When life is changed by a stroke of the clock

A bit more than a month ago, my Dad had a stroke.

The Stroke Foundation says an Australian has a stroke every 10 minutes. This was Dad's 10 minutes.

I was taking photos at a 50th wedding anniversary celebration in country NSW and, after looking at the feast they were about to sit down to, told them that maybe I was in the wrong family.

Then I got into my car, saw the message, and rang.

My parents live on an island in Queensland. We have often been thankful for this fact, usually during school holidays. This wasn't one of those times.

My brother and sister both live with their families in Queensland but, as it happens, one was working interstate and one was in Japan. When I rang my mother, an hour after the stroke, she was in an ambulance travelling with my father into Brisbane. I could hear the siren wailing in the background.

The presence of mind of both of them when my mother found him making strange noises on the verandah amazes me. Between them, they figured out what was happening, rang triple 0 and kept it together until the ambulance arrived by barge. It was close to two hours before they made it to hospital.

Two hours can seem like a lifetime.

It was about four days until I could get there, the same time as my brother made it back home. My mother said it was the first time my Dad had let go. The appearance of two of his children at once left him undone.

He was partially paralysed down his left side, his left hand unable to do just about anything, his left leg feebly trying to remember the pathways to the brain.

His speech, his brain, his sense of humour - they were all still there. And so was my mother, hour after hour. Day after day.

Last week, I went back. Dad was still in rehab in hospital. As I made my appearance while he was re-learning to walk, I struggled to keep it together. How good it was to see him walking. How hard it was to see my robust Dad so frail, concentrating so hard on one foot after the other. So far away from the tomorrow we saw two months ago.

Dad is one of the lucky ones. He can still beat us at Scrabble and boast about it. His memories are still there to be added to.

And he has goals. "What would you like to be able to do at the end of this rehab?" he was asked. Speak Japanese and play the piano, he said. The medical staff looked impressed - until they realised he could not do those things before.

A return to an impressive golf swing would surely be plenty, Dad.

Marie Low is a freelance journalist.