Books and How I Learned to Read Again After Stroke

My idea of a good time.

As I write this on November 13th 2020 I am about half way through my 45th book of the year and well on track to meet my goal of completing 50 books in 2020.

Reading is, and always has been, my greatest pleasure but there was a time when I feared it was one that would be lost to me forever. In the immediate aftermath of my stroke in August of 1997 I was completely unable to read at all: even the hospital menu cards had to be read to me and filled in by my parents. Following a consultation with my optician who, kindly, went out of his way to come to my hospital bed it was determined that my vision was unchanged by the stroke so the problem must lie elsewhere. From my point of view I could see the letters and words on the page but could make no sense of them. The effort of decoding the jumble was simply too exhausting for my broken brain.

Never again being able to curl up in pyjamas with a cup of tea and a good book was not a fate I was willing to accept so I decided to fight in much the same way I was fighting against the prospect of never walking again. Much like with physical movement, the first green shoots of improvement came while still in hospital. Every day I would take the menu card and attempt to decipher what was on offer the next day until, one day, I was able to choose breakfast before losing my track and seeking help with lunch and dinner. Each day got easier until about three weeks post-stroke when I had been transferred to a city hospital with a specialist neurology unit and was able to read and comprehend the consent form for my lumbar puncture unaided. It took a while and was exhausting but it felt great to not need someone else to do something so simple for me. By the time I left the rehabilitation unit in late October the menu cards were no big deal and I could even flip through magazines, mainly looking at the pictures and their captions rather than actually reading them, and play along with the word puzzles on Countdown during the long, boring afternoons after physiotherapy was done for the day.

Not long after my discharge from hospital I encountered something that really spurred on my efforts in re-learning to read to a new intensity. That event was the publication of Irvine Welsh’s novel “Filth”. Barely six months previously I had written a dissertation on most of Welsh’s published works as part of my C.S.Y.S. in English: the Certificate of Sixth Year Studies was the highest level of qualification offered in Scottish schools at the time so it was a fairly deep dive into the subject, which I enjoyed because Welsh’s writing was just so vivid and unlike anything I had ever encountered. Having greedily devoured his entire published output I was extremely excited for this new book. On the day of its publication my Mum was going into town to run some errands and agreed to pick up a copy for me. After spending the day doing my physiotherapy exercises I was keen to settle in for a night of reading when it became obvious that my plans were for nought when my mind collapsed after a couple of pages. While I could read it was still too exhausting to tackle this novel, not least because “Filth” has a challenging structure.

The book that broke my heart and gave me the determination to get my love of reading back. When I finally read it years later I didn’t enjoy it as much as Welsh’s previous work.

Once I had gotten the tears of frustration out of my system I went to bed and formulated a plan. I was going to read that book no matter how long and difficult the process of doing so might be. The next morning I gathered up my Mum’s lifestyle magazine and the newspaper and started my new daily ritual of reading headlines and picture captions until I reached my limit. Every day I would push myself to read a little more until I could read short pieces, slowly building until I could read a whole page article without breaking. Another invaluable tool in this early stage was BBC Ceefax and other analogue teletext services. My parents even bought a larger television set to aid me in this task. While such services, sadly, became obsolete with the advent of digital broadcasting, the Internet offers much the same services of news and entertainment in written form. During this period I became a prodigious consumer of magazines, especially those heavy on the images and started doing the daily crossword in the newspaper as an extra form of “exercise” for my mind. As my abilities progressed I found myself looking for new outlets for my love of the written word and turned to the few poetry collections I had acquired in my lifetime. The short form suited my limited stamina and I really enjoyed the simple act of reading from a book after so many months without that pleasure. Next in my journey came short stories, then novellas such as Irvine Welsh’s “The Acid House” from the collection of the same name and my favourite book of all time “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. While this all felt like work rather than pleasurable I knew that one day I would reach a point where reading was a joy once again. Over a period of many months I built up my stamina until I finally felt able to tackle short novels and non-fiction books.

Eventually I found I was reading every day, not because it was a chore, but because I was enjoying it and was keen to find out what happened next in whatever I was reading at the time.

In recent years I have found the advent of e-books to be incredibly helpful: the ability to change font and text size would have been incredibly useful to me in my early stages of building my strength, and the fact that a Kindle or similar device is so lightweight and easily operated single-handedly makes it ideal for stroke survivors like myself. I find my Kindle particularly great for books whose physical form is a large hardback which can prove very tricky without a second hand to turn the pages.

I suppose my point is that the seemingly impossible can be achieved with enough time and determination.

Now I’m off to boil the kettle and immerse myself in my current non-fiction book “The Burning Edge: Travels Through Irradiated Belarus” by Arthur Chichester (the pen name of the excellent YouTuber Bald and Bankrupt..

Addendum on January 9th 2021: I easily met my goal for the year and have already made a good start on my 52 book goal for 2021.

