Gael’s Story

With a history of diabetes in my family it came as no surprise when in 2007 my glucose intolerance developed into type 2 diabetes. I was put on a low dose of Metformin and all was well for several years. I watched my weight and was careful about what I ate. Luckily I didn’t have a ‘sweet tooth’ but I always had a bottle of Lucozade, orange juice or some chocolate handy, ‘just in case’.

Three years later, when I collapsed at work, my colleagues first assumed that it was diabetes related but immediately realised that it wasn’t.

Thanks to their quick action, an ambulance was called and I was rushed to the Emergency Department at Chesterfield Royal Hospital though I have absolutely no recollection of this. There was a bit of a scramble to find David’s phone number but luckily he was at home and reached the hospital almost as quickly as I did. As far as I am aware he did not receive any speeding tickets…

After a series of tests, including a brain scan, David was told that I had had a transient ischemic attack, a ‘TIA’ or mini-stroke, a temporary interruption of blood flow to part of my brain. This came as a total shock  – didn’t only old people have strokes? How wrong can you be!

Although initially it appeared that I had made a quick recovery, I began to experience ‘funny turns’ which began to get worse and increase in frequency none of which I could remember, but I do recall having a funny metallic taste immediately beforehand.

Following what initially was thought to be a further TIA, I was referred to a consultant neurologist at The Royal and after what felt like hundreds of tests, including an EEG, I was diagnosed with epilepsy. In a bizarre way, serious though the diagnosis was, it was relief to know what was wrong.

Although we sometimes made a joke of the situation, it was far from a laughing matter. I’d gone from being ‘normal’ to discover that I had a brain disorder, a life-changing invisible disability that required me to surrender my driving licence. On top of everything else I felt I had lost my independence. Nipping out to the shops was a thing of the past unless it was within walking distance; there were times when I felt imprisoned.

To begin with the medication I had been prescribed seemed to be controlling my symptoms. However, unknown to me, I was slowly developing an electrolyte imbalance which resulted in a massive seizure and I was admitted to The Royal’s High Dependency Unit. I remember nothing of the following days but I’m told David was rarely away from my bedside.  Once I was back on my feet my medication was changed, a drawn-out process as I had to gradually withdraw from one before starting to take the other and of course the seizures returned. Once again the side effects were extreme so a further medication change was necessary. Third time lucky! I have now been on the same AED (anti-epileptic drug) for over five years and have been seizure free and, equally importantly, with no side effects.

The early weeks and months had been a huge emotional rollercoaster with lots of ups and downs and in the beginning far more ‘downs’ than ‘ups’. The support and encouragement of my epilepsy nurse at The Royal Hospital (who was always only a phone call away) and of the staff at Royal Primary Care helped so much during that time. They were always so positive and comforting throughout but especially during my bleakest moments. Although I have my driving licence back, much to David’s disgust, I’ve become accustomed to being chauffeured – especially on shopping trips!

A number of years later we can both look back and have a laugh – on one occasion we were enjoying dinner out before going to see a favourite blues guitarist. Whilst we were eating I experienced that familiar metallic taste and we never made it to the gig. Apparently later that evening I was belting out one of his tracks at the top of my voice but I have absolutely no recollection. David considers this one of his worst ‘down moments’ – I can’t sing a note…