The day the music died

Ruth and Ian Drynan

Ruth and Ian Drynan

October 15-21 is National Carers Week 2017. With one stroke occurring every nine minutes, the Drynan’s story is only too familiar. Stroke is one of Australia’s biggest killers and leading cause of disability, and here are a couple who not only are coping with the life change, but helping others do the same.

by Dale Jacobsen

I first met Ian and Ruth Drynan over 30 years ago at the Colonial Ball in Brisbane. It was obvious right from the start that music and dancing were integral to Ian’s life. What a cruel twist of fate that both of these activities have been taken from him.

With children grown, the Drynans sold their home and spent months travelling before deciding on their next phase of life. First stop was England, where Ian walked the 300-kilometre Alfred Wainwright Coast-to-Coast walk with his friend, Brian. Returning to Australia, they were in no hurry to choose their next home.

Ian celebrated a milestone-birthday in August 2011. On December 6, their world changed forever. Ian suffered a major stroke.

“It was totally life-changing for both of us,” explained Ruth. “It is maddening,” said Ian. Apparently this is his favourite daily expression.

Ruth’s two sisters proved invaluable. The day of the stroke, Bev (with a strong nursing background) drove from Maleny to be with Ruth and remained for the next 18 months. “She was our right-hand person,” said Ruth.

Val, President of the Maleny Hospital Auxiliary, said “You need to be in Maleny”. Months before, a Stroke Rehabilitation Centre opened at the hospital, and it was gaining a reputation as a first-class centre. Ian stayed for the next five months.

Five years ago Ian walked out of hospital. “They told us Ian would never walk again,” said Ruth, “but he proved them wrong, thanks to the wonderful physios, Sally and Isaac, from the hospital. They are angels.”

As I chatted with Ian and Ruth about his progress and her dedication, the over-riding story was one of friendships. When Brian, his Coast-to-Coast walking buddy, heard about Ian’s situation, he hopped on a plane in London to make sure he was okay.

Another friend, a folk musician from Castlemaine, drove up from Victoria to have lunch with them, then drove back home. Fellow musicians gathered at Ian’s hospital bed and later his home to play the music that Ian could no longer play.

In the drama of stroke survivors, it is so important to remember their partners who are often their carers. Ruth said, “It was hell. All I knew was that life as we knew it was over.” Ruth went along to the Caloundra Stroke Support. Friendship again saved the day for Ruth.

“I met a woman whose husband had had a stroke similar to Ian’s, and she invited me to stay a night with them to see what would be involved in caring for Ian when he eventually returned home. It was such a generous gesture. I took note of everything and decided, I can give that a go.”

The friendship deepened over time and the two couples went on a holiday to Uluru. “We had so much fun,” said Ruth. “The two men sang together. We two women drew so much strength from each other.

“The effects you see – a paralysed side of the body, the slow speech – are only the tip of the iceberg,” explained Ruth. “It is the unseen effects that are the worst. Ian has aphasia. His intelligence remains sharp, but his brain is scrambled. He can’t process information to read or write.”

Ian haltingly explained further: “You need to allow silence to give us time to think and answer. People get excited and talk rapidly, and this is too hard for our scrambled brains to follow”.

Ruth is now a driving force in the Maleny Stroke Support Group who meet monthly in the Down Under Room at Maleny Hospital; a group started by a fellow stroke survivor, Elizabeth Beim.

It is support from these people and respite care from Blackall Range Care Group, that give Ruth the strength and courage to continue caring for Ian.

There are few benefits for someone with a lifelong disability, but one that can make an enormous difference to the quality of life is the Companion Card – a government initiative that allows a disabled person to be accompanied by a carer, free of charge, to events held at participating venues.

For years, Ruth has been frustrated that many venues, including the Maleny Community Centre, don’t officially recognise this card, although they do strongly encourage hirers of the MCC to do so.

In frustration, Ruth called on Andrew Powell who has taken up the challenge. As he said in parliament: “Whilst organisations can choose not to participate in this scheme, they do need to be careful as the Anti-Discrimination Commission would likely not look favourably upon an organisation that does this”.

I asked Ian if he had a message he wanted to get across. “Yes, DON’T have a stroke!”

A most poignant quote comes from brain scientist, Jill Bolte Taylor who, in recovering from her own stroke, wrote in My Stroke of Insight: “Please respect me. I am not stupid. I am wounded.”

Stroke Support Group: call Maleny Soldiers Memorial Hospital on 5420 5000

Companion Card

Companion Card promotes the rights of people with a disability, who require a companion, to fair ticketing at events and venues. Companion Card is a national program administered by the state you live in.

  • Issued in name of person with lifelong disability
  • Valid on public transport, TransLink, qconnect, Queensland travel train holidays and participating venues
  • Exempt from booking fees
  • Valid for five years
  • Not income tested or asset tested
  • For Australian resident living in Queensland
  • Recognised Australia-wide

Further information: visit

or Andrew Powell’s office, Maleny.

(1)  Deloitte Access Economics – Stroke in Australia – No postcode untouched, 2017