Ash Gordon (Smashing it after stroke)

This podcast was created and is hosted by Paul Burns, a young survivor of stroke. This podcast series is part of Stroke Foundation’s Young Stroke Project.

Special episode - Smashing it after stroke

Episode 6, 8 August 2022 (Duration: 0:46:07)

Host: Paul Burns

Ash Gordon is a young survivor of stroke and traditional Chinese medicine practitioner. In this episode Paul and Ash discuss the early stages of Ash’s stroke and long recovery, getting back to study after his stroke, how the University accommodated him, mental health, goal setting…and more!

Transcript

Announcer: This podcast was created and is hosted by a young survivor of stroke. This podcast series is part of Stroke Foundation’s Young Stroke Project. Find out more by visiting youngstrokeproject.org.au.

Paul: Hi there. My name's Paul Burns. I'm a young stroke survivor and I am on a mission to talk to people that have suffered strokes and other traumas and have gone on to absolutely smash it in their chosen field. We'll chat about how they approach life, manage their shortcomings, and get a few tips and tricks along the way. My guest today is Ash Gordon.

Once Ash has his mind set on a goal, he is driven to reach it. He has multiple bachelor's degrees, including health sciences, applied sciences, as well as teaching. He's worked as a teacher in the fields of P.E., science and mathematics and has also travelled the world. However, he discovered a passion for traditional Chinese medicine, which he went on to study and suffered his stroke with six months left to go in his qualification.

His determination led him to return to his studies and complete them post injury. We chat about his approach and how he did it. So please enjoy this chat I had with Ash.

I appreciate you making the time to jump on this on your Saturday morning.

Ash: Oh, very happy to be here. This is close to my heart. So I'm happy. Very happy to join.

Paul: Cool beans. Well, I guess the first question I wanted to ask you, and this is probably more of a selfish thing, but you seem to have travelled a little bit. How did you get like … there’s Spain and Canada? How did that happen?

Ash: Yeah, that was, geez, that's a long time ago. Canada was when I finished my teaching degree. I just wanted to run away from the world, I think.  At the ripe age of 25 I just bailed. My plan was to move to Canada and teach in Canada with an ex-partner of mine. And then we broke up and then my cousin was in Whistler in Canada and he's like “Well, you can move to Vancouver by yourself or you, you know, come and join me in Whistler with all of his friends.”.

And I was like “Nah I’ll just go to Vancouver.” And I was staying in Texas at the time with my mum. And then he came to Texas and showed me photos of all his friends. I'm like “Yeh I'm not going to Vancouver.” I went to Whistler and ended up staying there for a year and then met friends there who every summer go to Spain and run a beach bar.

Paul: Okay.

Ash: They’re like “Do you want to come to the beach bar and you can be our barista? We need a barista.” I'm like “Yes, I can do that for you.” And so next thing I know, I'm in Spain.

Paul: Sure. So is that always been, you always sort of been an adventurous kind of person?

Ash: Not really. I wouldn't say I'm a traveller type. I was the type that would want to go somewhere and live there and embed myself into the culture and not go to … You know, I'd rather go to 5 places as opposed to 20 places.

Paul: Okay.

Ash: And so I would do that. And I loved experiencing different ways of life.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: But yeah, look, that was me done for a while.

Paul: So it's, you kind of like to go, sort of, go deeper on a subject matter rather than staying on top of a lot of different things.

Ash: 100%. 100%. So look it was, as I said, that was I then came home and then I taught for a few years and then went back to uni and studied Chinese medicine.

Paul: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that with regards to your studies. You know, you've got your Bachelors in, you know, Applied Sciences Human Movement. You know, you've done teaching. And then you've gone across to traditional Chinese medicine. It kind of really is a Spain/Canada thing.

Ash: 100%. Yeh, the linking or the common denominator between all that is basically the human body. Because I was a P.E. and Biology teacher.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: And so there was a love for the human body, which is had always been there. And then realised that teaching wasn't my jam. And then was getting an acupuncture session one day.

And then the acupuncturist said “Well, you're asking a lot of questions. Have you ever thought about studying it?” I'm like, not until now. All of a sudden it just took over.

Paul: Isn't that weird? Those one-on-one conversations. Sometimes you can just get that key moment that can turn the tide.

Ash: It did. And to the point that I don't remember applying, I don't remember doing any of that mundane stuff. I remember going to uni for my interview in November or December of 2007 and they said “Right I’ll see you in February.” I'm like “What do you mean? You're supposed to grill me on everything that I know. You're supposed to test me. You're supposed to ask me this kind of stuff.”

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: I'd filled out a page, you know, the back page of “What do you know about Chinese medicine?” And he's like, “Mate, I know you want to be here. I'll see you in February.”

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: Done. But yeah, it was. I couldn't … If you had said to me two years ago are you going to be studying an acupuncture degree? I would have said no. I said not a chance. So a good turn of events.

