Nick's story

Hello there, I’m Nick, 53 years old and I live in Cambridgeshire with my wife, Kirstie. Between us we have five children ranging in age from ten up to twenty-five. I have worked in Military Transport since the age of seventeen, serving in the Royal Air Force for 23 years followed by my current job with the United States Air Force.

The 1st of December 2022 is a day I will never forget. I woke up early, probably around 2am, feeling restless with a headache. I went downstairs to take some paracetamol and recline on the sofa to try and get some more sleep before my alarm at 5am. When trying to get up a few hours later, I was pushed back in my seat by the most intense shooting pain in my head I had ever experienced. Feeling sick and dizzy, it took me a while to comprehend what was going on. I slowly got out of my seat and almost crawled upstairs to the bathroom. Unable to be sick, I made my way back to bed where I lay kicking my legs in pain desperately trying to explain to my wife what was happening to me. Still feeling nauseous, I got up again to go to the bathroom, but I still could not be sick. All I could do was sit in the doorway.

My wife went through the FAST test with me, and I was showing some signs that I may have had a stroke. My stepdaughter, a nurse in A&E at Addenbrookes Hospital at the time, also drew the same conclusion. An ambulance was called but as my wife was told it would be a 4-hour wait, she decided to drive me to Addenbrookes herself. 30 minutes later I was being wheeled into A&E and straight into resus where I would stay for the next 13 hours. It all started to get a bit vague for me from this point on, and my wife has had to fill in quite a few blanks. I do remember being very well looked after by the amazing staff in A&E, mainly Kai and Sunshine.

The stroke team came and assessed me, and I was sent for an MRI which confirmed it was not a stroke, but a suspected bleed on the brain and arranged for the Neuro team to visit. Mr Dan Brown and his registrar, Samir, visited me at around 2pm. Kirstie says I was very confused and had no inhibitions whatsoever!! I was diagnosed with a subarachnoid haemorrhage and my wife was told I needed an angiogram as soon as possible. I was moved to the neuro ward (C8) that same evening and on the way I stopped breathing twice  so I was really thankful rapid response nurses escorted me. I was very agitated on the ward.

At around 4.30 the following morning, the charge nurse found me wandering around the ward talking nonsense (some would say normal behaviour for me) and I was taken down to theatres to have an external ventricular drain inserted into my head in order to relieve the pressure on my brain. From then, I started to go downhill quite quickly, and my blood pressure was through the roof. My family tell me I was still very confused and talking a lot of rubbish. I thought I was back in Saudi Arabia and one cruel friend almost had me convinced I was a Peterborough United supporter…… not a chance, there is only one United in Cambridgeshire!! It was quite clear to all that my health kept declining and picking up and that I had another infection somewhere else.

By the 5th of December, my condition was fluctuating massively. I could be very chatty, but my short-term memory wasn’t great. The infection in my chest was being treated with antibiotics and I finally got my angiogram. It wasn’t until the 7th of December that I started to become more aware of what was going on around me and started to appreciate the seriousness of my condition. From then on, I could physically start to feel myself improving every day and was itching to get out of the hospital. Sadly, I was having to take IV antibiotics for an infection in my brain so there was no chance of leaving. The Neuro Team were itching to get me out to avoid more infections. 9 days later, I was fitted with a PICC line so that my wife could administer my drugs, and I was moved off the Neuro ward to what was described to me as the “waiting-to-go home” ward. Before I could be discharged, my wife had to undergo some training to be able to administer the drugs but this took another 5 days to arrange. By the time she had completed half the training, there was no longer a requirement for any more antibiotics. The PICC line was removed, and I was finally discharged on 21 December, just in time for Christmas!!

I didn’t know what to expect as far as recovery went but armed with a sick note for another 6 weeks off work, I wasn’t rushing. Headaches and lethargy were the things I remember most and time seemed to stand still. I was always tired and slept more than I had in a very long time. At least I was home celebrating Christmas with my family and friends which was the best medicine I could ask for!! On 23rd January I started my road back to fitness with the couch to 5k program. I was under strict orders from my GP to stop if I got a big headache and to not push myself too hard. It was so lovely to be out in the fresh air with running shoes on again.

My recovery hit a bit of a hurdle in February when routine blood tests showed that along with the high blood pressure, which I was taking medication for, I also had high cholesterol and was pre-diabetic. If it hadn’t been such an awful time, I might have said that the SAH was a blessing in disguise. Although I had always thought of myself as fairly fit, I really wasn’t eating or drinking the right stuff. Yes, I could run a half marathon, but I also enjoyed fatty food!! My GP put me on the Second Nature programme through the NHS and I started taking a greater interest in what I was putting into my body. Thankfully in the following months I was able to lower both my blood sugar and cholesterol to better levels. I also lost an additional two stone and now feel a lot healthier in myself.

Alongside the love and support from my family, friends and work colleagues, running was and still is one of my biggest forms of therapy and rehabilitation. I’ve now got back to physical fitness and run 4-5 times a week. I returned to work in mid-February, initially three days a week, then four, building up to full-time with a couple of days working from home. My biggest challenge was getting to work every day without my driving licence, which had been revoked for 6 months. With help and a lot of understanding from my employers, I managed it. I am also a Driver Trainer on cars and commercial vehicles. Presenting Driver CPC Courses in a classroom was quite daunting at times: I found information recall a challenge and occasionally drifted off subject and lost my place. Thankfully, the students were understanding and helped me get back on course whenever it happened!! I also worked on my mental health as much as anything else.

I guess my case is one of a strong recovery, almost a good news story from something so serious. For anyone else at the start of recovering from a SAH, my advice would be to take their time, follow the advice of the professionals and listen to your own body. 13 months on and I consider myself pretty much recovered from SAH. It took me 9 months and a lot of wait on the phone with DVLA to get my licences back. That meant I could also get back to two other hobbies: motorbike and early morning swims. I have run nearly 2000km in the past 12 months including 6 half marathons and I feel healthier and fitter than I have in a very long time. I know I am one of the lucky ones who came through an SAH and no serious complications afterwards. I intend to keep my health for many years to come. I’m hoping 2024 will be incident free. My eldest daughter gets married in October, and I have a few half marathons planned to raise money for the Brain and Spine Foudnation. I was dreaming of a ballot place in the London Marathon but sadly didn’t get in. Maybe 2025!!