It feels like forever when I think back on it, it’s almost more like a distant dream than reality. It’s not that it’s that amazing, cool or even interesting. It’s just that it’s not really the way I thought it would happen. Life that is.
But life generally has its own agenda, and you can’t really do much to stop it. What happen will happen, and when it does, all you can do is make the most out of it. And that’s what I tried to do.
This is my story.
A quick meeting with death. A “hello how do you do, and thanks for stopping by, but I’ll let you pass. This time.”
At 5.30 May 20, 2011, my life changed forever. Much of what I took for granted was taken away in a split of a second.
The sun was shining in the blue sky, the air felt soft and warm and the birds were chirping. Little did I know that I was going to spend the next days at the intensive care unite at the large Hospital, connected to various devises and monitors. Nor did I know that my summer would be taken away from me, that I would be forced to rest the majority of the time to let my brain, my body and my soul, time to recover. When everyone I knew spent their days outdoors, taking long walks in the sunshine, drinking wine and having fun, I had to stay indoors where it was cool and calm. Where I was far away from loud noises, lots of people and exhausting activities. My only company was the healing powers of sleep and my partner, who supported me in all ways he could.
May 20 was a Friday, and I was alone at work, the only one who had stayed late this warm and sunny spring evening. It was like any other Friday and I was excited to go home and prepare for a visit from my best friend and her partner who was staying with us over weekend. I felt totally fine but a bit tired, contemplating if it was time to go home, when suddenly it was like someone had hit me in the head with a baseball bat.
My immediate reaction was to close my eyes and grab on to the desk. The room was spinning, I was spinning, everything on this Earth was spinning. My heart started beating really fast, it felt like the light was flickering in front of my eyes and I didn’t know what was up or down. My sense of time disappeared and when I could open my eyes again, I had no idea if it had been 2 seconds or several minutes.
The dizziness attack came from nowhere and when it disappeared I was left sitting in my chair staring at my computer.
What the hell was that!? I felt nauseated, tired and a cold sweat made my skin ripple slightly. Little did I know what was coming.
I decided that it was time to go home and so I did. I closed down the computer and headed towards the subway. On my way out I run into a colleague from another department and we walked together down to the station. She laughed and talked and I did my best to follow along in the conversation, trying to look and act normal. I felt off, dizzy and had an uneasy feeling that something wasn’t quite right. People was talking loudly and laughing in the subway but I felt distanced and confused. I noticed that I had a hard time concentrating on what my colleague was saying but I rationalized it with being overworked.
Finally I was at my stop. I stepped out of the warm and busy subway and found my way to the shopping mall where I was suppose to meet my partner to buy food for the weekend. Since he wasn’t there yet, I decided to walk around for a bit, maybe check the bookstore or smell some perfumes. I hadn’t been in the mall for many minutes when suddenly I was forced down on my knees among all the other people walking between different stores. I wasn’t able to stand up, everything was spinning and it felt like my whole world was capsizing.
No one really noticed me, standing on my knees leaning towards the wall, or was it a bench – I am not sure. Everyone just passed me with what felt like warp speed. They became blurry and all the sounds felt muffled, like someone had wrapped my head with a gigant cotton ball.
I am not sure how long I stood in that position, but when the most intense dizziness subsided I was left shaking, tears in my eyes, feeling like I was about to throw up. Slowly I pulled myself up holding my phone in my hands like it was what kept me alive and present in this world. I quickly realized I couldn’t walk straight, and the oddest thoughts popped into my mind.
“What if someone thinks I’m drunk”.
I mean sure, Friday at about 6 pm, but still. I dialed my partners number and tried to calm myself in the process.
“I don’t know what’s happening”, I told him. “I can’t walk straight, I feel like I am about to throw up, I think I need to go home”, tears in my eyes, voice thin and brittle, legs shaking and heart beating fast.
My partner agreed and told me to go home immediately and rest. I had trouble walking straight, I was stumbling and in retrospect I can’t really understand how I managed to walk all the way to the bus stop and get home without fainting or throwing up. I had a very peculiar feeling that someone or something was pulling me to the left which made me unable to walk straight. Like I had a gigant rubber band stuck to a husky running like crazy in the opposite direction. Why was my world crooked, why did it feel like everything was tilting and pulling to the left? Why didn’t my brain and body listen to me when I tried to walk?
Back home my health got worse and worse and resting didn’t help at all. I was shaking, cold sweating and felt completely exhausted. For each moment that passed by, for each breath, I felt worse. My overall status started to decline rapidly and I couldn’t push away my fears any longer. I knew deep within that something was wrong, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it. The truth was that I had started to become really scared.