Paul: Yeah, I was going to say it does sound like that he spotted someone that was a, attitude and wanted to do it. Its’s half the battle, right?

Ash: 100%, yeah, yeah. So it was great.

Paul: So with acupuncture and that sort of industry, was there anything in particular about, you know, TCM, I'm sorry Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, that drew you to it? As opposed to any other discipline?

Ash: That's a good question. And I've thought about that before. And my answer is, well, so my sister's an Osteopath. She’s a very skilled Osteopath. And I saw her lifestyle and I saw her working scenario that she could pick and choose her hours. And she could block off a Thursday morning if she wanted to. And I was just like, I want that.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: I wanted that lifestyle. And I kind of didn't realize that I was searching for something to fit that lifestyle. But I can't stand, like my mother, she was a Bowen therapy teacher. So Bowen therapy's like a very gentle, musculoskeletal therapy, which helps realign the body as a physical therapy. But that as massages I get. You know, I don’t want to do a massage for an hour.

Anyway so I'd already had a tactile therapy and then so I'm like “Well, what do I do?” And this just presented. I’d been having acupuncture for years and then this just presented itself. I was like “Wow”. The only one that rang a bell for me.

Paul: Yeah. And from what you've told me in the past, you've kind of gone deep down the rabbit hole on the Chinese medicine side of things as well. It's really just your sort of passion now?

Ash: Correct. Correct. And that's for anyone in any scenario. You’ve just got to find out what sparks an interest.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: And you got to grab that interest and run with it. You know, and because if you don't you're just going to make it hard work for yourself.

Paul: You're partly through your studies of traditional Chinese medicine at the time after being a teacher and then traveling overseas and associated shenanigans. And then that fateful day occurred.

Ash: It did, it did. It definitely came out of left field. Yeah. So I had six months to go of a four year degree.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: And then boom it happened. And so there was a, everything was put on hold for 6 months. And the uni they let me do the last six months over 12 months.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: And that's all I wanted to do.

Paul: Okay.

Ash: All I wanted to do was to get back in that classroom and get back in that clinic and just finish what I started. And it's, to me, there was no … it was never a question of I'm not going to get there. And I can't explain why. To me, it was just the fact of … I grossly underestimated what had happened to me. Completely underestimated. When I was in rehab and my first physio session and, I can't remember this guy's name, but he was fantastic.

And first physio session and he sat me down and he goes “Do you actually know what happened to you?” I go “Mate, I've got no idea.”

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: And so he explained everything that had happened to me physiologically and the extent. And he goes “Well so obviously there’s strokes and there’s strokes. But this is what happened to you.”

Paul: Okay.

Ash: This is why you're struggling with what you're struggling with now. This is why you're feeling this. And that took a good half an hour. I was fried at the end of that. There was so much information. But that was one of the most life changing sessions with him, because he explained what happened. And then I fully understood what was going on.

And I think then I grabbed the gravity of the scenario. I'm like, “Oh, wow, this is bigger than what I thought.”

Paul: Do you think your understanding and your background in physiology and you know, your background with understanding the human body and that kind of stuff, and now you've got this new information about stroke. Did that help you contextualize it?

Ash: Yes. Yes, it did. Well, I could … all my study studies had done was allow me the grace to not ask him clarification questions about what he was talking about in terms of vascular stuff and that. He threw it to me in lay terms and I'm like, yep got that, got that, got that because I had an understanding.

But at the same time, yes, I'm a very visual person.

Paul: Okay.

Ash: So I could draw a picture in my head of what had happened.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: Basically a flow chart that's like that.

Paul: Okay.

Ash: So that enabled me to build a flow chart in my mind and go, well, here's the question mark of recovery.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: Now I've just got to make sure that everything I know how to take care of the body gets me to that question mark.

Paul: So you understood the implications of what he was saying to you and the possibilities of what this could mean for the future based on what he said or did he give it to you that specifically?

Ash: No, no, no. He didn't give me any potential outcomes.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: He just told me what had happened.

Paul: Okay.

Ash: And which then gave light to where, how I was feeling in that moment. And yeah, now that I think about he never said …. Doctors tried to and, you know, they give you the low percentage of … I was given a 30% chance of ever walking again.

Paul: Okay so you at least got that information.

Ash: Yes.

Paul: Well, for what it's worth.

Ash: Yeah, exactly. And so my mum and my sister, I remember you saying how your wife was the pillar of strength for you. And so my mum and my sister were very similar in that scenario. And these numbers that these specialists were throwing out, were kind of just laughed at internally. And it was kind of like when we walked out of those sessions, all those consultations, and they were like, take no notice of those numbers. They mean nothing.

Paul: Okay.

Ash: They’re just like that's absolute garbage comparative to what you're going to be. You're going to be fine.

Paul: This is just me a bit curious, but without throwing anyone under the bus. But did you ever get sort conflicting or advice, information from the medical fraternity that may have sort of “Hang on a second, this doesn't seem you know”, did they ever conflict at all or not really?

