The day my life changed - On a scale of one to 10 with 10 being dead, I was an eight

15th October 2010 at 01:00

The warning signs were there. Family history; smoker; unfit; overweight; stressful job. I hadn't been to my GP since my teens, so when he sent me away with pills and told me I would be all right, I happily believed him. Two weeks later I woke up in hospital, not knowing where I was or how I got there. They told me I had had a stroke.

I loved my job. I had started off teaching history and geography in Luton in 1969, becoming head of history three years later. By 1993 I was headteacher of a school in Ealing (west London).

Throughout the years I had worked in various jobs, taking schools out of special measures and working in advisory roles. In 2007 I was working as a trouble-shooting head when the stroke happened. My wife tells me I had been acting strangely all day, sending strange text messages to her and my daughter at work, and complaining that I thought I had banged my head. They came home and took me to hospital but I have no memory of this.

I had another stroke in hospital and another one a couple of months later. It was the third stroke which did all the damage. I was told that on a scale of one to 10 with 10 being dead, I was an eight.

Physically there were no signs; no limp or effect on the face. But my literacy disappeared overnight and I developed aphasia (an acquired language disorder). Initially I was like a zombie. My speech was impossible to understand and I couldn't read or write.

I was given speech therapy while in hospital and for two months afterwards. The support was good at first, but then it stopped. After that I was left to my own devices. I could walk, make a cup of tea and cook. I started to cook the dinner at night and we had interesting meals during those first few months. Apart from that, I couldn't do much. My speech was retuning but I often couldn't recognise people.

I went on the waiting list for speech therapy and had three more sessions. But with limited budgets, this couldn't continue. Initially we used a paper list of the 45 most common words. The speech therapist recommended trying a software package and for the first year I used it daily to help regain my speech and language. There is great speech-recognition software and a program that reads back to me what I have written.

I started to drive again a year after the stroke and it was a huge boost. I am not the sort of man who likes to be driven about by others. I like my independence too much. I had to learn to drive a car again and later re-sat and passed my driving test. However, it is not a continuous process. I had a dip recently, but I have made huge progress and I am back up again now.

Networking has been great. It has helped me find out what help and support is out there. It has also helped me get back into work. I have been involved with City University London and trained police officers in aphasia. They have a tendency to think people with this condition are drunk. I have also taken part in a research study on speech and language training.

I would like to go back to work. I enjoyed my job, but I don't think I would ever become a headteacher again. Some sort of advisory role would suit me. I want to be able to read and write better and to have a better grasp of software before I return. I'm nearly there.

My wife laughs at me but I would like to run a marathon to raise money for the people who have helped me recover from the strokes. I want to let people who have had a stroke know not to give up, that you can improve.

Ian Wetherell was talking to Jackie Cosh. If you have an experience to share, email

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