk profile of people likely to have a stroke, she would be right at the very bottom. She is slim, active, fit and healthy. She doesn’t smoke or take recreational drugs.  She takes half a glass of rose a couple of times a week. Her cholesterol weighs in at a mere 4.6. Apart from not being 20, it is hard to imagine anyone less “at risk”.

So we don’t know why she had a stroke – except that 25% of stroke victims are comparatively young, fit and healthy. But neither do we know why it happened on a day when I was in England rather than oversees. Nor am I sure why I had decided to drive to Southampton rather than fly directly to Guernsey – so that I had my car with me.

We really can’t explain know how she managed to drive home 20 miles down the M1. We don’t know why her friend had her phone on, connected to Bluetooth and able to answer immediately and come to my wife’s help.  I have absolutely no idea why at 12.32 I randomly called my wife. Calling her during the day is certainly not a habit of mine.

Some would call it co-incidence. Others believe in a connected universe. Many would call it fate or fortune or luck. A friend of mine said it was Karma. As a believer in God I would prefer to call it providence. I like the word serendipity – the occurrence and development of events in a happy and beneficial way.

It took me five tortuous hours to drive to the hospital. She didn’t look too good. But after two days of wonderful NHS care and attention, I brought her home. The critical 1mm of her brain which suffered the stroke is dead – it will never recover. But she has miraculously grown new nerves and new pathways, so that her paralysis and numbness is all but remedied.  A week later she is looking and moving normally – and feeling much better. It will take a few more weeks and maybe months before she is back to where she was, but the initial rate of repair is very encouraging.

Serendipity? There is nothing happy or beneficial about a stroke – it is a horrible and debilitating attack. She said it felt like she has been hit on the back of her head with a hammer. So many victims suffer severe and long-standing consequences, or even death. I guess we got off comparatively lightly. It has been categorised as a “mini-stroke”. I wonder whether that 8 minutes of conversation I had with her somehow helped contain the impact. I like to imagine so, but who knows?

But if this stroke of misfortune had to happen – and it seems like it did – it was surrounded by a cushion of providential serendipity, for which we are both eternally grateful.

  5 comments for “A Stroke of Serendipity

  1. Grum
    November 7, 2015 at 8:12 am

    We never know what life is going to throw at us sometimes, so glad Debs has bounded back. Much love

    • November 9, 2015 at 8:21 pm

      Thanks Grum – yes life is full of surprises, some good and some not so good, but we have to play the ball which is bowled ! She is still making decent progress, thanks.

  2. November 9, 2015 at 8:39 am

    Initially I thought I was going to be reading your thoughts on my home city Southampton. Then the story unfolded and what a story of good luck and happenstance. Thank goodness everything conspired to get your wife the help she needed quickly. I hope her recovery continues.

    • November 9, 2015 at 8:23 pm

      Thanks . . . it was a rare – but in that respect, fortuitous – visit to Southampton. 🙂

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