Ash: Yes, I did. The reason I’m laughing is because it was a point of contention. And as you can, I'm sure you well understand that they have no data for us youngies in this area. And so their treatment plan was as if I was 80. And so they’re like, you know, you got to go on the cholesterol meds, you got to go on the blood pressure meds, and you got to go on the blood thinners and this and that and yadda, yadda, yadda.

Paul: There was an experience that I sort of had that's in a similar sort of vein. And I'm not going to speak poorly of any of my medical professionals because they were bang on and they were awesome and they were amazing and I was very fortunate. But I did really get that impression in a few instances, not all, along the lines of “Oh, you've had a stroke. Here's a collection of meds you take now you've had a stroke.”

And if it had been explained, well, you need to take it because you had this and then this and then this and then this. And to be fair, maybe it was. I mean, some of my souvenirs are cognitive, so I don't make sense at the best of times.

I can be damned stubborn. But yeah, I really sort of did get that, oh, I just got that impression. It was like you've had a stroke, here have these.

Ash: Correct. 100%.       

Paul: It has been subsequently explained to me. And I've been slapped around the head appropriately by certain people to sort of say, take your medication, which I do. But yeah, if it had been explained more to make me feel like that someone was actually paying attention to the specifics of my case.

Ash: Yes.

Paul: Not just saying in I.T. terms, have you tried turning it off and turning it on again? I might have swallowed it more.

Ash: Yeah, right. And that's what it was for me. I'm like, no, I don't do labels.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: You know, I don't do categories. In our medicine we treat the individual. We don't treat the symptom or the illness or disease, whatever you want to call it.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: So that was the mind-frame I was in. And what was interesting is that for some reason there was a huge, a huge miscommunication between whether I had a haemorrhage or whether I had a clot. And as far as I remember and my sister remembers and my mother remembers. They said I had a haemorrhage. They said I had a bleed. And even than that's when the GP's just like “Well, why would you go on blood thinners if you had a haemorrhage?”

Paul: Yeah. Wouldn’t that make it worse?

Ash: Correct.

Paul: Okay. I mean I’m an I.T. guy. I don't know anything about bodies and stuff, but I know I believe them when I take my blood thinners.

Ash: Yeah. And so I was just like that makes sense. So that's why I wasn't taking the blood thinners then.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: So then when I went back after my hand and then they'll scour through the notes and they’re just, like, no, clot. There's nothing here that says bleed. I'm like, that is odd to the point that I even called my mum and I called my sister and I said “What do you remember happened?”

And they said, you had to bleed. And I'm like, yeah, that's what I remember. And they're like, well, there's no word. Anyway, so it wasn't there. So well then if that's the case, I'm definitely jumping on the blood thinners.

Paul: Yeah. What were you dealing with? I mean, short term versus, you know, sort of ongoing. What are the kind of the things that you had?

Ash: Short term I was out. Well, I flatlined.

Paul: Wow.

Ash: I flatlined. And so I was put … and my mum was in America at the time.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: So, because I was in hospital and I remember, just, I don't remember. I've got no memory of this.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: But I responded, in the morning I woke up and I cancelled that day because I had a terrible headache and I felt nauseous.

And I've got text messages to people saying no because I had to meet a friend for a coffee and this and that and whatever it was. I was all over it. You know, I was just doing, functioning as normal. Which is bizarre when you go back to a text message only to read it and go, I have no memory of this at all.

And then without boring you with the details, then my auntie, because I was staying at my mother's house at the time. And then my auntie came around and my sister came around and then they took me to the hospital to Monash Medical Centre and then I was in … not really sure where I was anyway.

And then they gave me Panadol and all that kind of stuff to decrease the headache and then that didn't do anything. And then next thing you know, I just coded and I was out. And which was actually good because that pushed the envelope. And then that means that they had to jump on me to find out what was going on.

And so then my sister said that they then took me into surgery and the surgeon came running out. She goes “You never want to see a surgeon run.” But this surgeon was running. And he came running out and he said “Look, this is what's happened. I need to do an emergency craniectomy. I could go through all the risks, adverse risks to this in this scenario. But time is of the essence. We actually don't have time. Can I go through with the operations?” to my sister because she was the next of kin.

And this is the thing, I feel like I'm emotionally, I've gotten out of it scott free. She's got all of those memories that she's dealing with and so does my mum.

Paul: And my wife’s the same.

Ash: She just looked at him and said “Do whatever you got to do.” And so then he went bolting back into the surgery and they did what they had to do and cut out part of my skull and all that kind of stuff and then kept me in an emergency coma. Sorry, kept me in an induced coma.

My mum's basically, like, keep him alive until I get there.

Paul: Yep.

Ash: And the only way they could do that was putting me in an induced coma. And so she then came back, I think she got back to Melbourne 24, 36 hours later. And then I stayed in the coma for another few days and then they brought me back out without knowing how I was going to be. Without knowing whether … what brain damage was going to be there, how … you know.

