After 23 years in the fire service, West Yorkshire-based firefighter Clive Allen and his wife Maureen had been enjoying an active retirement together when he suffered a devastating stroke in 2019.
Having once been physically fit and leading a very busy lifestyle, Clive was suddenly robbed of a lot of his movement in his left side and Maureen became his full-time carer practically overnight.
Suddenly faced with a whole new lifestyle, the couple luckily got in touch with the Charity almost straight away and have been offered support ever since, both in-person and remotely over video calls during the lockdowns – something they have both found invaluable.
“Clive was very active before, he loved to go out for runs and cycling. He’s got a Vespa and he loved that, very active all round,” says Maureen. “Then one Saturday he wasn’t very well, just a bit off it.
“The day after it was very obvious he’d had a stroke. It was all the signs you see on TV and what people tell you about. We went straight to hospital and when we got there they said he’d actually had two strokes and he’d been very lucky – they hadn’t done any damage. They wanted him to stay in the hospital and then unfortunately he had another stroke. That took all his left side.
“He was in hospital for 10 weeks overall, a lot of that for rehabilitation. His speech went on the first stroke but that came back straight away, but his mobility completely went with the third one – he couldn’t move his arm or legs. It was a huge shock because he was so fit. He was the last person I thought it would ever happen to. You’re just shell-shocked really, it’s terrible.”
Maureen immediately took time off work and stepped in as carer for her husband of 36 years, learning how to help him with day-to-day tasks such as washing him, helping him to eat and moving him with the aid of a moveable stand.
“We changed the living room and made that into a bedroom, the hospital sent a bed and commode and everything, as well as a stand that we could move him on,” says Maureen. “Some people did come out to see how I was coping, but that was all – they were more observing. The occupational therapists had shown me what to do and physios came out every couple of days too.
“The first few months, he was in bed all the time. I’d help him with his exercises and then we’d go out, after getting him in the wheelchair. Our son and daughter helped too. He’s not a little bloke so it was hard pushing him round but you’ve got to do it, you have to keep going.
“For me, I just kept focused on helping him. I just felt grateful that he was still with us because it could have been so much worse. If he was in a wheelchair then at least he was still here and we could improve on that. We’d constantly tell him that things could still be good and kept encouraging him.
“Clive always stayed positive – he did really good, we both did, because we had no choice. You’ve just got to get on with it, no matter how difficult it is.”
While Clive had talked to Maureen about the Charity throughout his career, with his station holding regular fundraisers such as car washes, they never believed they’d need to ask for the support themselves.
It was Clive’s former colleagues who reminded them of what we do during a visit to him in those first few weeks following the stroke. Clive was subsequently offered a stay at our Cumbria centre, Jubilee House.
“We told them everything we needed to know and he went to Jubilee House about five months after the stroke,” says Maureen. “When we first went, I was lucky enough to go with him. He was with the nursing team and in his wheelchair, just doing a little walking, and he was there for a week. It was just amazing, absolutely amazing.
“When you read about what other people are going through you think, ‘yeah, we’re like that’. It’s reassuring.”
“The staff were fabulous the facilities were fabulous, the support we got was amazing. He had some physio, he went in the gym and in the hydro pool. I just can’t thank them enough, it was amazing.”
However, the week’s stay wasn’t just valuable for Clive, as Maureen says it was also a much-needed break for her too.
“While he used to go for his therapy I’d go for a walk round the area and just take a bit of time for me,” she says. “The second time he went, he went on his own, and he really enjoyed it because there was a lot of banter with the other lads there.
“I worked through the week at that point and I remember feeling really worried about him. But according to Clive, it was great and I needn’t have been!”
Clive was due to visit Jubilee House again before the first lockdown but when the centres had to temporarily close, both he and Maureen stayed in touch with our nursing team – ensuring they continued receiving the support they needed.
“They assured us if we did struggle we could contact them whenever,” says Maureen. “Then they did a video call with Clive and gave him an exercise plan, which he’s done nearly every day. Kath also did a chat for carers, and I went on that group a couple of times which was really nice. I really enjoyed it.
“There’s a lot on The Fire Fighters Charity website too. When you read about what other people are going through you think, ‘yeah, we’re like that’. It’s reassuring.”
Clive was recently able to visit Jubilee following the lifting of travel restrictions and Maureen says it once again proved hugely helpful, for both of them.
“He found it really beneficial. He doesn’t get the treatment anymore from the hospital, so to get this is amazing for him. I was more relaxed this time too, because he can do a lot more for himself. Although I missed him, it was a break for me,” she adds.
Clive has now managed to get to the point of walking short distances and is slowly regaining movement in his left side, with regular support from the Charity and Maureen. She says seeing how far he’s come in such a short space of time is incredible. Now she hopes by sharing her experience, she can help shine a light on other family members who are helping care for loved ones, like herself.
“Everyone that’s looking after someone as a carer should be recognised, they’re not enough,” says Maureen. “Everything’s focused on the patient, which is good, but I do think carers get forgotten about. But I don’t think of myself as a carer, I’m his wife, and that’s what I would do for him.
“The work that the Charity does is just amazing. I’d advise anyone to reach out, you’ll feel so much better straight away. The support they give people is second to none, I wouldn’t have been without them and I know Clive wouldn’t have either.”
Maureen also opens up about her experience in our Shout!Podcast. You can listen here.
If you are caring for someone – or are facing the possibility that you might have to start – and would like support from The Fire Fighters Charity, get in touch today either online or by phoning 0800 3898820.