''You don't look as if you've had a stroke....''

It’s incredibly common after a person suffers a stroke for them to look at another stroke-survivor and say ‘Well, he/she was affected in this, this and this way so that’s roughly what I can expect to happen to me’.

It's something I've come across several times recently when I've spoken to stroke-survivors who are still trying to come to terms with the situation - and it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Because a stroke, however severe or minor, damages the brain and because the brain is such a complicated piece of kit, with hundreds of billions of neurons all reacting and connecting with each other, the extent and type of after-effects depends on which part of the brain is damaged - and which precise smaller part within that larger part is affected.

My stroke, for instance, was centred around the cerebellum, the small area at the back of the brain which controls my balance and co-ordination. Therefore, I often have to walk with a stick and sometimes I fall over without warning far too often, or can look drunk. I have crashed to the floor in front of a dozen taxi-drivers at 10am on a Wednesday (not a good look....) and I was refused alcohol in a supermarket recently because the checkout assistant thought I was drunk. However, I carry with me at all times an ID card issued by the brain-injury charity Headway (headway.org.uk), which explains that I have a brain injury and details some of the symptoms; as soon as I was able to gather my thoughts and produce the ID card, the assistant's attitude changed.

I can't criticise her for doing her job - after all, selling alcohol to someone you know to be drunk is illegal and carries a fine of up to £1,000 - but it is annoying, to say the least, that people don't appreciate some of the effects a brain injury can have. 

There are few other physical signs where I am concerned, however - I was speaking to someone this morning who said: ‘’To look at you, you wouldn’t know you’ve had a stroke’’ That’s a common view - yet I know stroke-survivors who are partially or totally blind, who are partially or totally paralysed down one side, whose memory is catastrophically poor, whose speech is seriously impaired..... We’re all different - indeed, one of the stroke-survivor charities I work with is called Different Strokes. Making that point is one of the main reasons I work to educate people about stroke. 

Because, believe me, being refused alcohol is just one of the many small things stroke survivors have to deal with every day.  And if I can stop one person from having to go through that by making them think about their lifestyle before they have a stroke, I'm doing something worthwhile.