Hi my name’s Aly, I’m a third-year from Northern Virginia, and this semester, I had a stroke.
First, a disclaimer — I write this not to elicit sympathy or manipulate people into sending me food and cards. I don’t want the attention. I don’t want to be known as “stroke girl.” I just want to write because I love to write. I feel most like myself when I write. And it’s about the only thing I can think of to do right now anyway.
So, my story goes like this.
People have always told me that I walked kind of funny. They said they could recognize me from a mile away because of my peculiar gait. Well, a few weeks ago I noticed my gait went from peculiar to downright abnormal. It was more of a limp than a walk — my legs felt heavy and stiff. I became that annoying slow-walker blocking the foot-traffic between the E-School and Clark Hall.
At first, I didn’t think much of it. I had spent the entire summer sitting at a desk, so I assumed I was just extremely out of shape and laughed at my lack of athleticism.
Then I noticed I couldn’t type very well. I used to pride myself as being the fastest typist in my seventh grade computer class — yes, I had a seventh grade computer class. But then in BIOL 3000, I kept making typos, and my fingers just couldn’t keep up. How annoying, I thought. I really want to copy every single word Michael Wormington has to say.
These “episodes” mounted. I tried to play Für Elise on the piano. My fingers were sloppy and weak. I tried to lift a five-pound weight at the gym — I couldn’t lift it past my hip. I tried washing the mountain of dishes piled up on the counter. I dropped every other dish in the sink.
Something wasn’t right.
Fast forward a few days, and I’m sitting in Student Health across from this very kind and gentle doctor. She asked me what’s been going on.
I said, “I feel strange.”
She said, “How so?”
I said, “I just feel…strange.”
I tell her my scattered snippets of symptoms. I can’t put my left foot into my shoe without bending down and guiding it inside. I can’t throw a peace sign to a friend because my fingers won’t straighten all the way. I can’t play my flute because the act of both holding it up and wiggling my fingers over the keys is too much. I can’t point my toes. I can’t cut my nails. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
She watches me closely.
I tell her my wild theories synthesized from BIOL 2010 and WebMD — I think I might have Parkinson’s disease. I have that Ice Bucket Challenge disease. Multiple sclerosis. Blood clot. Pinched nerve. Unusual reaction to stress.
Maybe I had a stroke.
She looks at me with great sympathy and tells me not to worry. Come back in a week if it doesn’t get better.
So I go home, and I wait. I study, I sleep, I eat and I try to ignore the apparent loss of function in the left side of my body. For a few hours, I feel normal. But as soon as I type an email or stumble down the stairs, the hyper-awareness of my increasingly strange body floods back.
Fast forward a few more days, and I’m laying on a table, donned in a pastel hospital gown with headphones over my ears. The MRI machine whirs and beeps, as I’m slowly encased in this sterile cocoon. I get why people are claustrophobic now.
Laying inside the white metal tube, I am cynically optimistic. I expect the MRI will show nothing. The doctors will know nothing. I was just having a semi-psychotic breakdown.
The next day I get five missed calls from my doctor, then one from my mom.
I was right.
I had a stroke. A small one. But a stroke nonetheless.
I laugh when they tell me. I’m half-expecting Meredith Grey and Dr. McDreamy to come out of my fridge and tell me nothing’s real. But in a blur, I find myself sitting on paper and staring at a fuzzy white spot in the right side of my brain, and I realize this is far too real.
A week later and I’m waiting at the Adult Neurology Clinic, filling out paperwork as my mom whispers prayers beside me.
“What brings you in today?” the paperwork asked.
I scribble, “I had a stroke,” on the blank line.
“What neurological problems have you experienced?” Once again I write, “I had a stroke.”
The neurologist sits me down and tells me I’m rare. It’s very uncommon for someone my age to have a stroke. I wonder if that’s supposed to be uplifting. Everyone wants to feel special, to be told they’re “one of a kind.” It’s nice to be a mystery when it makes you feel sexy.
And yeah, maybe I feel a little bit sexy for boasting a rare medical condition. No one can figure me out. I’m elusive. I’m exciting. I am rare and interesting — the Heathcliff of the medical world. I am Asian and female with no high blood pressure or diabetes. I exercise regularly and eat decently healthy. I get eight hours of sleep most nights. I am 20 years old, and I had a stroke.
But then I wonder if I’ll ever get better. If I will forever be limping and never play piano. If all these things that I once loved/hated/was good at/better at will turn into things I just … can’t. I start to wonder if this is my life now — poked with needles and hooked to machines. And suddenly, I don’t feel so sexy anymore.
I guess you could say I’m confused, maybe scared, and a little bit angry. I can’t help but ask God, why? Why is it that my 55-year-old father can go on a four-mile run and I can’t? Why is it that it’s hard to see friends because they remind me what it’s like to only worry about tomorrow’s exam? Why is that now, I can’t sleep, because I’m scared I’ll wake up and not be able to speak?
But at least for now, this is my life — peeing in cups and waiting in waiting rooms. And each day it feels more and more normal. I won’t say I’m “okay,” but I am at peace, and I have much to be thankful for.
People ask me what they can do to help. And to that I say treat me like normal. Like I said, I don’t want to be “stroke girl.” Please don’t look at me like I’m fragile or like I’m about to explode. I guess I like food, and maybe you can carry my bags and send me notes when I have to miss class. And yes, there will be days that I cry, and I just want someone to sit with me. I am learning more and more how to be needy and I will need your patience as I figure that out.
Meanwhile you’ll find me clinging on to clichés and willing them to be true. God is good all the time — all the time God is good. Everything happens for a reason. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. You will find me reading of miracles — the blind will see, the lame will walk. And deep down, I will be praying, that one day that will be me.
Aly Lee is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.