Yes, I did read a book in French. No, it’s not my native language. My Goodreads profile is here.

Anniversaries and dealing with difficult dates

This post will go live on Tuesday August 13th 2019. August 13th is a very important date in my personal history for several reasons which I will elaboarate on here:

Wednesday August 13th 1997 was supposed to be a fairly boring day for me. I had managed to schedule two consecutive days off work from my role as a supermarket checkout operator and had hoped to go for a nice long bike ride to historic Culross Abbey in the afternoon following a routine G.P. appointment in the morning, but what really excited me was that my then-boyfriend had also arranged the day off on the 14th and had promised to take me to Blairdrummond Safari Park.

Little did I know that I wouldn’t make it to the G.P. surgery, never mind the Safari Park. As I was taking a bath in preparation for my appointment I suffered the massive stroke that would define much of my life going forward.

As August of 1998 approached I decided I didn’t want to spend the 13th dwelling on all the ways in which my life had changed over the preceding twelve months so I decided to do something on that day that I could look forward to instead of moping over all the things I had lost. After much consideration I decided to celebrate what I did have rather than mourn the things that had been sacrificed on the altar of brain injury. The most obvious thing I had going for me was, and still is, an incredibly close and supportive family who were with me every slow, unsteady step of the way. My parents have never shown anything but love and unerring patience throughout my recovery: even when I made it very difficult for them with my own self-loathing and doubts I’d ever be a whole person again. Because of this, the obvious way to mark this first anniversary was to treat my parents to dinner at one of my favourite local eateries. Even though I had a new boyfriend by this time I didn’t invite him as I wanted the evening to be about us as a family, our year of turmoil and how we had survived it.

The following years until 2005 followed much the same pattern: I chose to celebrate my survival rather than dwell on the tragedy of a young life so cruelly decimated. In order to preserve my mental health as much as possible I try to see the positive in as many situations as I can so I chose to see August 13th as the anniversary of me having survived an event that could easily have killed me, rather than the anniversary of losing the use of my left arm and the beginning of my troubles with energy, walking and the myriad other things stroke has made difficult for me.

The reason my strategy changed on Saturday August 13th 2005 is something of which I am incredibly proud and thankful to my husband for.

That morning I took a bath at my parents’ house just like I had eight years previously but this time I was not extracted by paramedics but got out independently, dried off and slathered myself in fragrant lotions before my Mum and best female friend helped me into white stockings and the most beautiful dress I had ever worn. Despite having barely slept the night before due to nerves I felt happy and healthy with just a hint of butterflies in the stomach which evaporated as soon as I stepped into the room where the love of my life stood with his best man and a registrar in front of our closest friends and family.

During the ceremony I had to fight back tears at one incredibly poignant moment which has stayed strong in my mind these past fourteen years: As he looked into my eyes to say: “I, Michael R. Q. accept you, Laura J. R. as my wife” all I heard and felt in his words and expression was “I accept you.” meaning he was taking me as I am, impairments, terrible taste in music and all. To this day I still can’t quite believe I have found someone not only willing, but happy to love me with all my many challenges. Whenever my self-doubt nags at me with the knowledge that he could have a wife without disabilities who could do all the things he would want to that I cannot, I transport myself back to those few moments in 2005 when he made me feel like the luckiest, most loved person alive.

In the years since our wedding August 13th has barely registered as the anniversary of the worst day of my life because it is much more strongly associated in my mind as the anniversary of the best.

Marrying the love of my life on the eighth anniversary of my stroke

Pretty much every year since 2005 we have done something fun or been on some kind of adventure. Some of my favourites have been:

2007: We were in Tokyo, enjoying the holiday of a lifetime before heading to Yokohama for the Worldcon. This was particulary exciting for me as some of my many dark thoughts in the days following the stroke were: “Looks like I’ll never get to see Japan or Iceland.” and “Guess I’ll die an unloved virgin.”. So to be in Tokyo with my husband on the tenth anniversary of the stroke was an incredible achievement.

2009: We were driving to Coventry to attend an anime convention Mike was involved in running. This was repeated in 2011 and 2013. In those years our romantic anniversary meal was breakfast at Tebay Services Southbound.

2012: We were in Chicago for the Worldcon

2014: I took Mike for a fancy afternoon tea in London while we were attending the Worldcon.

2015: We spent a week in New York City staying in the hotel where we spent our honeymoon. On the day of the anniversary I fulfilled a dream of mine by taking Mike for a surprise helicopter tour over Manhattan.

Taking a helicopter ride in New York on our tenth wedding anniversary. At this point I had lived for several months longer post-stroke than I had before it.

2017: In a hotel room in Helsinki I thought about how many years it had been since the stroke for the first time in twelve years and only because it suddenly occurred to me that it must have been twenty years ago. Once again, we were attending Worldcon.

