Get to A&E – Brooks advice after suffering stroke – Main headline

By Ruth Dowds

DONAGHADEE councillor Mark Brooks has urged anyone who suspects they are having a stroke to go straight to hospital.

The former Mayor, who is currently recovering in the Ulster Hospital after suffering from a stroke last week, has spoken of the days leading up to his hospitalisation and of the impact the stroke has had upon him.

“At the moment I can’t read a newspaper because you naturally turn the page with your fingers from the left hand, I can’t put my socks on, I can’t eat properly, I couldn’t make a bed – day to day things that we all take for granted,” he said from his hospital room.

“After a week we’ll see how able I will be to cope outside of that. I am a very independent person and I will always adapt.

“I’ll not be driving and I’ll not be cycling but I can walk, admittedly with difficulty, but I can speak, I can write and I’m quite well off that way and I’ll just have to learn how to do things differently.

“The word I’d use is life-changing. It’s a huge shock and it makes you reassess everything.”

Mr Brooks is keen that others learn from his experience about the symptoms to watch out for and how he would have responded differently to them.

He explains that over the last few weeks he noticed that he was having problems with his walking and that he was dropping things more often than usual.

He now believes this was caused by a series of smaller strokes which were later picked up on a hospital CT scan.

Then, last Wednesday he experienced problems getting out of the bath.

He explains: “It was as if the body was naturally looking for handles to support me when I was getting out of the bath, but I didn’t really pay too much attention to that.

“On reflection it was probably a sign that my stroke was in the process of beginning and then when I woke up on Thursday morning I noticed when I got out of bed in the dark that my left leg was very slow to move.

“I felt my face was sagging to the left and when I got to the bathroom I realised I didn’t have the use of my left hand or arm. I couldn’t open or close my fingers.

“I didn’t know what to do to be perfectly honest. I was able to get dressed very awkwardly but I think everything was in its early stages at this time.”

Mr Brooks rang his GP surgery at Ashley Medical Centre but was told that all the emergency appointments for the day had already been allocated, and that he should ring back first thing the next day.

“I was there the next morning at 8.30am standing outside the centre so when it opened the receptionists were very good and said the doctor would call me before 10am and arrange to see me,” he says.

He got an appointment at 2.30pm and was advised by his GP to go to A&E at the Ulster Hospital.

“I actually knew before I went to the doctor’s that morning that I would be going to hospital as I was pretty convinced I had had a stroke. I had packed an overnight bag and had tried to have a shower.

“I thought I was doing the right thing going to the doctor but with the benefit of hindsight I should have gone directly to A&E and that is what I would tell other people to do. That is the advice, to go to A&E.”

He continues that although the department was very busy he was seen reasonably quickly and medics confirmed that he had had a stroke and also multiple minor ones in recent weeks.

He admits that in the run up to his health issue he had been working exceptionally hard, doing up to 60 hours a week providing catering to local nursing homes, in addition to council and constituency work.

“I was under a lot of pressure,” he concedes, “but the future now means that I am going to prioritise my life differently and I think the days of doing 50 and 60 hours of work are finished, though I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t enjoyed it.

“I am looking at the fact that I am now at an age where with this threat I can’t be working so hard because it puts you under pressure.”

He says it remains his hope and intention to run for a third term of office at the council before calling it a day.

“At the moment with the way I am feeling, able to write, walk and talk, I would like to be able to do that but it will be for the last time,” he says.

Mr Brooks is busy working towards his recovery and following medical advice to the letter.

He says: “I’m optimistic and I’m doing all my exercises with my hand as I’m talking to you.

“An interesting fact which the physio told me this morning, just because something has clotted in your brain and that connection has gone from your finger, if you repeat an exercise 400 times the brain will learn how to do it again. I thought that was very positive.”

The Mayor of Ards and North Down, Karen Douglas, has wished Mr Brooks a swift recovery.

“I was sorry to hear that friend and fellow councillor, Mark Brooks, had a stroke in recent days. I note he is being well cared for by our wonderful NHS staff at the Ulster Hospital,” she said.

“Mark is an attentive public servant and I know that others will join me in wishing him a full and speedy recovery. He is in our thoughts and prayers at this time.”