Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Stroke You Never Knew I'd had

Back in the early hours of 1st July this year while only hours away from my final lecture at the End User Event I suffered what turned out what was diagnosed when I got back home to be a mini stroke. Up till now only a handful of close trusted friends in 3D have known this even occurred as I've waited until I felt things were back to normal. I was intending to never mention the whole thing as it could feasibly be a kiss of death to my career, but a mate in 3D pointed out it was such a crazy story I had to share it at some point. Plus as I primarily work as a freelancer anyway its less important than if I was intending to work for a company. Because let's face it after this no company on earth would want to touch me as minor strokes are big health risks and scare the shit out of them.

But I digress...

No doubt you want to know the why's and wherefores..so let me explain what happened from as much as I'm able to remember or have managed to piece together. On the night of the 30th of June after months of only sleeping 2 hours a night working on my short (that very few people saw before I canned it), 'Of Gods and Men', I was on the ragged edge and felt at least twice my age, looked worse and was mentally drained. I felt worse than I ever had in my life. As this was the 1st public day of End User Event 2011 and I had done my lecture during the day, some of the guys from the Autodesk 3D Max team and a few others went for a drink alongside myself till well into the early hours. Without going into the gory details we all had probably a one or two too many and I know I was taken back to my hotel about 3 or 4am.

I passed out face down fully clothed on the bed (something I never do...well not since I was 18) and woke up at 5am feeling very strange indeed. Although I didn't realise it at the time this was directly after I'd had a stroke in my sleep. It's probably the hardest thing to describe in any way that makes sense as its impossible to put the parts you are probably interested in into words, but it felt like I was living with someone else's brain and body. My entire left arm was numb and my coordination was well off . So much so that it took me 15 mins to get to the bathroom (large amounts of liquids will do that to a person lol). I couldn't think straight and it was like having a food mixer in my brain.

As I stood there taking a leak trying to work out why my left arm refused to move the way I wanted it to and why I felt like I was thinking through treacle, I came to the conclusion that it was a combination of way too much alcohol and maybe I had been lying on my arm... so I thought. I made an 'executive decision' that as I wasn't due to lecture till 2 or 3pm that I'd go back to bed and 'sleep it off'.

I got a call from Joep Vander Steen who is one of the guys who run's and organises the End User Event (and a good mate of mine as well) asking if I was still alive. Apparently word had gotten to him about the 'epic night out' the night before and he was a tad worried. My speech slurring, I told him I'd be there in about 45 mins and proceeded to try and get ready. I'll spare you those details but suffice it to say this was far from easy as my body was not cooperating and I had to concentrate more than I ever had in my life just to get my damn pants on without falling over. Buttons proved particularly troublesome as they didn't seem to make sense to me.

By the time I'd gotten to The Florin where the End User Event was held my arm was less numb although my middle finger was still totally dead and remained that way for over a month. The very 1st thing I did was get myself 3 espressos and down the lot one after another. I was later told this was in that particular case the best thing I could have done and it may have saved me from having another massive stroke within 12 hours after the 1st one. I sat down outside next to my mate Alex Morris and vaguely remember telling him I felt as rough as hell and my finger was numb. I probably sounded still a bit pissed I imagine, my memory is sketchy of that part of the day to be honest.

I got through my lecture which was no mean feat and had I been without my notes I'd not been able to do it (we'll cover why in a moment), and the day after next I flew back home.

For weeks I still felt terrible, my head was permanently spinning like I'd been on a rollercoaster day and night, I had suddenly got to the stage of being unable to sleep more than 2 hours at a time (I seem to have been left with this as an after effect of the stroke). I had lost all my knowledge of organic sculpting and couldn't understand it..it was like I'd never done it before. Everything I'd ever learned or knew was wiped out in a single mini stroke. But still I put off going to the doctors.

