Andy Dovey earned his living as a drummer, teaching privately and in schools while playing with a variety of bands. That all changed in 2013 when he sustained a stroke, leading to ongoing long-term effects.
We spoke to Andy about how his brain injury affects him, and his exciting new project, Brain Attack Music.
At the end of May 2013, I awoke one day around 5am. I thought I’d heard a loud ‘bang’ from outside. I sat bolt upright in bed, felt unwell and slumped back down into bed again. I then felt nauseous and got out of bed to go to the bathroom. I collapsed in a heap. I couldn’t get off the floor and the room was spinning violently around me. I was completely disorientated and could only crawl on my hands and knees.
Luckily, my wife woke up and found me, then rang 999. After being seen by the first responder and paramedics, he said that if I was no better by lunchtime, he’d make a house call. This he did about 1pm, carried out a few tests and said he thought I’d had a stroke (I had no idea what a stroke was). He called 999 again and an ambulance came and took me to A&E. That’s the last thing I remember for about 5 days.
I was taken for a scan at my wife’s insistence and the MRI showed I had hydrocephalus (water on the brain). By now it was serious, and within a few hours I was taken for emergency brain surgery to ‘decompress’ my skull and save my life. I had 6 hours of brain surgery – a drain hole was drilled into the top of my skull and a drain tube fitted, plus they removed a chunk of skull from the back of my head to give my brain room to swell into, until the swelling went down.
The diagnosis was an ischemic cerebellar stroke, near the brain stem/medulla area, which had blocked the CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) from leaving my skull but was still being produced and slowly crushing my brain.
I was in hospital for about 3 weeks and left in a wheelchair. I had some physiotherapy and occupational therapy in hospital. Then, I had some at home from the community team for a few weeks. I was then referred to the very wonderful OCE (Oxford Centre for Enablement) where I had more physio and OT sessions, plus I saw a clinical psychologist as well. They all helped me immensely. After that (like so many others) I was on my own, but luckily I’m very determined and focussed (or stubborn, as my wife says!) and that stood me in good stead. To play a musical instrument to professional standard you have to be that way, I think.
The situation now is that I walk with a stick but not very far. I still have vertigo 24/7 but it has eased over the years, or I’ve got used to it – I’m not sure which!
My main issues now are neuro fatigue, imbalance and anxiety. I can only really do anything (read, use the computer, listen to music, watch TV, converse, write this, etc) for short periods before my brain melts and I become a ‘zombie’, as I call it. This makes day-to-day life very difficult and I never know how I’m going to be from one day to the next, so planning anything is a nightmare.
My memory can be patchy, too, but it’s the neuro fatigue that is my real nemesis.
I would say the biggest factor in my recovery has been my wife, who has been shoulder-to-shoulder with me (literally) every step of the way. The second biggest factor is my determination (aka stubbornness).
I read a book called ‘Stronger After Stroke’ by Peter Levine and he says that, in his experience, the people that make the best recovery after brain injury are athletes and musicians. This is because they are used to putting in immense amounts of work over a very long period of time in order to make quite small improvements, which is what recovery from brain injury is all about.
The Brain Attack Music project just evolved, really. I’d always written song lyrics and, for something for me to do in the early stages post-stroke, my wife suggested I write my story. I think she thought it would be cathartic, which it was.
However, I realised I had songs developing in my head as a result of the words I was writing. I had seven or eight sets of lyrics about my story along with tunes in my head, and Brain Attack Music was born.
I will need to get other musicians involved at some stage, not the least will be a decent singer (or singers) as well as people who can play better guitar, bass and keyboards than I can! The ultimate dream would be to release it on vinyl and to add it to my collection of LPs. It would be great to have other brain injury survivors involved. I’ve got the drums covered, though!
My one piece of advice to fellow brain injury sufferers would be ‘never give up’. Yes, we might not get ‘our old life’ back, so let’s focus on our new one. As Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t – you’re probably right”.
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