And so then they put me back out again.  And I was stable, which was good. And then the biggest question was whether I could swallow or not.

Paul: Okay.

Ash: They didn't know. And so apparently I was on yogurt for about three days and that was working. So then they changed to salads and did all that kind of stuff and then all that was working.

I didn't open my eyes for about a month.

Paul: Were you light sensitive? Like seriously light sensitive?

Ash: I don't remember opening my eyes to it being bright because I just didn’t.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: I remember all I could do was hear things for a month. I could hear nurses, I could hear doctors, I could hear my cousins. I could hear my sister, my mum. I could hear people, I'd have no idea what they looked like.

I remember coming back to Monash Medical Centre one time and I recognised a voice.

Paul: Yep.

Ash: And I don't know who that voice was, but I'm like, I know that voice. And then we turn around and my mum’s like, that was your nurse in HDU.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: In the medical centre. Which was pretty cool. She's like “Wow, I never see old patients.”

And I was like “Oh, is that you? You were great.” That was pretty cool. But, yeah, there was that photosensitivity definitely and extreme exhaustion. I was on a couch for a good, you know, I was living at my mum's and I couldn't leave the couch.

Basically, I'd get up and go to the toilet or having a shower. And that’d just wipe me.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: So yeah, all I just had to do was sit there and process emotions. Look I've been through a lot of relationship turmoils for the last ten years prior to that. Jumping from relationship to relationship and never dealt with any of the breakups. So I dealt with all ten years of them in six months while I was sitting there by myself.

So there's a lot of emotions of feeling cheated from the stroke. Emotions of feeling angry at myself. And past emotions of break ups. And then my mind would just delve into these pits of thoughts. And it was just nuts.

Like I never … my mum was the only one because I was living with her. She was the only one that could really understand what was going with me because she'd seen me.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: She’d come home from work and I wouldn't want to talk. And she would leave me alone. Physically I couldn't do much anyway.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: But emotionally it was brutal now that I think about it. It was really tough.

Paul: Do you think that was due to, I mean, how long is a piece of string? But do you think that was due to the … someone messing with your neurochemistry with the stick? Or do you think that was due to the circumstances or a bit of both?

Ash: I think both … all of it. I think the fact that … because I'd been ignoring the bad things in my life for ten years prior to that. All I had for those first three months was just thoughts and because I was feeling so cheated at the world. The fact that I had all of these hopes, dreams and wishes and things that I wanted to achieve and I couldn't do them anymore.

Paul: Yep.

Ash: And so I was angry.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: Because that anger was there and it was, you know, building up and building up. And I could feel I've got to let this go because or else this is still gonna here in 30 years time.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: So I let that go and because I was letting that emotion go, everything came up as well. You know I suppressed for so many years and even to the point of getting cross at myself for not applying myself at uni when I knew that I should have. And I was too busy partying or going out and I just used to go and hang out at a bar rather than going, you know, write this assignment.

Everything, every emotion.

Paul: Wow.

Ash: And it was nuts. That was probably the hardest thing. And, but I know that that was one of the most healing parts of me was allowing that to come through because I had no time limits on myself. There was no pressure. I could heal. I could … physically I know that I needed to stop and rest and let my nervous system do it's job, you know.

And so then when you stop and you're not occupied. You know, it's like going to bed at night time, you know. That's when you’ve got time to think.

Paul: And sometimes that's when the worst of it happens at 2 a.m, whether you want it or not.

Ash: Yeah 100%. And that's what it was. There’d be good days, and there’d be bad days.  And that was what I didn't factor in. The fact that there'd be good days and bad days and really bad days.

Paul: Did you find your injury messed with your sleep as well?

Ash: I remember struggling when I came home from … I was in rehab for six weeks. I remember struggling when I left rehab. But that was more to the fact that I was used to the bed I think. I'm not too sure. But because of being in that space, everything was so important. And so even the fact that I had a … I would often go wandering in my dreams and I don't know where I'd be.

And so if I woke up and didn't know where I was. My cousin actually gave me this …. could be quite funny. And she gave me this white polar bear. And my cousin gave me this white polar bear and that was sitting next to my bed. So if I woke up in the middle of the night and I don't know what’s going on. Some nights I felt like I was in Japan. Some nights I felt like I was wherever I was. If I opened my eyes and I saw this bear that was … I knew that I was safe.

Paul: It was an anchor.

Ash: Yeah. And that was, I don't know, with the meds that I was on I was a space cadet. I was such a … so yes. When I was in rehab. Yes, it messed with my sleep.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: Absolutely it did. At my mum's house, no. But I reckon I slept for about a week.

Paul: Okay.

Ash: But um. Yeah, it was … Dream traveling was a thing.

Paul: Yeah, I had some pretty interesting experiences on Endone, which is a whole other podcast.

