My husband had a headache and started saying odd things. Hours later I was told I’d lose him

‘I want to work in social care,’ I told Richard. This was my calling in life (Picture: Nikki Stonehewer) When my husband, Richard, had a brain haemorrhage at the age of 40, it was the worst day of my life.   Lying in hospital, covered in a jumble of wires, he was still conscious when the doctor said he probably wouldn’t make it. His blue eyes were already bulging because of the pressure on his brain but at those words, they widened even further, in terror. ‘I can’t do life without you,’ I sobbed. Richard squeezed my hand. ‘I’ll be OK,’ he whispered. Even in his darkest hour, he was comforting me. I never thought back then, as I sat by his side and prayed that he would get better, that anything positive would come out of it.   It was February 2015 when Richard had the massive brain bleed that had been caused unexpectedly. He suffered an inflammation of the brain, called encephalitis – we couldn’t believe a common virus could turn into something so serious. Just a few days before, we were like any other family. I was a stay-at-home mum to our four kids, and Richard worked as a manager at a hardware shop. At weekends we’d spend time with the kids, going for country walks, fishing and camping. But then one day Richard came home from work and complained of a headache. He started saying strange things – such as telling me the car was running when I asked if he wanted a coffee, and then he complained he was unable to move his legs.  That’s when I realised something was horribly wrong and rushed him to A&E. When we got there, as he drifted in and out of consciousness, doctors gave him scans and blood tests. It was when they were pumping him full of antibiotics and steroids that they warned me it was unlikely he would make it. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I refused to believe it. How could he be OK one minute and the next be facing death?  For days, Richard drifted in and out of consciousness. I went into survival mode, spending my days at his side, then going home at night to check on my younger children who were being looked after by my sons Glyn, 22, and Travis,19. To everyone’s amazement, after a week, Richard came round. He couldn’t speak and communicated with nods and shakes of his head. But still, he was alive. One day Richard came home from work and complained of a headache (Picture: Nikki Stonehewer) For the next three weeks while he was in hospital, I took on the role of his carer. The nurses taught me how to use a hoist so I could wash and dress him, and I took him out for walks in his wheelchair. Once he came home, I helped with his personal care and prompted him to have a drink or go to the toilet. He knew what he wanted to say but it wouldn’t come out right because of his damaged brain. So I helped him, showing him photos and reminding him of the names of things. When we started getting help from Gina, a speech and language therapist, she taught me how to use games and picture cards to help Richard speak more fluently and learn to write again. I felt inspired seeing how caring for someone could make a difference to their life. It took a lot of patience but it felt amazing when Richard started saying short sentences – he was able to say simple things like ‘can I have a cup of tea’. I realised I had a natural flair for supporting people, and the compassion and determination to help them. ‘I want to work in social care,’ I told Richard. This was my calling in life.  I’d had my oldest child at 17 and since then had been a full-time mum – it finally felt like the chance for a new chapter. I wanted a new career of my own and to help people at the same time.  All of the skills I learnt looking after Richard have helped me in my role (Picture: Nikki Stonehewer) The kids were more self-sufficient and even though Richard was still off work he was well enough that he didn’t need me as his full-time carer anymore. I got a job as a carer in the community, then went onto work in a care home. I loved getting to know the people I supported and helping make their lives easier.  Then, in February last year, I got my dream job at Mencap supporting people who have a learning disability. When you have a learning disability, you can have difficulty doing everyday activities like household tasks, socialising or managing money. As a support worker, I aid people in so many ways, from giving personal care to help them getting a job, giving them medication or advocating for them at hospital appointments. I support three ladies who all have a learning disability and live in a house-share and it’s amazing helping them to socialise and achieve their goals. I get as much from them as they do from me – one has taught me how to do a perfect manicure and another has showed me how to crochet. Have you worked in social care? Have your say in the comments belowComment Now We go to the gym and do hula-hooping together, spurring each other on and the other day we cooked a big meal together – one lady c

My husband had a headache and started saying odd things. Hours later I was told I’d lose him
Nikki Stonehewer, husband and daughter
‘I want to work in social care,’ I told Richard. This was my calling in life (Picture: Nikki Stonehewer)

When my husband, Richard, had a brain haemorrhage at the age of 40, it was the worst day of my life.  

Lying in hospital, covered in a jumble of wires, he was still conscious when the doctor said he probably wouldn’t make it.

His blue eyes were already bulging because of the pressure on his brain but at those words, they widened even further, in terror.

‘I can’t do life without you,’ I sobbed. Richard squeezed my hand. ‘I’ll be OK,’ he whispered. Even in his darkest hour, he was comforting me.

I never thought back then, as I sat by his side and prayed that he would get better, that anything positive would come out of it.  

