From The Beginning
Welcome to my first blog for the Brain Attack project. Thanks for dropping in!
Why have I started this project? Well, I was happily earning my (very modest) living as a working drummer (playing and teaching) when I suffered a major stroke (cerebellar) at the end of May 2013. Two days after being admitted to hospital I needed brain surgery due to hydrocephalus (water on the brain). After three weeks in hospital, I left for home in a wheelchair. As you may imagine, the battle to try to regain some mobility has been a long one, and is still ongoing. I had no idea what a stroke was. I didn’t know of anyone who had suffered one and thought it was nowhere near as serious as, say, a heart attack. It is, in fact, a brain attack. It is, technically, an ABI (Acquired Brain Injury) – yep, an injury to the brain. Damage to the brain. In simple terms, it causes brain damage. In the UK someone has a stroke every 5 minutes. Approximately one-third of stroke victims will die, leaving two-thirds who survive but will have some form of disability, things like paralysis, speech difficulties, vision difficulties, incontinence, memory issues, fatigue, etc. Stroke (or brain attack) is generally seen as an older persons condition, but anyone of any age (even babies) can suffer one. The amount of research conducted into stroke is very low. For every £1 spent on stroke research, £20 is spent on heart attack research and £50 on cancer research, yet stroke (brain attack) is the third biggest killer in the UK (and the US, too). I would really like to change that funding situation. I was only 55 when I had my brain attack, with plans for my future that have now been shattered. We must do something to help younger survivors than I – what must this be like for a teenager or someone in their 20s? I have two sons (currently aged 26 and 30) who both live very active lives and it would be truly devastating if anything happened to them as it did to me.
The genesis of this Brain Attack project was about 4 months after my stroke. I was convalescing at home, learning to walk again, and undergoing physiotherapy and occupational therapy. My stroke (my brain attack) damaged my cerebellum, medulla and brain stem. (I will be blogging in more detail later about the brain and what these parts actually do). I had huge difficulty walking (I had terrible balance and co-ordination – I looked like I was drunk), I could hardly see (I had double vision both vertically AND horizontally and had plastic prisms stuck to my glasses), my left hand grip was really weak, my memory was shot to pieces and I’d developed really bad anxiety. Walking, even with a frame, was incredibly difficult and just a few paces felt like I’d run several miles. The worst affect was (and still is) crippling fatigue. This is very common with ABI (Acquired Brain Injury) and worse if, like me, there is damage to the brain stem. I can only do any task (like typing this) for about 20 to 30 minutes before I’m spent. My brain gets overwhelmed. I just shut down. A bit like a computer with a slow processer and not much RAM. Open up one application and it works OK. A bit slow, maybe, but it’s OK. Try to do anything a bit more involved, open another programme, and it grinds to a halt, completely overworked. That’s what happens to my brain! I might be OK to start again in a few hours, or maybe a few days. It doesn’t matter how much I rest – it’s a complete lottery. As you may imagine, this is incredibly frustrating and completely impractical. But . . . it is what it is. On the plus side, I have no paralysis or speech issues. Part of my rehabilitation work was; What next? What are your plans? How will you achieve them? As I could barely hold a drum stick in my left hand, there was some doubt as to being able to continue earning my living as a drum teacher and player. I was confident that I would be able to get back to work at some stage (nearly 4 years later, I now realise how misplaced that confidence was!), but what would I do in the meantime?
Being a musician, I decided I would write some songs based on my experiences. Just for my own benefit. A kind of therapy. I was determined not to become a couch potato watching “Cash In The Attic” and “Homes Under The Hammer” every blinking day! Given that I had mobility issues, double vision, balance problems, crippling fatigue and a weak left hand, I thought that writing some lyrics might be the only way to start something. So this is what I did, in ‘sessions’ of 5 minutes at a time, followed by 2 or 3 hours of rest. It was, very literally, all I could manage. By the time the lyrics had formed themselves into some kind of shape, it was about a year later. (It takes forever to do anything in a post-brain attack world!). However, I now had very firm musical ideas for some of the lyrics (all tucked away in my head – I still wasn’t able to play anything), and the words had evolved into 17 distinct songs/tracks/pieces. It was clear to me that the initial ‘potter about for my own benefit’ theme had now developed a life of its own, was crying out to be taken seriously and had morphed into a very definite ‘concept album’ of some sort. That’s all well and good, but what to actually do with it?
My lovely wife had the suggestion of ‘doing something for charity’. So, I eventually named the project “Brain Attack” and started to think - how could this raise some money for charity? So, I am now writing the music for the songs (the album as it will be), with the aim of selling it to raise some money for stroke charities. Before anything is available for sale, I will nominate the charities concerned once I have spoken to them.
Please browse the site and listen to the demos I post – all ‘work in progress’. New demos will get added as I write and develop them. Free downloads will also become available (alternative mixes, different versions, that sort of thing). I hope you enjoy the site and the music.
Until the next time,
“There might have been things I missed”.