Ash: Oh yeah. I don't think that was around when it happened to me. I can't remember what I was on. I was more on anti-nausea meds. That was the big one for me.

Paul: Okay. Yeah. So you did sort of allude before about, sort of, the emotional stuff. And, you know, you talked about a lot of the past stuff came out and, you know, once you stopped everything catches up there.

But I'm assuming, you know, knowing what you knew and we talked a little bit about, you know, possible prognosis and some of the things you're were going to have to deal with. Was the potential future and what that would and wouldn't look like, did that occupy brain space?

Ash: A lot. A lot. And I think the worst thing, one of the most difficult challenges about that was the fact that it was a question mark. I just didn't know. And all I knew was the things that I couldn't do.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: I can't even tell you what they were now because they were things that I wanted to do when I was 32.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: And it turns out I didn't want to do them anyway you know. And they were things that were … cos I had a huge, a huge attitude shift. And my sister would say to me she was grieving the loss of her brother when I had this stroke. And I said, but I'm still alive. She goes, no, but you're a different person.

Paul: My wife says exactly the same thing.

Ash: Yeah, right. And so then all the things that I was disappointed that I would never get to do, turns out I didn't want to do them anyway. Because the old Ash wanted to do it, but the new one actually didn't want a bar of them.

Paul: Can you give it like a small example just to sort of illustrate? Look, I get it because I've had similar but …

Ash: Okay, here's one. So, this was another big point of contention. So, children. I was in favour of having children. Sorry. Yeah, I would say I was in favour of having children.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: My sister will listen to this I'm sure at some point. I was in favour of having children. And then after the stroke, I then became quite ambivalent about having kids.

But I also became 100% selfish and focused on myself because I had to.

Paul: Yes.

Ash: I then I was the first priority by a long shot over anything. Everything was calculated. If we went out for breakfast or for lunch, I'd have to sit there and go well where are the bathrooms? And have I got something to hold on to get to that bathroom?

And that stressed me out because my walking wasn't great. Sorry, my balance wasn't great.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: So, I was sitting there and go, right, can we get a seat near the toilet so that I can then get my way to the toilet? And so then it didn't matter what it was, everything was about me. And so then I'm like, I'm too busy trying to deal with myself. Let alone having a child.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: So, then my desire for kids just went down, down, down and down. And then I met my now wife, and her desire for kids was even less than mine. Which was baffling. And that was a good match.

Paul: Yeah. Wow.

Ash: Well, that was probably the biggest change. And a lot of things that I had that I wanted to do involve doing things with other people. And maybe for other people. And just to do other experiences.

But then when I became all about myself, I'm like, do I actually need to do those things? You know, and yeah travel was on my list again to go and experience places like South America and a few other things.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: I'm like, no, I'm not capable to do that right now.

Paul: Was that a gradual realisation? I mean, or was it a case of I woke up, you know, I've got some of my cognitive skills back. Actually, nah I don’t want to do that now. Or is it, oh I really want to do that? And then it was a realisation that happened over a period of time.

Ash: Yeah, definitely over a period of time.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: Definitely over a period of time. Once I then became more cemented in what I wanted to do. And so the only thing I wanted to do was go back to uni and finish studying.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: And so, once I did that my next plan was okay, well I want to start working in this field.

Paul: Okay.

Ash: And it's like, how does that happen? And luckily my sister, my mum had a clinic at the time and they still have that clinic and so I went and worked with them. And doing what I love, like being an acupuncturist was the only thing I could think of doing. Even though I'd been in hospitality for so many years. But I couldn't even bend over without wanting to vomit. Like my vestibular system it got such a hit. Now I can manage it, but look I still can't. Like, if you ask me to lie on the floor, it would take me a good 10 seconds to get down on the floor without wanting to vomit because my brain can't handle all the different planes.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: So, you know, if I go to the gym and I can do exercise in the vertical plane, that's fine.

Paul: Yep.

Ash: Horizontal plan, I can, but it'll take me a while to get there.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: If you're going to get me to do something, you know, for instance, if you do like a crunch, like your leaning back and your abs are kicked in and you want to … I want to do something in that plane.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: Not going to happen. You know, bending over and working behind a bar? Nah, couldn't do it.

Paul: Okay.

Ash: Even now I'd do it, but I'd struggle.

Paul: In the early days. Did you ever have doubts that due to your injury that TCM might be off the table because it was such an unknown?

Ash: Yeah, definitely. I didn't know. I remember when I started working, I had to have the treatment room specifically set up or had to make sure that anything I had to do was not going to challenge me.

Paul: So how did you reconcile that? Because, I mean, I remember sitting in a hospital bed once upon a time going, I have no idea what the future's going to look like. All my plans have been shot to crap. And it put me in a hole in the ground for a good chunk of time. And then, you know, I had to work through it.

But how did you stay? How did you get past it? How did you stay, so, sort of, you know?