It was February 2015 when Richard had the massive brain bleed that had been caused unexpectedly. He suffered an inflammation of the brain, called encephalitis – we couldn’t believe a common virus could turn into something so serious.

Just a few days before, we were like any other family. I was a stay-at-home mum to our four kids, and Richard worked as a manager at a hardware shop. At weekends we’d spend time with the kids, going for country walks, fishing and camping.

But then one day Richard came home from work and complained of a headache. He started saying strange things – such as telling me the car was running when I asked if he wanted a coffee, and then he complained he was unable to move his legs. 

That’s when I realised something was horribly wrong and rushed him to A&E.

When we got there, as he drifted in and out of consciousness, doctors gave him scans and blood tests.

It was when they were pumping him full of antibiotics and steroids that they warned me it was unlikely he would make it. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I refused to believe it. How could he be OK one minute and the next be facing death? 

For days, Richard drifted in and out of consciousness. I went into survival mode, spending my days at his side, then going home at night to check on my younger children who were being looked after by my sons Glyn, 22, and Travis,19.

To everyone’s amazement, after a week, Richard came round. He couldn’t speak and communicated with nods and shakes of his head. But still, he was alive.

Nikki Stonehewer and husband
One day Richard came home from work and complained of a headache (Picture: Nikki Stonehewer)

For the next three weeks while he was in hospital, I took on the role of his carer. The nurses taught me how to use a hoist so I could wash and dress him, and I took him out for walks in his wheelchair.

Once he came home, I helped with his personal care and prompted him to have a drink or go to the toilet. He knew what he wanted to say but it wouldn’t come out right because of his damaged brain. So I helped him, showing him photos and reminding him of the names of things.

When we started getting help from Gina, a speech and language therapist, she taught me how to use games and picture cards to help Richard speak more fluently and learn to write again. I felt inspired seeing how caring for someone could make a difference to their life.

It took a lot of patience but it felt amazing when Richard started saying short sentences – he was able to say simple things like ‘can I have a cup of tea’. I realised I had a natural flair for supporting people, and the compassion and determination to help them.

‘I want to work in social care,’ I told Richard. This was my calling in life. 

I’d had my oldest child at 17 and since then had been a full-time mum – it finally felt like the chance for a new chapter. I wanted a new career of my own and to help people at the same time. 

Nikki Stonehewer's husband
All of the skills I learnt looking after Richard have helped me in my role (Picture: Nikki Stonehewer)

The kids were more self-sufficient and even though Richard was still off work he was well enough that he didn’t need me as his full-time carer anymore.

I got a job as a carer in the community, then went onto work in a care home. I loved getting to know the people I supported and helping make their lives easier. 

Then, in February last year, I got my dream job at Mencap supporting people who have a learning disability.

When you have a learning disability, you can have difficulty doing everyday activities like household tasks, socialising or managing money.

As a support worker, I aid people in so many ways, from giving personal care to help them getting a job, giving them medication or advocating for them at hospital appointments.

I support three ladies who all have a learning disability and live in a house-share and it’s amazing helping them to socialise and achieve their goals. I get as much from them as they do from me – one has taught me how to do a perfect manicure and another has showed me how to crochet.

Have you worked in social care? Have your say in the comments belowComment Now

We go to the gym and do hula-hooping together, spurring each other on and the other day we cooked a big meal together – one lady cooked a curry, while another chopped salad and the third kept us entertained as she danced around the kitchen!

All of the skills I learnt looking after Richard have helped me in my role. Even though there can be long hours and it can be hard to switch off, I get real job satisfaction from making a difference to people’s lives.

We should do everything we can to protect the social care sector because we will all need it at some point in our lives. I want support workers like me to feel valued and for people to know everything we do.

 Nikki Stonehewer in selfie
He is so proud of the work I do and after everything we have been through (Picture: Nikki Stonehewer)

I’m supporting Mencap who are shining a light on this through their Why We Care campaign, calling on the government to better-fund social care so that people like me working in social care get paid more.

The role of a support worker is skilled – the pay varies but on average people get paid little more than minimum wage. But we should be paid the same as people doing equivalent roles in the NHS.

There are so many people like me who are dedicated and passionate about working in social care but many are leaving because of industry-wide low pay due to government underfunding. 

For now, I will keep doing what I’m doing as long as I can.

As for Richard, he worked hard at his speech and language therapy and returned to work a year after I started working in social care. It made him so happy to get some normality back. He gets tired easily and needs to write things down to help remember them, but other than that he is back to himself.

He is so proud of the work I do and after everything we have been through, we are closer than ever.

It’s hard to believe that something as horrific as my husband having a brain haemorrhage led to something so positive – finding my vocation and giving back to others.

Nikki is supporting Mencap’s Why We Care campaign, spotlighting the vital role of support workers and urging all political parties to better-fund social care. Visit mencap.org.uk/whywecare to sign the petition.

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