At 29 years of age -- the best part of my life was in front of me. I never thought I would end up in a coma. I never thought I would almost die...
As a 29-year-old woman, I felt I was kicking butt and taking names! I finished graduate school, I was living and working in the most amazing cities in the world including Toronto, New York, London, Paris and Napa Valley. My career was taking off so fast I could barely keep up.
To stay focused, balanced and healthy, I would run. I ran half-marathons and participated in charitable bike rides whenever I could. Every finish line I crossed, I felt strong -- in body and in mind. I remember one time climbing Mount Tamalpais (just outside San Francisco), reaching the summit and feeling so incredible I had to pinch myself! I was literally on top of the world!
That was before it happened. Before my body went numb. Before my mind shut down. Before I became a 29-year-old woman trapped in the body of a helpless infant.
On the morning of Dec. 21, 2013, I began to experience mind-numbing headaches and painful shooting pains up and down my body. I had never had the flu, so I just assumed this is what it must feel like. On Dec. 27, 2013, the headaches and shooting pains were now accompanied by slurred speech. I'm a fast talker, so we knew immediately that something was very wrong.
I was taken to a local hospital where a CT scan showed a two-centimetre mass in my brain. When I saw the scan and heard the words out of the doctor's mouth, I went into shock. How? Why? When? WHAT! I had a million questions running through my mind but could not articulate them coherently.
The next morning the doctors started the tests. Blood tests, MRI, CT, angiogram, spinal tap -- it was painful, punishing, never ending. Even with ALL those tests, the doctors could still not offer any definitive answer as to WHY I had a giant golf-ball size mass in my brain. After one week in the hospital, there was no conclusive evidence that there was anything wrong with me.
Nothing officially wrong with me. It might still be OK. I might still be OK...
Hallelujah! I got to go home, sleep in my own bed, and celebrate with my family and a home-cooked meal. But the joy of being home was short-lived. When I woke up the next morning, I couldn't feel my right arm or the right side of my face.
I remember the way my sister looked at me, the terror in her eyes. I was definitely NOT OK. We rushed back to the hospital where I started having convulsions and fell unconscious.
No one knew what was happening to me. No one knew what would come of it. After two agonizing days, my parents were given the worst news: the pressure in my brain was building up at a rapid rate, time was not on my side. They had to operate, my parents had only minutes to consent.
While I was asleep, they removed the left side of my skull. They relieved the pressure in my brain. Then, everyone waited for me to wake up...
Waking up was the most terrifying experience. The right side of my body was paralyzed. I lost the ability to speak. I had a stroke. A STROKE... at 29! I went from being this giddy, talkative, always on-the-go woman to being an invalid.
An infant trapped in a woman's body.
I could barely recognize myself. Where was the independent, globe-trotting, fit and independent woman I was before? All I saw now were the tubes that fed me, that emptied my bladder for me. A woman unable to perform the most basic human functions. I felt terrified, mortified and utterly embarrassed.
I wanted to scream: This isn't ME! I'm strong! I'm young! But I was mute. I couldn't make the words come out...
I lived in the hospital for months, working with speech, physio, occupational and cognitive therapists. I had to re-learn the most simplistic activities: saying the alphabet, brushing my teeth, feeding myself. To say it was humiliating is an understatement. It was hard to let go of my pride and give in to accepting help every minute of every day.
I wanted to run again. I wanted to cross that finish line and feel victorious. Just me and my two legs taking me where I wanted, needed to go...
After months of difficult rehabilitation, I was able to regain all my brain functionality. I even completed my first duathalon just seven months after my stroke. Crossing that finish line was truly the greatest victory of my life. But, to this day, my doctors are still unsure as to WHY I had a stroke. What caused a healthy, athletic young woman to have such a massive, debilitating stroke?
Even though I have recovered, I still find myself asking, why me? The fact that no one knows WHY I had a stroke troubles me to this day. If there was something to be learned, something that we could teach other young women to DO, not to do or avoid so that they never have to experience what I went through -- THAT would help me sleep at night.
March 14 to 20 is Brain Awareness Week. We need to understand more about brain function (particularly women's brain function) in order to prevent strokes and/or ensure that strokes do not result in a crippling disability or worse, death.
To make this happen, we need to encourage the best researchers to continue their work, and make sure they have access to steady funding and the latest technology.
Until we know more, I will always wonder could I have done something to prevent my stroke? I wish I knew.
Until that day -- I'll just keep running to the next finish line. I MADE it. Anything is possible -- still.
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