[TL;DR: I had a stroke in the middle of the road while I was jogging on the day before my 29th birthday.]
Almost two years ago, I regained consciousness on the yellow line in the middle of the street.
There was an SUV stopped a few feet from where I was lying. It was still running and the door hung open as the driver approached me.
“I’m fine… I’m fine…” I tried to wave him off, but he came closer.
“No… I’m fine… leave me alone…”
My vision was blurry and my thoughts were equally fuzzy. What am I doing here? Did this guy just hit me with his car? Is he going to try to get me into the vehicle?
My only coherent thought was to get away from the man as quickly as I could, but my body wouldn’t cooperate. I couldn’t move quickly — my whole body felt slow and heavy. The man stopped a few feet from me — he looked as confused as I felt. While he watched, I managed to get up and stumble away, back to the sidewalk, back on my way.
Back on my way to where?
I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. I recognized my neighborhood, but I couldn’t remember how to get back home. I limped away from the SUV because it seemed like the logical thing to do. After a few moments, I heard the vehicle drive away.
I limped along on the sidewalk for a few minutes trying to remember how to get home. My confusion was interrupted by the increasing pain in my right arm — it hurt and felt heavy and weak. After a few more steps, I lost my grip on some small object I was holding in my hand. I looked down at the thing and saw that it was a large hair clip. I recognized it was mine, but the metal was crumpled and bent and the plastic was shattered.
What the fuck happened to me?
The only conclusion I could come up with was that maybe the SUV had hit me on my right side — the dull ache in my right leg made me limp and something was seriously wrong with my right arm. Perhaps when he hit me, I fell backwards and smashed my head on the street. That would explain my mangled hair clip. With my left hand, I reached up and felt sticky warm blood matting the hair on the back of my head.
It didn’t seem serious, but I still couldn’t remember where I lived and I had no idea how to get home.
I walked for some time, turned down a familiar street, and I recognized our community central office. It was still early enough that someone would be at the desk. I headed towards the building and went inside.
“Can I help you?” asked the grandmotherly woman at the desk.
“I’m not s-s-s-s-ure…” I stuttered and slurred.
Getting hit by a car wouldn’t make me stutter, would it? No. Maybe I’m drunk? I must have been drinking, went for a walk, and passed out in the middle of the road. Each of the scenarios I imagined to explain why I woke up in the middle of the street seemed more implausible than the last. I wasn’t sure what had happened to me — I was confused and frightened and I wasn’t sure what to say.
“Th-th-this is really embarass-embarass-embarass… this is really funny, but I just moved in and went for a walk and I’m los-los-lost. I don’t remember how to get home.” I tried to smile.
“What’s your address?” she asked.
Fuck. What’s my address? I couldn’t remember.
“I jus-jus-just moved in. I don’t remember my address.”
She looked skeptical.
“Ok then. What’s your name?”
I gave her my name, almost too proud that I remembered it, and she looked me up on her computer.
“Miss, it says here that you moved in three years ago?”
“Of course,” I said, “I rented it out for a few years. The tenants left and I only jus-jus-just moved in.” I lied.
She didn’t look convinced, but gave me my address anyway. I thanked her, turned to leave, and hesitated.
“I don’t know where that address is. Do you have a map?”
She gave me a photocopied map and highlighted the short route back to my house — the house I had been living in for the past three years.
I thanked her and headed towards home — the home I couldn’t remember. After a few minutes walk, I crossed the street and saw the spot where I came to, unceremoniously decorated with a few shattered pieces of my hair clip. I picked it from where I had dropped it on the sidewalk and clutched it in my my left hand. My right arm was useless now — it hurt, but hung lifeless at my side.
And then I saw it. I recognized my house. Apparently, whatever landed me flat on my back in the middle of the road happened within viewing distance of my house, but when I got up, I didn’t recognize it as mine.
I resisted the urge to run to my front door, although I don’t think I could have run even if I wanted to.
I found my cell phone on the kitchen counter and dialed my mother (I have no idea why I phoned her — she lives in another state).
