I’m 38 and had a stroke. Here’s what I learned.
I reach my left hand into the bowl of cereal and pinch a few flakes with my fingers. Now bring them up to your mouth, Aly. Into your mouth, not your ear. Success! Repeat, repeat. To someone watching, I look like I’m just a little slow and weak. But inside my head I’m working through a multitude of steps to get that cereal in my mouth.
This is my new normal. Fuck this new normal.
A Normal Sunday
I had a good little Sunday planned. Go to the office for a bit, then rock climbing gym with Matt and the girls, then to the airport for a 24-hour business trip to LA. I was in my car at 9:00 that morning. Going to get gas, then fill a prescription, then to the office. I was barely half a mile from my house when I felt strangely dizzy. I knew something was wrong so I quickly pulled over. I called my husband and told him where I was. By now I felt very “off” and I could not control my hands or arms.
By sheer will I managed to call 911. And now I really knew something was wrong. The operator couldn’t understand me as I described where I was. What the hell? I’m shouting and speaking clearly. Why is she asking me to repeat myself?
Matt and the paramedics got there at the same time (I think). They took my vitals. Perfect. I must be having a massive panic attack. I am? But I can’t feel the right side of my body. I’ve had panic attacks, this is different. The EMTs said I could go to the hospital but if they took me it would just be a really expensive taxi.
Matt put me in his truck and off we went. By now I was positive something really bad was happening. I couldn’t see straight, the entire right side of my body was numb. I couldn’t walk.
Once we got to the ER it was a blur. They got me in right away, and an old family friend who works in that ER was my doctor. He called in the stroke team, I had an MRI, they asked me repeatedly things like the date, where I was, and who the president is. That was honestly the most painful part.
They eventually diagnosed me as having some kind of gnarly migraine. Okay. I’ll take it. Migraine is better than stroke. I was to be discharged. Then one of the neurologists, a stroke specialist, took a peek at my MRI and spotted a blood clot. I wasn’t going anywhere.
Through all of this I was still mentally sharp. Why is everyone freaking out? I’m fine. I’m here. This is just a blip. It’ll all be over soon. And holy hell I’m starving. Can I have enchiladas? They are looking at me funny now. Yeah you heard me, enchiladas, stat. Matt suggested perhaps we wait until tomorrow. Same with calling my best friend Lindsay. He basically kiboshed both of my requests. Asshole.
If I’m dying I wanted enchiladas for my last meal and my bestie nearby. I didn’t die. I did leave that hospital 4 days later with some lessons learned.
Treat Serious Shit Seriously
The text messages beep beep beeped nonstop. Old friends, new friends, people I barely know. Each person more sympathetic and freaked out than the last. My Facebook post announcing the stroke is blowing up. Apparently stroke is a very big deal.
The nuerology resident comes into my hospital room. I forgot his name. We’ve been referring to him as “baby doctor.” BD is very excited today. My latest MRI showed where the stroke occurred — in the cerebellum. This is BD’s favorite part of the brain. Because it’s like a little brain within the brain. He showed me images of the stroke and talked excitedly about how it explains all of my symptoms. Oh, and I have a beautiful brain.
Maybe I should post one of these images on Facebook like a baby ultrasound. Look at my exquisite brain, and there’s a cute little stroke. See it? Right there. Looks like a fucking worm. And that lighter fluid tPA stopped it from becoming a big worm. I had a blood clot abortion. I asked BD how the MRI can show a stroke. You’d think I just asked him how the Cubs won the World Series. He was off.
So I’m fine. Aside from the fact that my body is giving me the finger, I’m totally intact.
My body is not okay. I had a stoke at a young age with zero known risk factors. Friends, family, and people I barely know are losing their minds over this. Doctors at the top neurological institute in the country are getting a little too excited. Logically, I know this means it’s a big deal. I haven’t started Googling yet.
Having been baptized into the world of tech startup, I had gotten into the habit of letting things roll. I’ve had to in order to mentally and emotionally survive. 4 weeks of cash in the bank? Meh, I’ll figure it out. Headache for 5 days? Advil and move on.
I’ve gotten a huge wake up call to clue in. And to listen to those around me who are sounding the alarms because I’m apparently really bad at seeing the “big deal” blinking lights myself.
Right now the universe is telling me to pay attention to my health. Will I stop pressing forward? No way. But I won’t ignore my body anymore. I couldn’t if I wanted to. That’s what happens when you choose to ignore serious stuff, it smacks you in the face one way or another and makes you look.
Let Go and Have Faith
That first night in the hospital everyone was begging me to go to sleep. I finally admitted to Matt, my very atheist husband, that I didn’t want to go to sleep because I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up.
But I was still scared. There was a lot more to do, more mountains to climb. I wanted to see my daughters grow up. And something deep in my beautiful brain was telling me this is really, really serious.
I shared with Matt that even if I did wake up tomorrow, I didn’t know how I was going to power through. The last couple years have been pretty tough and through everything I had enough faith in myself to pull through. I could handle anything.
Now my body has failed me. I can’t count on myself anymore.
Then my cynical, atheist Matt said something that was more shocking to me than having a stroke. “Have faith you’ll wake up tomorrow. Have faith everything will work out as it should.”
There’s only one thing I have faith in, and that’s me. Now I have to let go and just believe things will work out as they are supposed to without myself to will it all along?
Yup. Well, this is new.
I have no data yet on how this lesson turns out. But it sure feels easier than trying to swim against the tide. I don’t really feel like I have any other option. I’m not super woman anymore (was I ever?) So let’s see what happens when I let myself fall.
My mom asked me if I wanted her to bring me chocolate in the hospital. Normally I’d say sure and nibble on it in moderation. Fuck moderation. Fuck passive acceptance. Fuck yes, bring me chocolate No, not the Godiva bar you got at the checkout at Macy’s so you could spend enough to use a coupon. I want some gourmet sea salt and fancy shmancy chocolate and lots of it.
I’m just going to honey badger life like I honey badgered that chocolate in 4 days. No more waiting for good things and welcoming them with open arms. I’m going joy hunting.
I was impatiently waiting to be taken away for my third MRI when Matt said, “the girls might be here when you get back.” Holy crap, I have daughters. My beautiful brain hadn’t let me go there yet. Yes, I was vey conscious of my kids, and how they were getting on while I was in the hospital. But I hadn’t yet allowed myself to entertain the thought that I came close to never seeing them again.
I am so aware of them now. I’ve always known Lola is perceptive but wow, she really doesn’t miss a thing. I always knew Sophie was funny, but hell, she’s a comedian. A performer.
When I’m in the moment, instead of thinking about what I need to do next, and after that, and after that, I see so much more.
How much have I been missing by living in the future?
I would be a real asshole if I didn’t extend gratitude to the many wonderful people who stepped up for me and my little family this week. The well wishes, love, play dates, flowers, food, and stroke jokes have meant the world to me and Matt. We are so lucky, and so very grateful. Letting go is easier when we have friends like these to fall back on.
I am especially grateful to Matt. For graciously allowing me to ease into this new normal the only way I know how — kicking and screaming. He inspires me to let go, have faith, and be present. He’s also a natural caretaker. I am humbled by his patience.
Okay, that’s it. It took a lot of effort to type this. And I’ve decided I’m over it. All of it. Stay tuned for a super woman style recovery.