SLOW RECOVERY: Stroke survivor Shelagh Brennand has found great comfort from writing poems about the frustrations and sadness of her recovery.
SLOW RECOVERY: Stroke survivor Shelagh Brennand has found great comfort from writing poems about the frustrations and sadness of her recovery. Che Chapman

Sonnets save stroke victim

COMPLEX investigations were an everyday challenge for former private investigator Shelagh Brennand, but when she suffered from a stroke her brain was completely rewired.

Focusing on minute details became next to impossible, while a sonnet would roll off her tongue with no effort at all.

It was a change that perplexed the Caloundra resident, who had a 25-year career in the UK Police Service before becoming a private investigator in Australia in 2008.

The stroke hit without warning on April 15, 2013, when a clot travelled through the back of her neck and into her brain.

“It wiped me out,” Ms Brennand said.

“I felt ill and nauseous and put my head into the toilet to be sick and passed out.

“I came to in the ambulance and I was trying to tell (the paramedics) things but I couldn’t talk. I was aware, albeit I kept falling asleep and coming back again, so it was a bit scary.

“When I realised I’d had a stroke, I panicked that I would never be able to talk again.”

Although she only spent a few days in hospital, the rehabilitation road began immediately, with speech therapy and physio.

“My speech came back right away and my leg was playing up a bit but the movement came back quite quick.

“Physically I was good. I slept a lot most afternoons for a couple of hours and would still sleep on a night – I couldn’t get enough sleep but I still felt very weak and [it was] just very difficult to concentrate, I suppose, for quite a few weeks.

“I felt like I’d climbed a mountain and every little thing was impacting on my body.”

Shelagh Brennand with husband David and son Patrick.
Shelagh Brennand with husband David and son Patrick. CONTRIBUTED

With husband David working away and her son Patrick at school five days a week, being isolated at home while in recovery led Ms Brennand down the dark road to depression.

“I got post-stroke depression really badly, going from doing what I did to not being able to process things as quickly as I used to be able to,” she said.

“I was always a doer and a go-getter, and not be laid up in my bed, fatigued, thinking ‘What do I do now? Will I feel better? Will I feel more myself?”

Despite the threatening self-doubt and the struggle to come to terms with never pursuing the career she had once thrived in, Ms Brennand began to find a pattern in her thoughts – they worked better in “ode”.

“I knew that my brain would eventually function and I found it did function better if I thought in rhymes, so I would try to make each thought rhyme at the end of the sentence and I began writing them down,” she said.

“The poetry got me through my deepest, darkest moments and also through the frustrating and sometimes amusing times of my memory loss.”

At the insistence of her counsellor, Ms Brennand self-published the book and began to embrace the power of the words that were flowing through her.

“At first the poems were driving me crackers because I couldn’t sleep and they would come to me,” she said.

“But she said it was like my brain was full of cabinets and my stroke had closed of those cabinets. But there were new cabinets opening that had never been opened before.

“From then on, I looked at it like that and no longer fought the poetry.”

The poems have also resonated with hundreds of stroke survivors and others who have suffered trauma since Ms Brennand self-published her finest pieces in A Stroke of Poetry in October last year.

Ms Brennand will share her story during a series of author talks at local libraries in May and June.

Author Talks

Maroochydore: Tuesday, May 24, at 10am.

Nambour: Thursday, May 26, at 5pm.

Caloundra: Saturday, May 28, at 10am.

Kawana: Monday, June 6, at 12.30pm.

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