I couldn't think straight, I had massive holes in my memory and have lost amongst other things, entire years of my life and the memories of the births of both my kids. I found it weird that hard surface and non organic were totally unaffected. Which was lucky as I was working on the cathedral for FXPHD at the time. So whenever I see that model now I remember with pride it was done in the aftermath of a mild stroke, that I managed to tackle and rise to the challenge in the face of one of the worst moments of my life. I am proud of it for that reason alone above all others. I will also always remain grateful that Mike and John at FXPHD kept faith in me when any other people would have run a carpet mile.

Eventually my family became worried enough to gang up on me one afternoon and make it very clear I WOULD be going to the doctors whether I wanted to or not as something was obviously very, very wrong. I think in my heart I suspected something but hoped if I ignored it, then it'd go away.

So I got an emergency appointment with my doctor. He did a load of tests, asked more questions than I've ever known him to and immediately dialled for an ambulance to rush me to the stroke unit at Durham hospital. When he told me he suspected I'd had a stroke I thought he was joking as he shares my own often dry humour. But when it dawned on me that he WASN'T joking it hit me like 10 ton of shit. You know those bits in horror movies where the foreground rushes towards camera and the background rushes away? That's what it felt like when I was told. It floored me.

I wasn't keen on going to the hospital but as it was over 3 weeks since I'd had the stroke I was told I was in extreme danger as the type of mini stroke I had are usually followed by a massive one inside of 28 days! I was put on some pills and treatments that would stop a 2nd bigger and far more damaging stroke. But there was a catch.... the pills would take nearly a week to be fully active in my system and in that time I was in danger of the massive stroke. So for a week I had to remain totally unstressed and even tempered and keep off caffeine and cross my fingers that it was enough to stave off the 2nd stroke that was hanging over my head. Thankfully it was.

I made a couple of decisions then such as I started learning myself to sculpt organics again. I had the best teacher in the world....me. I relearned from my own videos, books, articles and tutorials by lots of hard slog. Luckily the muscle memory was still there , so the rest was just 2 months of cramming and wall to wall practice as I was determined to get back to where I was. I now believe I have and also explains to the more astute of you that noticed a bit of a slight change in my style here and there. It also explains why I am using Zbrush as well as Mudbox again as I started sculpting in zb and then moved to mud, so had to relearn in that order. After relearning myself from scratch in2 months I'm hesitant to drop it again, so now I use both....I think I've earned it lol.

Now The hospital still aren't sure how much damage was done so I finally had my brain scan last week after being on a 'emergency waiting list' since the end of July. Although I won't get the results of it till December. There is damage that the doctors know for a fact it's done, it's just a matter of finding out how much and what percentage of my frontal lobe is affected. Also compounding matter is the fact I've suffered from a very rare brain condition since I was 17, and not even the neurosurgeons knows how that'll affect things.

But it seems the way I've recovered that damage is either minimal or just knocked out a load of memories. I'm not at deaths door so don't get the wrong idea for gods sakes! But it proves what everyone probably knew all along, that doing months and months of 22 hour work days is not healthy and certainly not when combined with my coffee intake each day. It's meant I had to simplify my life and so I passed mudboxhub.com to Cris from 3d-palace.com to run and stopped the DVD's and free tutorials. If and when I start doing them again is open to debate really. I am certainly back up to speed and more than capable of it both skill and health wise, but the desire right now is not there. Plus I like doing the stuff for FXPHD and will always feel that I owe those guys a debt for sticking with me when everyone else would have ran like the wind.

I didn't outline at the time what was going on because firstly it was a bad time for me and I didn't want a zillion questions, and also I didn't want to mention it until I was sure I was back to my old skills. So those of you who I told and kept the secret, thank you. So there you go, the ironic true story of how I ended up having to relearn sculpting from my own damn videos. Which I have to say is a surreal experience listening to yourself teaching something that you have no memory of ever doing.

It's an experience that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy and could have been so much worse. I count myself as lucky to have got a warning. Yes its left me with years of my life now with no memory but that's a small price to pay. It's a journey I am proud to have came out of the other side of and one that has changed my attitudes forever.

Now I realise this could be the kiss of death to my career but in reply to anyone or companies that feel like that I say this:

"In the aftermath of my mini stroke I started and finished the image below. So I don't think you have anything to worry about. ;) "