Paul Burrows

Remember, remember the 5th of November, the day I could have died of a clot


I was 43 years old in November 2019 when I had my stroke. I can’t say I’d ever thought about the possibility of my having a stroke, indeed my lifestyle at this point in time was really well balanced and healthy, plenty of exercise, eating well and limiting my sugar, red meat and alcohol.


Work was challenging and I shared my frustrations with my boss calmly on 4th November, but I’ve been a lot more stressed at work in the past. I had a cracking sleep that night, indeed I’d generally been sleeping as well as I can remember, but woke up groggy at 6am. A bit later I leaned over to turn the alarm off and fell out of bed. My right side was virtually paralysed and I could hardly speak. There was no pain which I found strange and I had a vivid clarity of thought, so somehow immediately knew that I’d had a stroke.


My stroke was unexpected and I still don’t know the cause. Pretty much all have now been ruled out, so I’m coming to terms with the fact I may never have a rational answer. My mental and emotional journey through this challenging time has its roots in my past experiences, I shared these on a Friday Night Live – Stroke of Luck – Instagram which you can see on YouTube.


The quick and calm actions of Lynne, my wife, and the paramedics got me to Peterborough hospital A&E promptly where I had a couple of scans. I’d had a partial anterior circulation stroke within a large artery on the left of my brain. I was blue-lighted to the stroke specialists at Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge, where early that afternoon I had a Mechanical Thormbectomy procedure. This successfully removed the clot and amazingly I was discharged home the next day. I was left with a mild aphasia that has been reducing with time.


It is only afterwards reflecting, researching and seeking support do I realise how fortunate I have been. It is fairly miraculous that I’m back functioning at work and able to write this.


The fates of the NHS were certainly with me and weirdly I was fortunate that I had an acute stroke, given less obvious symptoms can often be miss-diagnosed. My reasonably resilient physical and mental health, both of which have taken time, energy and focus over the last 20 years, have no doubt helped limit the brain damage and long term implications, as well as accelerated my recovery.


I am at the stage now, 7-month into my recovery, where I am confident I’ll get back to near 100% (it may be a slightly different 100% though and will take longer than I’d like) and I’m reasonably certain that I have the experience, tools, techniques and support mechanisms in place to manage my mental health.


Given the cognitive rather than physical impacts, in the immediate aftermath of the stroke I had the fear that this may be the end of my career, or may cap my career goals and reduce my capabilities to function and provide for my family. I am much more confident now.


The main recovery challenges I’ve had as a result of the brain damage have been anxiety and fatigue. I have always labelled myself an anxious person, however when anxiety hit me like a truck 3-weeks after my stroke, I now realise I only used to be ‘a bit of a worrier’.


Anxiety is horrible and I’ve a newfound empathy and respect for people who live with it. Initially my anxiety was triggered by thoughts of having another stroke and not being so lucky with my triage and treatment next time. Thankfully I have had very reassuring news about my future prognosis and risk, which has reduced my anxiety levels by 90%. I’m working it out and trying to find my triggers, but the residual anxiety seems to be linked to lack of sleep, dealing with stressful issues and trying ‘new’ experiences for the first time. Things that would have been water off a duck’s back for me prior to my stroke.


Fatigue. Wow. I have lived with a type of fatigue as a consequence of my Crohn’s disease for the last 20-years, this feels like a constant fog and weight on my eyes. I never feel energised and can have 10 hours brilliant sleep and still wake up shattered.  Brain fatigue feels so different and the combination of these I am finding tough. This should diminish in time as it’s the good bit of my brain taking over from the damaged bit, only by stretching it will it recover but the consequence is fatigue. This comes on strong, generally quite suddenly. I’m still working out what my management techniques are for this. Tips welcome!


My focus now is actually how I use this journey and my newest experience to be an even better (but slightly different) me. Like always, I’ll need the help of my ever evolving A-Team to achieve this.