Ash: Good question.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: I think because whilst I was studying, I didn't have the capability to think beyond that. Because all I was trying to do was to finish my studies.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: So I've always been, I’ve generally been that kind of person. And it’s a point of contention now with my wife that I don't forward think. I'm like, okay, I just got to get to Christmas.

Once I'm at Christmas, then I can deal with what's happening next year.

Or when we got married, I'm like my mind stops at the wedding. After the wedding, don't ask me questions about two weeks after the wedding because I don't know. I haven't thought about it yet.

So I can … I thought about studying. Thought about just desperately wanted to graduate.

And then once I finished, I'm like, okay, well now I've got to focus on how to work in this industry.

Paul: So it really was … I had a great analogy and I'm going to paraphrase it because I'll mess it up. But somebody somewhere said when you're in massively stressful situations, making your world smaller is a good way to deal with it.

Ash: Yeah. 100%.

Paul: Is that is that a fair call?

Ash: Absolutely it is. I suppose I looked at the short term goals.

Paul: Yep.

Ash: And that's how I suppose I dealt with my initial recovery. It was all the tiny things.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: Not, when I was bedridden, “how am I going to work?” Because that was completely incomprehensible. It was “can I shower?”

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: It's the day that I was able to put my pants on without sitting down.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: I mean I don't know how many years later that was. Years later. No, no. Not even pants. Undies.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: Sorry to get graphic but …

Paul: That's alright.

Ash: To stand up and put them on because I struggle to stand on one leg and balance on one leg. So doing that… this is really embarrassing. I remember running out of my bedroom and saying to my mum, I'm like, it just sounds like I’m a four year old.

And I was like “Mum, guess what I did?”

And she's like “What?”

I'm like “I just put my undies on without sitting down!” It was one of the highlights of my month.

Paul: And you think you're going a bit graphic, but I remember making a call to the old boy when I was still in hospital, celebrating the fact “Dad I could stand up to use the loo today”.

Ash: Yep. Correct.

Paul: Yeah. I don't remember much about that time, but I remember that.

Ash: Yeah. And I completely … and there’s all those little wins. That's, and I've never actually thought about this, but yeah, that's definitely what got me through, you know. And all the tiny, small things. And I remember clearly because I couldn't tilt my head. Like driving was going to be a real issue, getting my driver's license back because I couldn't do head checks. I couldn't turn my head properly. And even now, because I had double vision. I still have it now, but I had it worse than.

Paul: Okay.

Ash: When I turn my head quickly I can't focus.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: I would see multiple things. And so, tilting my head was not good. And so, what do you do when you eat a taco? You turn your head to the side.

Paul: Yep.

Ash: Now I remember the first time we had to in our family … we eat tacos a lot.

Paul: Taco Tuesday.

Ash: Yeah, it could be any day that ends in “y”. And so, we would then have it. And I remember I'm like “Oh, how am I going to do this?”

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: And so, the way I would get through it is I would shut my eyes. And if I shut my eyes then it wasn't as bad me tilting my head.

Paul: Oh, wow.

Ash: I shut my eyes and I tilted my head and I took a bite. And then I righted my head again and opened my eyes and I was like “Woah, that didn't feel good at all.”

My sister’s like are you okay?

And I'm just like, yes and no. I may need to make this a naked taco.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: And so, then I remember, I don't know how many months later it was. And I think my sister then said, we had tacos, and she's like “You've just eaten a taco.”

I'm like “Yeah, I know.”

She's like “Remember when you couldn't.”

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: And I'm like “Oh, yeah, I couldn't.” And like that'll be crystal clear in her memory. All those things like that. But yeah, it's all those tiny little things.

Paul: So you still deal with some of that stuff even today, 10years post?

Ash: Absolutely.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: So I'm better at managing it. My right eye … is it right? Yeah, my right eye is better than my left eye. And I'm convinced that that has to do with the fact that I could only lie on my left-hand side for about six months or 12 months. And so my left-hand eye was closed, generally closed.

Paul: Are you left or right-side deficit from your stroke?

Ash: Left-side deficit.

Paul: Yep.

Ash: But that was more in terms of hand mobility. But because I was lying on my left-hand side on the pillow the whole time, my left eye didn't have to do a great deal of work. It was only my right eye.

Paul: Yeah okay.

Ash: It got used a whole lot more.

Paul: Yeah. Because I'm tipping you had a … now a caveat I’ll offer to anyone that’s listening to this “I'm not a doctor”. But I'm assuming that you had a … did you have a cerebellar stroke?

Ash: I did indeed.

Paul: Because I just had an appointment with a guy, an ophthalmologist, because I had all these issues with my eyes that I didn't understand. And I'm like “What the?” And he said, yeah, apparently the cerebellar stroke messes with your depth perception. Because I always complained about the fact that my eyes don't talk to each other.

Ash: No, they definitely don't talk to each other.

Paul: Yeah. So, and he said yeah it's a depth perception thing.

