“It all started in the middle of the night. It was the end of July in Queensland, but I was lying on the tiles, desperate for a cool spot. I have an auditory recollection that someone said, ‘do you want Panadol or an ambulance?’ I must have answered the right way anyway because the ambulance came and I’m still here to tell the tale.
“I remember thinking, ‘it would be so nice if I could go back to sleep’, but then it struck me that I might never wake up and I started to panic. That was my last conscious thought.”
It was 2014 and Danny Trestrail had just suffered a hemorrhagic stroke.
“I’m now back at work, doing full-time hours and even driving again. I’m lucky. But, by the same token, it’s challenging when people have to see a disability to believe that it exists. A brain injury isn’t visible, so how do you appear disabled?
“It’s difficult for the workplace to accept that the impact for me is that I’m actually relentless, when they’re expecting what they understand as a ‘deficit’.
“In my case, that means I have a propensity to shoot my mouth off; to be reactive and to speak without forethought. I often stuff things up completely by being inappropriate and, I suppose, potentially offensive. At those times I’ve been known to chuck an extra wobble on as I walk by on the stick, to remind people that it’s not intentional … and to get me out of a tight spot!”
Conversely, Danny says, the appearance of having a disability can be just as challenging.
“A couple of years ago I was catching a commuter bus from one of the last stops where you can actually get a seat. I was wearing a cap that I’ve got from a friend that says ‘blokes with strokes’. And, because my balance has been affected, I was carrying a walking stick. Anyway, it’s a commuter bus early in the morning and it’s chock-a-block. People are standing and I’m sitting there, with a wheelchair sticker on the floor in front of me and the seat next to me empty. I was furious. I was actually really, really angry. People would look at me and look away. They didn’t want to engage with ‘disability’, perhaps for fear of offending. They’d rather stand than sit next to me. I was so cranky.”
Such incidents notwithstanding, Danny is happy with the direction his life has taken.
“I don’t regret my stroke actually. I feel that I’ve become the person I was always meant to be. Yes, my personality has changed, but not for the worse and not from the point of view of being ‘new’. It was always there, but I think culturally it’s been covered over.
“It does cause relationship problems, for sure, with me shooting my mouth off – some friends have gone. But I feel like I’m more of a purist in many ways, that’s shocking for society and the people around me.
“My social filters did decline rapidly, but I’m not ashamed of that. I shoot my mouth off, but it’s coming from the heart of truth. It’s not filtered or tailored to be PC. It’s blunt as! And so, whilst it is socially challenging, to me it is society’s challenge.
“Whereas before my stroke, I probably wouldn’t have said the things I do now, I always thought them. My challenge now is to convey the message effectively. I’m more willing to push limits.”
While rehab was important to his recovery, Danny says that it misses some important areas.
“Rehab is physically orientated, it’s not socially orientated. So, our society trains people to manage physical injuries, but it doesn’t train them to manage cognitive injuries.
“I had a speech therapist, and that was actually very important to me in leaving hospital. They helped me swallow appropriately because with liquids I choked nearly every time. But no-one helped me re-learn how to navigate society. Now, ultimately, I’m ok with that, because I have no interest in fitting into society; who gives a f**k about society? I’m focused on my own gains and my own goals.
“But I also know that, for most injuries, there is a deficit period and then a plateau. I guess with stroke or brain injury in general, there is no plateau. The gains are less, most definitely, over a period of time, but they’re still gains. That concept is difficult for society at large to understand – it’s a work in progress, over a lifetime.
“We progress or we accommodate. Like, for example, the fact that my short-term memory is a shocker. I say to people, don’t ring me – text me – because in five minutes time I wouldn’t know what I said. Things must be in print.
“So, I use a diary, a paper diary, or refer to texts and e-mails. If it’s in print, I’ll do it. I have about three or four things in a day – that’s about it for me because if I try to jam things in, it all goes wrong. Time and me are not good friends. So, I stick to my plan, in my diary.
“That’s my life now, and I’m okay with that.”