My family was told I might only live 72 hours. That was back in October of 2009.

After nearly three months in hospital, during which time I had to relearn how to talk and eat, I was send to Pasteur rehabilitation center, also situated in Bloemfontein, because I had to relearn how to walk.

Irene Fischer | My long road to recovery

My mother, Julie, feeding me three months after the accident.

I had to learn how to walk, because I was left a hemiplegic after the traumatic brain injury I suffered. I have never even heard of the word “hemiplegic” until I became one.

A hemiplegic is a little like the third wheel on the disability bandwagon. Almost everyone knows what a paraplegic and a quadriplegic is. Well, at least you have heard of those two terms before due to the paralympics. But allow me.

A paraplegic experiences complete paralyses in the lower half of their body, because of an injury to the spinal cord.


A quadriplegic experiences paralysis of the body from the neck downwards. Quadriplegics have use of their arms in differing degrees depending on where exactly the spinal cord was injured.


A hemiplegic experiences paralysis that affects only one side of their body

Hemiplegia is when there is a loss of voluntary movement on one side of a person’s body due to a brain injury. Paralysis occurs on the opposite side of where the damage in the brain took place. If the injury, and the later damage, occurred on the right-side of the brain, the opposite side of the body (the left arm, leg and trunk) may experience paralysis or some weakness. Most people are a hemiplegic after suffering a stroke.

After initially being completely paralyzed on the right side of my body, I regained a lot of movement and strength since 2009. My right arm and leg is a bit weaker than the ones on my left side and have little coordination.


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But let’s quickly travel back to 2009.

At Pasteur I met a woman who I adore to this day. Heleen was my first physiotherapist. If you look closely you will see her hands are made of gold. Living in half a body is intimidating at best. She was kind and patiently explained to a very frustrated me why my body wasn’t “listening” to my orders and thus refused to work properly.

Irene Fischer | My life with a broken brain

PHOTO: Heleen busy explaining to a very disheartened me that my body needs time to heal.

My second physio was Chrissie and over the course of three months she helped me to upgrade from permanently being planted in a wheelchair to being able to give a few steps with a walking frame.

Fast forward 32 760 hours and I was finally walking short distances with a cane thanks to my third physio, Jurgen, in Rustenburg. It took me three years and nine months to be able to walk a few steps semi-independently. That is 1365 days. 1 965 600 minutes. It feels like at least a decade.

This is only part of my physical journey. There are also the 20 operations I underwent. I learned that 80% of your brain is made up of water. I was also on such a dramatic emotional rollercoaster that eventually left me in A Bottomless Pit of Despair that made me end up quite spent in a psychiatrist’s office. I also learned how to swim again and I took up horse riding therapy. I will tell more about all these aspects of my long road to recovery in short little snippets under the heading “Interesting fact & thoughts”.

“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” Charles Bukowski