“M-m-m-mom… something happened,” I began, but I was unable to fill in the details. Honestly, I had no idea what had happened.
“Honey… what happened to you?” she yelled, “you’re slurring your words. You’re stuttering.”
“I k-k-k-know mom. I’m slurring… and stuttering. I think I’m drunk.”
“You aren’t drunk… something’s wrong. Call 9-1-1.”
“I can’t, Mom. I’m probably jus-jus-just drunk.”
“I’m calling Alex.” *click* She hung up the phone.
Alex, my recently ex-boyfriend called me almost immediately and told me to unlock the door. He was on his way over to pick me up and take me to the emergency room.
Ok. I thought, If I was hit by a car when I was drunk, I should be checked out at the ER. That makes sense.
Alex arrived ten minutes later and I didn’t argue when he told me to get in the car. I tried to make small talk on the way, but I was aware of how strange my voice sounded. Alex kept looking over at me — he looked frightened.
We arrived at the ER, I checked in, and midway through their questions about name, address, and insurance, they stopped suddenly and wheeled me away to a room.
The nurse took my blood pressure and asked about what happened. I wasn’t able to answer her. I had no idea how I came to find myself in the middle of the road. I didn’t know why my arm hurt. I didn’t know why I couldn’t remember where I lived.
She set up my IV and told us the doctor would be in to see me in a few minutes.
Five or six hours later, after a parade of doctors, a series of scans, x-rays, blood tests, and IV administered medications, one of the doctors returned and told me I had a dislocated shoulder.
“Is that why I passed out? From the pain?” I asked.
“No. We’ll get to that in a minute. We have to take care of your shoulder first.”
The doctor wrapped up my arm in a bedsheet and motioned to some orderlies to come to the other side of the hospital bed. He told Alex to look away.
The orderlies held my left arm and shoulder down to the bed and the doctor planted his foot on my ribcage under my right arm. He held my right wrist with both hands, asked if I was ready, and then counted…
“1… 2… 3… PULL.”
After a split second of searing pain, I felt some relief in my arm. I looked up at Alex and he had tears in his eyes.
“It’s okay,” I said, “it feels better now!”
The doctor told me that my blood tests had come back clean — no drugs and no alcohol — so he could give me something for the pain.
“I wasn’t drunk?”
“No. You weren’t drunk.”
I had a stroke.
I had a stroke in the middle of the road while I was jogging on the day before my 29th birthday.
Apparently, the stroke triggered a series of seizures so severe that the impact of my body repeatedly slamming into the pavement knocked my shoulder out of the socket.
Besides now having a weak shoulder from the dislocation, I’m very lucky the stroke didn’t cause any real long-term damage. People who have had strokes often have difficulty with motor skills and muscle control on one side of their bodies, and also, they often have language and speech issues that require rehabilitation.
I did have some small problems with language, but nothing anyone would notice. It wasn’t a muscle control issue — I sounded fine and looked “normal” — but on occasion, my words came out wrong. I found little workarounds to avoid those issues and most of my friends and relatives still don’t know that anything ever happened.
Despite a small army of doctors, numerous brain scans, and all sorts of other tests, no one was ever able to come up with a reason I had a stroke at age 29.
After doing some reading online, my best guess is that my birth control pills had something to do with it. I won’t link to anything here, but there are lots of accounts of women in their twenties and thirties who suspect birth control pills caused their strokes. There are lots of news reports about the links between hormonal birth control pills and even a couple of lawsuits against drug manufacturers that suggest there are links. If you’re on the pill and in your twenties or thirties, you might want to look it up.
But warning about birth control pills isn’t my point. I’m passed the point where I care about what caused the stroke, and now that I’m off the pill, it isn’t something I think about often.
I guess my point is that it’s an anniversary of sorts.
It’s an important anniversary that I intend to observe in one way or another. This month, I’ll celebrate my stroke and I’ll celebrate my birthday. I’ll celebrate stumbling forward in my life even though I don’t always know how I got here and don’t always know where I’m headed.
Moving forward. Always.