After staying at home for way too long , disobeying the medical advice I got through the phone to “immediately go to the emergency”, I accepted my fait and off we went. Once in the emergency things happened fast. They checked for Inner Ear crystals and mumbled long sentences over blood works and EKG tests . After a lot of “could she have a…” “But no she is so young..” and “but maybe we should to an…just to be sure” the one with the cold hands and even colder stethoscope came into my room and declared that they would do an MRI “just to be sure”, but that it “probably wasn’t anything to be worried about”. Probably.
After they MRI I was laying on my bed in my cold room staring at the white ceiling. I was still dizzy and had trouble standing up properly. I remember the walls and their soft yellow tone – maybe it was suppose to be a calming color, but I never been a fan of yellow. The corridor outside my room was quiet and all I could hear was the beeping sound of medical devices and machines keeping track of people and their unstable health. The woman whom I shared a room with described in detail her feelings about the fact that she would probably die soon. She had cancer and so did her husband, but he was at another hospital, or was it in another room. She missed him, she said, but spoke about it in the most distanced and orderly fashion. Like she was reciting facts about another person whom she couldn’t quite connect with or feel empathy towards. As she kept talking my gut wouldn’t let go of that dark uneasy feeling, it had it’s claws around my heart and I felt unable to breathe.
Echoing in the distance I started hearing someone walking towards our room, each step loud and sharp against the corridor floor. The big clock in our room were ticking with an irritating and sharp sound, almost like it was designed to interrupt both our sleep and our thoughts. I should have known that something was wrong when the doctor with the cold hands came and sat down on the end of my bed quickly followed by a nurse, sad looks on both their faces.
“How are you feeling”, she asked me, eyes serious but calm.
I started crying.
“I can’t feel like this for the rest of my life, I can’t walk straight, I can’t stand up properly”, I sobbed. “I feel so scared”
She stopped me, “You’ve had a brain Cerebral Infarction”.
“What?” All thoughts came at once.
“What does she mean?” “That can’t be good?! “OMG, I am going to die”, “This isn’t happening”, “I need to call someone”, “What have I done to myself”, “This is not real”, “I can’t feel my body”, “The room is spinning”, “Am I dreaming”, “I can’t breathe”, “What does a Infarction mean”, “I must have done something wrong”, “How could I do this to myself”, “I am so scared”, “What is she saying?”.
“We’re going ot move you to the intensive care, you need to take these pills to minimize the risk of any more brain damage. We don’t know why or how this happened, but for now, you need to take them”.
So I did.
I don’t remember much after that. I remember that she continued to speak, because I could clearly see her lips moving. I swallowed the pills they gave me, I made that call I never thought I would make. I said words I never thought I would say. After that everything happened so quickly, or at least that is my perception.
Before I knew it, I was laying in my bed rushed through the hospital corridor, while people stared. I wanted to scream at them to stop staring, but at the same time I didn’t care. My throat felt dry and I didn’t understand what was happening. Without me understanding how and when, my partner was suddenly at my side. When had he arrived? Did I call him? It felt like he had been there for a while but at the same time like he just arrived. It was probably just me noticing him now.
When the doors opened to the Stroke Intensive Care, I swear it felt like I was rushed into death’s waiting room. All I could se was really old people, who looked like they were about to die. We quickly passed a room where the door was opened, and I saw a glimpse of a woman who, from what I could gather, was in a really bad state. She looked physically paralyzed and she was moaning and screaming in panic as if she tried to communicate something to the people around her.
My bed was placed in a room with 2 older people whom, even though not as bad as the lady I had just passed, made me feel like I was about to die.
“I can’t stay here, I can’t, I can’t, get me out of here” I cried in panic.
“My darling, try to calm down”, my partner said in a soft and calming voice. “I am sure we’ll figure something out, I’ll speak to them”.
But I was in full blown out panic mode and the only thing I could think of was to get out of there. If I was about to die, it wouldn’t be in here.
“I can’t stay here, I will have get panic attack, I can’t breathe” I cried to the medical team who suddenly appeared by my bedside. “If you’re going to check my heart nothing relevant will come out of the tests if you force me to stay here in this room”, I was trying to make the most rational argument I could come up with.
In retrospect it was a rational argument and by some miracle, in a few hours a single room was suddenly vacant. I collapsed in my bed sobbing into the pillow while my partner gently stroke my back.
At that point I was convinced that my life as I knew it was over. I thought I had lost all that mattered and that there would be no life left for me to live. I thought it was the first sign of me dying and that it would only get worse from there. Never once did it cross my mind that my Stroke would be a “stroke of luck”. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a whole new life for me, a life filled with struggles and fighting but also with much more joy and fulfillment than I had ever experienced in my adult life.
I think that in the end, my Stroke is what saved my life, brought me back to where I was supposed to be and led me down a path to a whole different life.