The Stroke Association is sponsoring production of a play by stroke survivor Stuart Hepburn. It’s called A Most Curious Detour, and is based on his book of the same name, which recounts the experience of suffering a major brain-stem stroke eight years ago and his subsequent life lived with locked-in syndrome. There is an article in The Daily Record of 15 February which summarises the background to all of this.
Stuart and I crossed paths in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow a few years ago and, meeting him in the flesh, it is difficult to fully comprehend the problems he has to overcome everyday – he is an articulate, intelligent and impressive human being. There are several things that resonate with me from his experience as a stroke survivor receiving treatment from the NHS.
First, there is the difference between the medical professionals who treat you as a job to be done and those who make a genuine connection with the individual to be treated. The latter are the “gold nuggets” I refer to in my own book. Another is the suddenness with which “treatment” comes to an end and “living with the condition” begins. For most stroke survivors, this transition takes some getting used to. Many medical professionals do not seem to be trained to take time to help stroke survivors with that transition – though the best provide help instinctively. Often it is other family members who are forced into this role – sometimes putting an intolerable strain on relationships.
Perhaps most telling of all is Stuart’s comment that if we provided a more accepting, understanding world for people with his condition, then fewer would wish to beg for assisted suicide – as in the case of Tony Nicklinson, the stroke survivor from Wiltshire who took his own case through the courts, before his untimely death some months ago.
Stuart has re-learned the habit of meditation as a key part of his ability to live with the restrictions of his condition. Thanks to his own perseverance and strength of character, and the legacy of this play, I hope that more people may learn understanding and acceptance of the long-term implications of living with stroke.
Stuart’s play is being staged on Saturday 2 March by the Scottish Youth Theatre in the Tron Theatre, Glasgow.