Ash: And that's good that you say that because I would say that to people I'm like I struggle with depth. Which scared me no end going into the field of acupuncture and cupping and using naked flames near skin and all that kind of stuff. And so that's why I didn't use, I didn't do flame cupping for quite a few years. Sorry flame cupping is when you use an actual naked flame, as opposed to what you can get is suction cups where it's got like a pump on it.

Paul: Yep.

Ash: Which causes the vacuum within the cups and then you put that on the skin. And the naked flame you cause the vacuum with the naked flame. I do it now fine and I love it because I can and it works a whole lot better. I think. But at the start I'm like, no, I can't. I'm going to burn the bejesus out of someone. Yeah.

Paul: Do you do you deal with fatigue?

Ash: Yeah, all the time.

Paul: Did you change the way you approach things or way you did things to help manage your fatigue?

Ash: Definitely, I had to. I changed, basically I, one thing a day. My rule was one, maybe two things a day.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: And that was it.

Paul: What kind of things? I mean, because you could say, well, okay, I'm just going to do the dishes and empty the dishwasher and call it quits. Or was it more of a, a larger focus that you would sort of say, I'm only going to work on this project?

Ash: The small things I could do. But again, it was so, my nausea was the biggest issue.

Paul: Okay.

Ash: So, bending over, just set off nausea, everything pretty much set of nausea for me. I was on a cocktail of anti-nausea meds for a long time. And so that was my, that was my restrictor, was the nausea. And so I would, it wasn't so much fatigue, that came later. I noticed, I don’t know whether you got this, the fatigue was a delayed fatigue. It was a big, it was kind of like if I did stuff in that day, I wasn't tired that night, but I was -

Paul: Yeah, the following day! That's the thing that's irritated me about fatigue. And I'm sure others out there will be dealing with exactly the same thing. If you go to the gym and you ruin yourself, you feel ruined. You know you've done too much, or you’re starting to feel ruined during the process. Post-stroke fatigue, well it is for me, and it sounds like for you, the feedback loop on it is like a day or two.

Ash: Nuts. That was the hardest thing to manage. And, and so if I did a lot in one day, the next day was a write off.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: So that's what I had to be more careful of. And so like if we, some of my friends were aware, so they were wonderful because they would pick me up and, because I couldn't drive, they would pick me up and they'd take me to friends houses and we maybe were there for 3 hours in the afternoon, that was about my limit.

Pual: Yeah.

Ash: And then they would then drop me home and they were like, right, I'll see you in three days and they know not to call me the next day. They maybe send me a text message. Maybe, but they knew that I'd be done.

Paul: Did you have a hard time, or sorry, was it a challenge getting those around you not necessarily in your immediate but because strokes happens to old people I mean that's you know, did they understand it or was it a case that we're just led by you or...?

Ash: It was a very good weeding process. I had friends, lots of friends, but then quite a few of those friends became acquaintances and then quite a few of those friends aren’t in my life anymore.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: Actually a lot of those friends aren't in my life anymore and it was a natural weeding process. I didn't have to try. Just happened that communications were lost and then it's done and we're like, okay, that person is not serving me right now. And then that's okay. That's all good. No love lost. The people that cared about me, wanted to know what happened to me, and they were curious about me. They're like, well, how are you feeling? You know? And they were the important ones and they were the ones that, you know, I could literally, it's probably about five or six of them, that were really really close and they were, they were very important to me. And they helped me a lot. So there's some people that, you know, they were like, oh, wow, that's, that's terrible. And then that's it.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: Okay, cool. Yeah, look, it is terrible, you know. So is having a car crash.

Paul: Yeah. I guess where it gets challenging and I've had this a lot from different people and,  invisible injuries are a whole, it doesn't take away from anybody else that’s got anything else going on, but it presents its whole different set of challenges because you look and walk and talk nine times out of ten like everybody else.

Ash: Correct. Correct. And that's what I was hoping to get to. I didn't want to be treated differently.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: I'm less secretive about it now.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: Because I understand the benefit in, in being truthful and people hearing my story and not because I want sympathy.

Paul: Yeah, yeah.

Ash: Because it gives people context and a better understanding. And then especially in my industry, it doesn't give me credibility but people know that I've been through some stuff and know that I understand what it's like to go through trauma and so when I say to them, I understand, they know, I understand. Yeah. So, you know, but back in the day I didn't really want to talk about it.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: Because I felt like people would treat me differently, from a sympathy point of view. They were like, I didn’t want to have that poor you kind of.

Paul: Are you okay?

Ash: Yeah, yeah. I didn't want that at all.

Paul: Yeah. So, you know, you've mentioned the fatigue and you mentioned the vertigo, you know, double vision, which, you know, a lot of these have subsequently of lessened. So amongst you've got all of this going on early in your recovery. When did you go back to uni? How long between injury and...?

Ash: Injury was July.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: Went back to uni in Feb.

Paul: You must have been damn determined to get back to uni then.