In Helsinki on our twelfth wedding anniversary and the twentieth anniversary of my stroke.

At the time of this post’s publication I will be on a ferry from Cairnryan to Larne en route to Dublin 2019: An Irish Worldcon where we will no doubt be enjoying our romantic fourteenth anniversary lunch at sea.

In conclusion, my advice for coping with the anniversary of a traumatic event is to reclaim the date. Obviously, getting married isn’t something that will work for everyone but there are myriad other ways to turn your negative into a positive: I personally recommend travel, spa treatments or just doing something you love that excites you.

Think FAST and how it relates to my stroke experience

My wonderfully talented friend Ilana recently published this video promoting the FAST stroke awareness campaign. I was so inspired by her efforts that i wanted to do more than simply join the thousands who viewed and /or shared her video.

On the morning of August 13th 1997 I got into the bath at home and immediately felt unwell: hot, dizzy and unbearably thirsty. I immediately regretted not having a glass of water before getting in but put the feeling down to having run the water too hot and being due my period that day so I continued with my ablutions by wetting my hair in preparation for shampooing.

It is at this point that the A (for Arms) from the FAST model made its appearance even though I was unaware of it at the time. All I knew was that I couldn’t reach the shampoo but couldn’t fathom why not.

At almost the exact same moment the S (for Speech) was noticed by my Mum who had called from downstairs to ask if I wanted breakfast. On hearing my slurred reply she ran upstairs and stormed into the bathroom which is where she found:

F (for Face). My Mum noticed that I was lying slumped to one side in the bath with my face similarly twisted.

Despite my protestations that I was fine, just too hot and thirsty, Mum was certain that something was very wrong so she acted immediately by calling the doctor who dispatched an ambulance as well as speeding from the surgery to the house in accordance with the

T (for Time). Because of the speedy response by my parents and G.P. I was being administered oxygen within about twenty minutes of the stroke and was in hospital barely ten minutes later. This timely response is undoubtedly part of the reason I am still here today and with the function I have.

Today a quick response is even more important than then as there are now widely available “clot busting” drugs which can remove the blockage in blood supply to the brain and prevent further damage.. The sooner these drugs can be administered the more function and quality of life the patient is likely to retain. Had such treatments been available at the time of my stroke there is a good chance I would have fewer impairments than I do even having received the best medical care available at the time.


I’ll finish by restating the FAST model for recognising and dealing with stroke:


FACE: Is their face drooping on one side? Are they unable to smile evenly?

ARMS: Are they unable to raise both arms?

SPEECH: Is their speech slurred or otherwise impaired?

TIME: If these signs are present time is of the essence. Your fast thinking and action could save the patient from suffering more brain damage. Call 999 in the U.K., 911 in the U.S.A. or 112 from a mobile phone on any G.S.M. network and ask for an ambulance, being sure to tell the operator you suspect a stroke to ensure they get the right care as soon as possible.


More information about Stroke from the N.H.S. and Stroke Association

You can find Ilana on Twitter @IlanaGaladriel

Be Kind to Yourself

Without a doubt, one of the hardest aspects of living with chronic illness or disability is the feeling of being a burden to those around us. Even after all these years I still struggle with feeling that my husband would be better off without me and that my friends are wasting their time and effort on maintaining our relationships.

An all-too-common occurrence for me is the necessity of cancelling plans with friends or family at the last minute because of my health: something as minor as a cold or a poor night’s sleep can render me too dizzy to shower and dress, never mind actually leave the house to do something fun with loved ones.

While I am incredibly fortunate to have truly wonderful people in my life who are endlessly patient and understanding in these circumstances, I cannot help but feel I am being a terrible friend every time I let someone down by missing an opportunity to spend time with them.

My strategy for coping with these feelings is summed up in the title of this post: I try to be as kind to myself as I would be to a friend or loved one.

Whenever I worry I am a terrible person because my health has caused me to miss an important occasion or forced me to leave early I take a moment to consider how I would feel if a friend had the same situation. Inevitably I find myself thinking that my overwhelming feeling would be of concern for the person feeling unwell rather than annoyance or betrayal.

It is my sincerely-held belief that kindness is the single most positive attribute a person can have. Therefore, I strive to be as kind as possible in all situations and to all people.

This is certainly not an easy path to follow and it requires a great deal of patience, empathy and forgiveness, but I like to think it has made me a better person.

I make a concerted effort to ensure my loved ones are fully aware of how much I cherish and appreciate them so that they never assume that my absence from important events is the result of my not caring for them enough to make the effort to be with them. Something as simple as a letter or small but thoughtful gift for no reason other than to thank them for their friendship can really brighten someone’s day and remind them how much they are treasured.

