My name is Paul Farrell, and I had a stroke five days before Christmas 2019. I was in hospital when it happened. I had gotten sepsis in my leg and needed five operations. During my last operation, that’s when the stroke happened.
When I woke up my speech was gone, and I had lost all power in my arms and legs. I’ll always remember that day. It was a very hard time. I couldn’t say what was in my head, or ask what was happening. The night of my stroke, and the morning after, I thought my life was over. For about 24 hours I couldn’t imagine how my future would look. I was scared that day and in the days, weeks and months afterwards. The end of 2019 and 2020 were probably the worst years of my life.
I have two daughters and it was a difficult time for them too. There were times I couldn’t go home from hospital to see them face-to-face, because of Covid. I couldn’t talk, write or read, and one of my daughters, who was 12 at the time, thought I had forgotten her. They thought their Dad was gone.
It was a long recovery process
I spent about seven months in and out of hospital after the stroke. I was treated in Drogheda, moved to Beaumont for surgery, then back to Drogheda and afterwards to Dundalk, where I had speech and language therapy. I’d work on my speech Monday to Friday, and then over time I was able to go home at the weekends.
I left Dundalk Hospital on the 24th of February, and the Monday after that I went to the rehabilitation hospital in Dun Laoghaire, in Dublin. That was hard. I stayed there Monday to Friday, for three weeks, and then again in July for 9 or 10 weeks. Afterwards, I kept up sessions with my speech and language therapist from Dun Laoghaire on Zoom.
From the day of my stroke, it probably took me a year and a half to start to build my life back up. One half of my brain would be saying: ‘you’re making progress, you’re coming back’, and the other half was saying: ‘no, it’s over.’ Even though I couldn’t talk, I was talking to myself. I might be tall and strong to look at, but it’s what’s in your head that keeps you going. I’ve had good days and bad days, but I take it one day at a time.
My Rehabilitation Experience
In March 2021 I started to work with Lorraine, my Rehabilitation Assistant at Acquired Brain Injury Ireland (ABII). I feel like she’s been there from the start. She works with me on my speech, but I’d say she’s probably my best friend as well. And Andrea, the psychologist at ABII, he was my counsellor. I worked with him for 16 weeks and he really made a big difference. I just needed someone to believe in me. I had my friends and family, but I needed someone else to say: ‘trust me, you can do this.’
Initially I worked with Lorraine and Andrea online, but in September last year we started meeting face-to-face. That was really helpful, because I could look at their lips and see how they were talking. I started practicing my speech. One of the best pieces of advice I got was to talk to myself, out loud. People think I’m mad in the head! But it helps.
Looking back, in the early days I couldn’t say words like ‘cat’, or ‘dog’, or ‘ball’, nothing like that. It’s not even three years since my stroke and so much has changed. 2020 was about getting my life back; 2021 was about making progress. This year is all about me.
I’m living by myself again. I moved out last year and got a house by myself. I just turned 40. I’m travelling to England for myself, to visit friends. I’ve a new woman in my life, and my daughters are happy too.
Before my stroke, I was working in PayPal. When I went into hospital, my boss told me my job would be there for me when I was ready. I’m back since the start of this year, full time. I work on the Chats, talking to two people at a time, so my brain is definitely working! It’s a hard job, but I love it.
Rehabilitation Gave Me My Life Back
When I’m not working I watch football (I’m a Liverpool fan). I watch any game, and I like talking about it! I socialise, go out for dinner, see my family and friends – the usual things that people do. This year has been really great for me.
I know if my rehab supports weren’t there for me, I wouldn’t be back. Ultimately, it’s up to me to put the work in. But all the people who helped me: Lorraine, the people in Dundalk, Dun Laoghaire – if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I know I’m lucky. Because of where I live, the services are there. But I know other people who have had a brain injury, and in their counties it might not be the same.
I’m proud of what I’ve done. Rehabilitation is hard work. It takes patience, and time: Rome wasn’t built in a day. I know my speech may never be the same again, but I’m back talking. I think my stroke has made be a better man, and a great Dad. Everyone should have that same chance.
19,000 people in Ireland acquire a brain injury every year. Because of where they live, many have no access to life-changing rehabilitation services. Support their right to rehab.