One year after stroke: Crux editor-in-chief looks back

(in the early hours of 8 May 2023 Crux managing editor Charles Collins suffered a devastating stroke and was rushed to hospital in the UK, where he, his wife Claire and their two boys live He spent five months in several hospitals and had a series of surgeries and other seizures, but returned home in early October 2023. He marks the one year anniversary of his stroke below.)

LEICESTER, United Kingdom – I’m still alive.

On this day last year I had a hemorrhagic stroke. I spent five months in hospitals in the Midlands of England, where I live with my English wife, Claire.

This. was. reported. Here. in the Crux. on a few occasions. (Even. a few reports. written. by. me.)

John Allen and my wife understandably did not give me all the details of what happened. Brain hemorrhages are very serious, and mine was particularly severe and widespread. Claire was told there was little chance of my survival – blood was leaking into several parts of my brain – and next to no chance of coming back ‘to myself’ due to the damage to my brain. The uniqueness of the stroke meant it could not be treated at Leicester hospital and I was sent to a more specialist unit in Nottingham for a craniotomy.

This surgery was considered very successful, but my case soon worsened: an infection was spreading throughout my body – I had emergency surgery on the superior mesenteric artery at the beginning of June, but the infection was incubating in my heart, which was damaged as a result. .

This caused the third serious death scare.

I was transferred to another hospital in Nottingham and had heart surgery where a valve was replaced (I’m part cow now it seems.)

But then a miracle happened. (I use the term somewhat formally, as it has been used by several medical professionals.)

I came to my senses.

By the end of July I was ‘me’ again, albeit very confused and not the best person around (‘You were so horrible with the Nottingham staff,’ my wife told me. ‘Much more horrible than you usually are.” This after being in an induced coma for much of May and June.

I learned to walk again in Leicester General Hospital and although I was given a wheelchair when I left, I stopped using it except for long walks after a few weeks at home.

What did last year teach me?

First, to try to remember that it was harder on my wife than on me. I have no memory of the stroke and surgeries. I remember the last week in Nottingham – I couldn’t stand or remember anyone’s name. I didn’t have to face fears of my death or loss of personality.

Conclusion of stroke medical staff after meeting with Charles in December 2023. (Credit: Charles Collins.)
Conclusion of stroke medical staff after meeting with Charles in December 2023. (Credit: Charles Collins.)

I didn’t have to deal with myself either. My boss referred to my “curmudgeon” ways in the early days, what journalists call pain in the back when it looks like I’m about to die.

I also had to learn how to handle myself.

It is still more painful to walk than it was in the past. I get tired very easily. My hearing is worse and my vision is shot: there are several empty spots in front of my eyes, but our brains usually fill them in just to match the surroundings, so that people (and cars, and animals and other things on ground) can appear and go out of sight. Also, small dots and lines pass in front of me quite constantly.

I can also lose my train of thought, although I’m sure middle age plays a part in that.

The positives, of course, far outweigh the negatives. I don’t have an insult, which is common with stroke victims. I can walk somewhat regularly, although I look older than I am. I went back to full-time work – in fact they stopped my regular stroke support after six weeks, saying that writing and editing work was actually better treatment than they would have offered.

This can also have its negative effects – it seems that if you can act “normal” people can forget that life stopped being normal for you a year ago.

Religious thinking also increases significantly – the death rate for a severe stroke with cerebral haemorrhage is very, very high. If you survive, the chance of living without continued medical care at home is very, very low.

I constantly ask, “Why me?”

One reason could be that the Lord is telling me to take my body to confession more regularly: I try to go monthly. I also try to make sure that the last words I say to my wife and two sons are, “I love you.”

But I know life is short—probably shorter than we’d like—but I realize it’s also eternal. When we die, that’s who we are in the afterlife. And it’s best to keep that in mind.

Please keep my family in your prayers.

Watch Charles Collins on X: @CharlesinRome

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