I had a stroke. That morning, I had gotten up to brush my teeth, and as I walked back to my room, I dropped my phone. I thought to myself —how strange. I took a step toward my bed and fell, unable to sit up straight. I felt a rush of confusion and panic as I started half crying and half yelling. The noise I was making brought my dog up to the loft, worried and upset her human had fallen and couldn’t get up.
I crawled around to search for my phone to call 911. I spoke to the emergency operator, and I began to slur. I remember laughing to myself when she asked if I could go down the two flights of stairs and unlock the front door for the EMT. After I spoke to the operator, I realized that if I didn’t unlock the front door, the EMTs would break in and my dog would bark and possibly bite them. As this information settled in, I focused on standing, which, through sheer will power, worked. I put on some pants, grabbed my phone, walked down the first set of stairs and put the dog in a safe place, grabbed my wallet, and RAN down the second set of stairs. This was the hardest task to accomplish thus far since I was unable to stand let alone walk just moments ago. I opened the front door for the EMTs and police officers.
I spoke to the men and they quickly determined that I needed to be taken to the emergency room. At the first hospital, the doctors concluded that I had a stroke. My entire left side was weak and unresponsive. I wasn’t able to walk, feed myself, or breathe properly. They weren’t prepared to treat me beyond the diagnosis. They couldn’t find the clot. So shortly after arriving to the ER, I was moved to Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). We arrived at MGH, and I was taken to the Stroke ICU. There was a parliament of doctors and their students in my large and crowded ICU room. To test my vision and cognition, one of the students held up a picture and asked me what I saw. I looked at the picture and responded with, “A whole lot of sexism.” I explained to the crowd that it was a woman in the kitchen doing dishes, and that the little boy was clearly up to no good. The only woman in the room laughed and praised my interpretation as one of the best readings she’s witnessed.
After one week, I was healthy enough to start rehabilitation. Everyday I did three hours of physical therapy with the staff and another two to three hours with my brother and his wife every day for eight days. The whole process was exhausting, both mentally and physically; I had to think about how to move, but also how to use my visual cues to correct my form because my brain no longer knew basic motions for walking. After eight days, I was back home, but I couldn’t do any housework, walk around without a cane, or walk outside unaccompanied. After being an independent woman, I wasn’t looking forward to being limited.
The next two and a half months were the most challenging, as I had to teach myself how to do everything again, with help from my physical therapists and family. Throughout it all, I felt like a baby and an old lady at the same time. I had challenges with speaking, walking, doing pushups, feeding myself, riding a bike (whoever created the phrase, “it’s like riding a bike” never tried it post-stroke), typing, writing, bathing, and dressing myself.
I received tons of support to address my physical challenges and motivation to become independent again. After the first month of being home, I was walking around on my own, bathing and dressing myself (bras are pretty evil). Pushups were going to be harder since my shoulder muscles still weren’t ready for lifting, which meant biking would also have to wait. My language challenges were addressed thanks to my weekly book club. I owe them so much for helping me find the right words when my brain would stumble searching for appropriate vocabulary. Reading a 500+ page book a week (we were an ambitious bunch) helped more than I thought it would. I spent my time playing puzzle games and reading to help my brain rewire all the pathways I lost and improve those that were inefficient.
As my physical and mental goals were met, I set new ones. I’m currently training for a half marathon this June, approximately 11 months after my stroke. This article is part of my self-therapy to address my language challenges. I feel incredibly blessed and empowered. I’m not sad or upset about my experience because I know it’s something I have to work through to become stronger. Everyone who met me while I was working through my challenges kept saying that I was taking things so well and it baffled me. What was I supposed to do, cry about how my life was over? I had a stroke; I wasn’t dying. I have life goals to accomplish. I am young, healthy, and 100 percent capable. I will never give up!
Himali Patel is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago with bachelor’s degree in chemistry. She currently works as a marketing specialist at Raiing Medical, Inc. She has spent her life trying to achieve a goal and so far in this journey she has hit more than one bump. Regardless of what challenges she faced, she chose to continue with the same amount of hope as she had when she started because nothing will stop her from achieving my goals.