Ash: Yeah, I had to. I was done sitting at home. I needed something more, but I only had six months to go. So the main subject was a clinic subject and that occupied 12 hours a week.

Paul: Yep.

Ash: I stretched that six month subject over 12 months. So I did two three hour shifts for the first semester and that was it.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: This was a clinic and jeez, that was that was tough because I also had temperature issues as well. So I would start sweating at the drop of a hat.

Paul: Was your internal thermostat busted?

Ash: It was ruined. And it still is.

Paul: I got the same.

Ash: It still is so that I can't sit in the sun now. I cannot sit in the sun. It's just too hot. And then I start sweating and it's terribly uncomfortable. That's why I've moved to Queensland, ironically. And so it was, it was just tough. So I'd be treating people and I’d literally almost be dripping. And I remember my supervisor saying to me, he's like, what are we going to do about this? And I said, Well, I tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to rely on the fact that my central nervous system is going to sort it out. And it's going to be better. Like it's fine now. At work it's fine. But also I was anxious, I was stressed, so I was stress sweating as well. That would be adding to it.

Paul: How did you manage the stress? I mean, we talked a little bit before about, you know, making the world smaller. Was that part of, was that in in the kitbag? You know, it's like, well, okay, you know, I'm stressing I just need to concentrate on getting point A to point B or is that how you managed it?

Ash: Stress, the only stress I had when I went back to uni was, was clinic.

Paul: Yeah. Okay.

Ash: So it was more-

Paul: Just getting it all done?

Ash: Yeah. But they were great. Uni was fantastic. To the point that they ran a fundraising drive for me. I think they raised $600 or $800, I think. Now coming from uni students that's good.

Paul: That’s a lot!

Ash: People could pay their money and people were giving donations of $10, $20, $50, I think the highest one was 50 at uni but it's all, yeah what they did is they, if you had library fines you could pay your library fine but they gave it to me.

Paul: Oh, wow.

Ash: Amazing, right?

Paul: Yeah, that's amazing.

Ash: So they were they were phenomenal. So they just wanted me to, they just wanted me to get there.

Paul: Wow. So it sounds like, sounds like you've been through the ringer Ash.  I mean, what does life look like for you now?

Ash: Life’s great. One of the greatest things that came out of this was appreciation. And I feel like my appreciation has, I appreciate everything. Everything. And so then I feel like that's why things are so good now. And that's the one piece of wisdom that I'd give to people – put yourself first, and appreciate everything.

Paul: Yeah.

Ash: You know, and that might sound all, you know, lovey dovey and, you know, all that kind of stuff. But I tell you what, that was what I didn't have and that's what I do have now. And it's great, you know, and it's life. I'm up here and I'm working in Brisbane and I'm also working at the Sunshine Coast and I'm in Queensland and the weather up here is beautiful and I'm here with my wife and we're in this little apartment with grass, green grass, like, brilliant. I couldn't have imagined, could not have imagined this. I feel like I've been rewarded. Mate, it's not without, it's not without its challenges as life is so. But yeah, it's pretty good.

Paul: One of the final questions I ask everybody when I have a chat to folks is if you could speak to yourself very early in the recovery process, you know, if you're in bed, you've got, you know, some of your marbles back and, you know, you've got these doubts and these issues and these things that you're processing. You know, what advice would you give yourself or, you know, what could you say to other people in that same situation? What would you offer them?

Ash: I would say don't put a timeframe on recovery. Need to, as I said, you need to put yourself first. You need to you need to allow the body to heal the way it needs to. And you need to be extremely selfish, but in a good way. And by placing yourself first when you're compromised, that's not bad selfish. I don't have kids, so I was very lucky. I was solo, I just had me. Whereas yourself, you had kids and a and a life in a mortgage and everything else. So, I my responsibility was, was it could just be about me. But to basically give yourself the time you need to be able to heal and don't, hindsight's a beautiful thing, isn't it? Don't worry about the future. Focus on the short-term goals and you win all those little things, and you win big time.

Paul: Okay. I think that's a perfect place to leave it. I think that's been absolutely brilliant.

Ash: Yeah.

Paul: Ash, thank you so much for your time today. Once again, I really appreciate, you've got some great insight there and I'm sure people will be really keen to listen.

Paul: Oh, absolutely. Thank you. It's my pleasure.

Announcer: This episode is part of the Young Stroke Podcast Series, created by Stroke Foundation’s Young Stroke Project. Find out more by visiting youngstrokeproject.org.au. You can listen to dozens of other podcasts on our Stroke Recovery website, enableme.org.au. StrokeLine’s allied health professionals can help you manage your health and live well.

StrokeLine is a practical, free and confidential service. Call 1800 787 653, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Australian Eastern Standard Time or email strokeline@strokefoundation.org.au. The advice given here is general in nature. Discuss your situation and needs with your health care professionals. The Young Stroke Podcast Series is presented by Australia’s Stroke Foundation and funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services.