It is only relatively recently that I have come to the conclusion that the one person I have never shown enough kindness to is myself.  As with so many of us I have always been my own harshest critic and this has dragged me to the depths of low self-esteem that have seriously threatened my mental health. Because of this I now try to see myself as others would: a person who is trying her hardest in some very tough circumstances. I try not to dwell on what I feel are my negative personality traits or focus on the disadvantages I have in life.

In order to keep myself happy and healthy I choose to focus on even the tiniest positives in life rather than beating myself up over the bad stuff. For example: on a bad day I might not get dressed or do anything of any great note but I will congratulate myself for any tiny thing I do ,e.g., if I walk from bed to the bathroom I will remind myself that directly after the stroke I was unable even to sit up in bed so the fact that I can not only sit up but get out of bed and walk at all is testament to all the hard work and progress I have made.

If I could give one piece of advice to others, especially those living with disabilities or chronic health issues it would be this:


How to do (almost) anything with one hand

It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. While I do not entirely disagree with this statement, in my case it has often been stubbornness and a strident desire to prove the world wrong that has led to my proudest achievements of one-handed innovation.

As an early example: shortly after my initial release from hospital my parents took me to the local tandoori restaurant for lunch as a treat after the weeks of N.H.S. food.

When my chicken korma arrived at the table I was both ravenous and sick of having people cut up food for me to eat so I quickly thought about how to solve the problem of there being a whole chicken breast on my plate that needed cutting into more manageable pieces. This here is the one piece of advice that will help you accomplish seemingly impossible tasks single-handed:

Think about exactly what your second hand would be doing in this situation and try to think of another way to achieve that using a different body part or another object.

In the case of the chicken I took the handle of the fork between my teeth and stabbed the tines into the chicken, holding it like that while I used the knife in my usable hand to cut up the food. While this is not ideally done in the best dining establishments it is an example of the principle mentioned above.

While on the subject of Asian food I will share another example of a simple “tweak” that can make eating much easier. Whenever possible I eat rice dishes from a bowl rather than a plate as it is much easier to chase the rice around and capture it using the sides than on the relatively flat surface of a plate.

On my Instagram page  ( also linked to the right) I have posted a quick and dirty video of myself doing my hair using this principle: I used to use my left hand to hold the hair in place while I secured it with a clip. Now I substitute a wall or similar surface for the hand and it works quite well.

I will soon film a better version of that clip which I will post on this blog.

I will sign off this post with yet another tip involving the food of Asia. When eating out it is wise to opt for a cuisine generally eaten with chopsticks, e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Korean. Because diners do not have knives at the table the chef cuts everything into bite sized pieces designed to be picked up with one hand in the chopsticks. Don’t worry if you are not adept at using chopsticks: the food will be easily eaten using just a fork or spoon. When I visited Japan I didn’t feel ashamed of my skills even when a waiter rushed over to offer me a fork mid-meal. My general thinking is that I am doing well if the majority of the food ends up in my mouth.

About Me

Your friendly guide


My name is Laura Q..  I live at the foot of the beautiful  Ochil Hills in the Forth Valley area of Central Scotland.

In August of 1997, when I was seventeen years old , I suffered a massive stroke which left roughly half my brain as useless scar tissue.

In the immediate aftermath the left-hand side of my body was completely paralysed and I could barely sit up in bed without becoming unbearably dizzy never mind standing or walking.

One of my first thoughts on becoming aware that I could no longer move my left arm was: “How will I play guitar now?”. Somehow, in that traumatic time it never crossed my mind that much more mundane tasks like eating and getting dressed would be much greater obstacles.

Over the following months and years I gradually regained some function with the help of some wonderfully dedicated physiotherapists and occupational therapists to the point where I walk unaided and can move my left arm at the shoulder and elbow enough to dress myself but the hand and wrist have remained stubbornly uncooperative for over two decades now.


While the world can be grateful that I never have found a way to massacre “Wish You Were Here” on the guitar, I have developed myriad techniques for accomplishing various tasks with one hand which is what I will be sharing with you here.


While I have not been in employment for many years I have never been one for doing nothing and in the years since the stroke I have:

Met and married a truly wonderful man who is unerringly patient and supportive,  and even agreed to marrying on the eighth anniversary of my stroke to turn that date from being the anniversary of the worst day of my life into being the anniversary of the best;

Completed an H.N.D. in Computing (Support);

Volunteered as an administrative assistant for a national charity;

Worked in I.T. Support for a university;

Worked as a secretary for a charity;

Volunteered in a charity book and music shop;

Volunteered with a hospital radio station, including presenting my own show;

Designed and set up a Website for a local charity;

Completed several courses with The Open University;

Gained a Foundation Amateur Radio Licence

and travelled extensively both within the U.K. and internationally.


This blog is part of my latest attempt to live as full and productive a life as possible despite my limitations.



Hello and welcome to where I will share my tips, tricks and techniques for successfully living with the use of only one hand.