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Back to new, normalcy

Living a double life as “patient” and “girl”

<p>Aly Lee is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.</p>

Aly Lee is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

If you’ve been following my past few articles, you may notice that my life has not been extraordinarily “normal” as of late. It’s not everyday you have a stroke. 

For many weeks, this “stroke-ness” consumed me. It was all I could think, feel and do. I was a patient. I was a medical mystery — the girl in room 210 with the purple hospital gown. I was an image on a screen in the doctor’s office. I was my body and all it’s abnormalities. 

For weeks, I was a patient. 

And then, suddenly, I wasn’t. As life went on, my strength slowly seeped back. I could type again without awkwardness. My gait went back to “peculiar” instead of “abnormal.” The doctors continued to be mystified by me, but they didn’t seem alarmed anymore. After all my test results came back “unremarkable,” I went back to school. I went back to libraries, group projects and late-night snacks. I went to class and office hours and made flash cards and watched Netflix. 

It was all so … normal. 

I felt a bit like Miley Stewart, stepping off her Hannah Montana tour-bus and shedding her golden wig. For a month, I was the famous stroke girl, the rockstar-Hannah-Montana of the hospital. All the doctors knew my name. The residents stared as I walked down the halls. Everyone wanted to know what was up with the 20-year-old neurological patient. 

Then, when the show was over and the glitter fell, I shed my hospital gown and stepped back into being ordinary-girl-Miley-Stewart. My parents stopped calling me everyday, and my friends stopped asking for updates. I went to meetings, cooked dinner and awkwardly small-talked at parties. Everything just fell back into place. And it was like all the needles and MRIs never happened. 

And it was nice. This was what I wanted. I had begged God day after day to just be a girl who studied biology at the U.Va. I did not want to be the girl at the center of a medical storm with family members weeping all around her. 

It was what I wanted, but somehow it still felt off. Should I feel this normal? Shouldn’t I be crying every night over my medical crisis? Should I be writing poetry about the daze of anesthesia or the existential murmurs running through my head each day? Shouldn’t I at least be in some sort of physical pain? Something to show for this traumatic stint of life? 

But I had none of that. I was just … normal. No tears, no existential poetry — just a few Cavalier Daily articles and “Get Well Soon” cards. 

I don’t know why normal felt so off. Everyone wants normal. I couldn’t wait for the day when the doctors told me I could go back to school and live my life. 

But though this life was a normal life, it suddenly wasn’t my only life. Yes, I am a Korean-American biology student at the U.Va. But like it or not, I am also a girl with a stroke and IV’s in her veins, ducking in an out of doctor’s offices. Just being a girl ... it felt incomplete. By slipping back into normalcy so smoothly, I couldn’t help but feel like I was betraying one part of myself. 

Why such anguish over feeling normal? Why wasn’t I more excited that I had gotten my normal life back? Maybe I was scared that the second I let myself feel normal — 100 percent Miley — Hannah Montana would come rushing in like a banshee, and I’d be back in the hospital with tubes in my arms. It seemed too good to be true, and it would be a lot more poetic if I stayed the sick girl. 

It seems being normal is not as simple as taking the hospital gown off. The Hannah stays with you — wig or no wig. I wish I could ring up Miley Stewart and ask her how she did it. How she managed this double-life with such grace and TV-G humor. Did she ever just want to be one? Was it really the “best of both worlds”? 

But maybe one day, I’ll settle into a new normal and it won’t feel like such a double-life. One day, I won’t hide my purple veins, bruised from the needle stabs. I won’t fake-smile when my friends ask me how I’m doing. I’ll be honest with myself about how angry, scared, yet hopeful I am. And soon these double worlds will blend together into this strange, ordinary girl/rockstar patient life. 

After all, in the words of Hannah herself, it’s only when you “mix it all together” that “you know that it’s the best of both worlds.” 

Aly Lee is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at