Back from the silence

Three stroke attacks left Göran Skytte unable to read, write or speak. This is the story of an amazing comeback - and of gratitude.

Göran Skytte. Photo: André de Loisted

Text: Fredrik Hedlund, Published in Medical Science nr 1 2013

I have been hit by stroke – and bygratitude. These are the wordsGöran Skytte wrote in his firstcolumn after the three stroke attackshe suffered at the end of April lastyear. The column was published inthe newspaper Svenska Dagbladetat the end of August, nearly fourmonths to the day after he becameill. By which time, he had alsomanaged to write a book. GöranSkytte – journalist, author, filmmaker,consultant and self-employed – doesnot know what it means to while awaythe hours.

"I have worked extremely hard formany years. This often means that Istart at five in the morning and finishlate at night. And worked with manydifferent things," he says.

Something was not quite right

24 April 2012 was Göran Skytte's first day off for a very long time. It was the beginning of a period in which he would take time off from all his other projects to write his new book; maybe not what most people would call time off, but that is how he describes it. During the day, he felt that something was not quite right. Then when he woke up in the night and needed to go to the toilet, his legs gave way and he was unable to walk. He managed to get back to his bed and felt dizzy, nauseous and had a massive headache. But he did not call the hospital.

"I don't have any phobias or 'manly notions' of not calling for healthcare. On the contrary, one of my daughters is a doctor, but it was as if I was in some sort of state of paralysis. I took the newspaper, but being unable to read the text, I fell asleep," he says.

The next day, shortly after lunch came the second stroke. Then he called. The ambulance arrived in less than seven minutes, and he was taken to the University Hospital in Malmö. There he was allowed to go to the toilet and lock the door from the inside. And then came the third stroke, the most severe.

"I managed to get out under my own steam. Just a few seconds later, I wasn't able to do anything, and there was a total commotion," says Göran Skytte.

He was rushed by ambulance to the University Hospital in Lund, where there are better facilities for looking after serious stroke cases. It was then Göran Skytte realised the real gravity of the situation. On the first day, the doctors in Lund considered operating, but on day two, they decided that this was not needed and that his stroke could instead be medicated. During those two days in Lund, Göran Skytte had time to think and get his bearings. He realised that at times he is hovering between life and death.

Could neither talk nor walk

"But during the entire time, I had no fear, no dread, and I was perfectly calm. What I saw was a light. Peace, calm, stillness, light and no fear," he says.

As a believing Christian of several years' standing, he places his experience in the context of his faith.

"My faith gave me a peace and a security that I had never previously known. Those who don't believe think it's balderdash. In my case, that very faith was massively reinforced," he says.

At the same time, he emphasises repeatedly that the doctors and other healthcare professionals "were also completely crucial to things ending well". He understood that he had now come through the danger of dying in an acute stage. Now it was a matter of coming back to life, because as things stood, he had lost many of the abilities that had been …a matter of course. He tried, for example, to read Svenska Dagbladet's editorial page.

"I didn't have the slightest inkling of what I was reading. It was all a mishmash. I was able to read the words in the first paragraph with a great deal of effort, but I didn't understand what they meant," he says.

Neither was he able to write, speak without slurring or walk.

"My life's consisted of reading, writing and speaking. They're the three things I've done my entire life. I've stood on a stage and communicated in various ways. Now it had dawned on me that I could not read, I could not write and I could not speak," he says.

He resolved to make small, but measurable progress every day.

"The whole time, I tried to talk - with the staff, I talked out loud to myself in the room, I sang manageable snippets. And in mid-July, I went to Finland and spoke publicly at four gatherings," says Göran Skytte.

Early and intensive training

The latest science suggests that early and intensive training is important for regaining lost faculties after a stroke. And that was exactly what Göran Skytte was doing.

"At this point, I knew nothing about brain research, nothing about stroke, nothing about the advances of science, but it seems as if I was somehow intuitively doing the right things anyway. If you want to put a name on it, I suppose it's a kind of intuitive sense of life," he says.

Today he says that he has undergone a fundamental change in his entire attitude to life.

"Many people prefer to close their eyes to the fact that everyone can be hit by a serious illness, that everyone without exception will die and that it can happen at any time whatsoever. My own experience of my stroke is that this insight can be an extremely valuable asset. Suddenly I cannot take it for granted that I'll get up in the morning. Who thinks about the fact of walking around and breathing? In reality, everything is completely wonderful and amazing," he says.

"I feel I have received the opportunity for a new life and I feel an enormous gratitude for that," says Göran Skytte.

Text: Fredrik Hedlund, Published in Medical Science nr 1 2013