• Before the accident: Tania and Len, left, on their wedding day and on holidays. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Tania Lewis, an Awabakal woman, and her husband Len, a Wiradjuri man, have been best friends since childhood. Now married 27 years, they live in Bonnels Bay, NSW with their teenage daughter, Faith. In 2011, their relationship faced the ultimate test when a severe stroke left Tania paralysed. This is their story.
By
Ella Archibald-Binge

Source:
The Point
8 Mar 2016 - 1:42 PM  UPDATED 8 Mar 2016 - 5:46 PM

Tania

We met when I was three – Len’s mum used to babysit me. On-and-off we grew up together on Wiradjuri country. I got kicked out of home when I was 16, and Len’s mum took me under her wing. Len and I have been best friends since. That’s what’s kept us together – the love that we have as friends, and the family we’ve created together.

Before I had the stroke, we were living out bush out Dubbo way. I'd had an injury previously in my back, and it was starting to really deteriorate, so we spoke to my specialist and asked him if travelling would be a possibility, and he said go for it. It was a big dream of ours. We always planned to do it when we got older, but I'm so glad we got to do it when we did.

We had a big auction and sold everything we owned. What we had was a map of Australia and a dice. You just rolled the dice, whatever number you picked, you’d go that way.

Every couple of years I'd have a medication rotation. I went into hospital, and I was in there a few days. That last night I remember I was in a little bit of pain and nothing after that.

Watch Tania and Len's full story on The Point:

See the Summer Foundation’s digital story with the Lewis family here.

 

I remember waking up and I couldn't see anything, and couldn't move, couldn't talk. Life went from the best to the worst overnight.

My vision came back in bits and pieces. I worked on my left hand, and got my thumb to start moving. I was in the normal surgical ward for a good four or five months, just working on trying to get my speech back. I remember the first thing I said was Faith - my daughter's name. 

I went home, and everything was great. But the problem was that because I was so young, there was no care. So Len and his mum and dad were doing 24-hour care for me. Len one day collapsed on the lounge room floor from exhaustion.

We saw the local GP. He said, ‘all I can suggest is you take her to the hospital and tell them you can't look after her anymore’. So that's exactly what Len had to do. I don't know how bad it was for him - I imagine it was traumatic. I was gutted. He would've been beside himself - I know how much he loves me. Life's cruel.

'I've told him there's someone better out there and he says, ‘no I love you darlin’, I don't need anyone else’.'

They got me into a nursing home, and it was the worst thing I'd ever seen in my life. It was really heartbreaking to think this was going to be my life. I felt like I’d lost everything. So I gave my husband my wedding ring, and I said I want you to find someone else that will treat you better and be there for you. I've told him there's someone better out there and he says, ‘no I love you darlin’, I don't need anyone else’. He's so beautiful. He got a job (at the nursing home) because he wanted to be close to me. He used to come up and have his lunch with me.  

I decided one night there's got to be something for young people out there. I came across this website called Young People in Nursing Homes and I rang them. They told me about the NDIA (National Disability Insurance Agency). When they first came to see they said to me ‘what's your goal?’ I said, 'all I want to do is go home.'

Len found this property, so we put the ramps in and it was perfect. So I came home, and they brought the telly out and put it out on the bench. But I didn't watch TV; I was too busy staring at my family. I was just so happy.

I'm so blessed to have the husband that I do. He's my best friend. He's everything to me.

Len

Tanya was going into hospital for a medication rotation. We had tea that night, and then in the early hours of the morning, the hospital rang me and said they found her in bed - they think she's had a stroke.

She couldn't see, she couldn't talk. She could hear, and she could blink her eyes. If I asked her a question, she'd blink. That's how we communicated. When someone has a stroke, it’s so hard because you don't know what's going on - they've just got machines all over her and then you just have to wait. They can't tell what damage you're going to have until after you're finished.

It was really hard trying to make it work (when Tania came home from hospital). Just little things like showers and beds, and doorways, and ramps - it's a lot harder than people think it is. People say ‘oh geez I had a hard day – 12 hours today’. A carer is 24 hours a day. Then she started having seizures, and it just got worse after that.

I didn't want to (place Tania in a nursing home), but it just got to the stage that I had to do it. If I didn’t, something would’ve happened to me, and then there would’ve been no one for my daughter.

If I wanted to see Tania I had to get in the car and drive half an hour to the nursing home. I was living with my mum and dad, and they helped out heaps. But you just couldn’t walk out and say ‘how ya going this morning?’, make breakfast or just sit and talk – stuff like that, that’s what you miss a lot.

One day Tania rung me and said this mob's coming to see me this week, NDIA. They said she could go home, so I thought I'm going to find a house. So away I went, and l think the 38th house I put in for was the house I'm in now. I lost count of how many houses I looked at, because no houses were suited for a wheelchair. 

'If she asks for something, I get it for her. That's what couples should do.'

It's changed heaps now she's home. You walk out and here she is and you just sit down and talk, make a tea and don't have to worry about nurses coming through the door. It's a lot more comfortable because you're in your own house.

If she asks for something, I get it for her. That's what couples should do. Once you look after someone, you look after them. Don't worry she’s been there for me all right - she mightn't think so, but she has.

It was no good trying to give me the ring back. There's no way that I was going to leave, she had no hope. One day if she does go or I go - if she goes first, I won't be finding no one else. That's the way I look at it: when you get married, it's for life.