I moved from Select Specialty Hospital to Methodist Rehabilitation Center the first weekend of July. I had never transferred to or from a car before, and I wasn’t prepared for how difficult the process would be with a weak leg. Moving from the wheelchair to the car was not an issue, since the car seat sat lower than the wheelchair seat. However, when I tried to get out of the car, my left leg would not cooperate. First, I couldn’t lift it to get out of the passenger’s seat properly. Then after I did maneuver it free, it was too weak to stand on. It buckled several times under my weight. Finally, a couple of the hospital workers took pity on me, and came over to help. One held the wheelchair steady; the other guided me safely into it. I would’ve fallen had I not had someone else to support my weight. I couldn’t imagine why my left leg refused to work the way it always had.
When we got into the building, I was wheeled to the elevator and up to room 505, where my mom and sister were waiting I couldn’t figure out how I was going to get into the hospital bed. But then a bored looking woman in the doorway piloted an overhead lift over to me. The staff strapped me into the apparatus. It lifted me into the air and over to the bed, where it gently deposited me. I was unstrapped and undressed.
Eventually my family all left. Since it was Friday, there weren’t many staff members who had to run tests or come by for any reason. Instead, I lay there in solitude. I was unable to get out of bed, and the room seemed so large. I became aware of just how little I could do. I was frightened that I might never be able to get out of bed and take care of myself again. I lay there wanting to cry.

The following day I had intake evaluations. I would see a physical, occupational, and speech therapist. They would test my body’s abilities and figure out where to begin my various rehabilitation programs. The first person to come was the physical therapist. She asked me to move my leg in various ways. I couldn’t. So she began moving it for me, just to elicit responses. Each time, the muscles would fire of their own accord. Then she would exclaim, “I thought you couldn’t move that!” She reminded me of an aggressive PE teacher. All of the muscle movement, and the fact that I had never lost sensation on my left side, gave me reassurance that I would walk again.
The next person to evaluate me was the occupational therapist. It was her job to work with my left arm. I don’t really remember how this went. But since my arm was still sensitive, I don’t think that we could do much. I’m sure that I was frustrated, yet slightly optimistic.
Finally I had to go to the cafeteria to meet with speech therapist. We did a lot of cognitive testing. She asked me things like the day, time, and several other random facts. Finally she asked me to write my name. I still had horrible double vision and my control in my right hand was not fully recovered. I knew I couldn’t write my name legibly, but I was worried that she might think I was stupid. So, I reasoned that, if I wrote it in Korean instead of English, it would be almost exclusively straight lines and right angles. I scratched out “마이클”,’ hoping that she might understand that it was my name in some language, and that I hadn’t simply lost too many brain cells.
It quickly became apparent to me, and later to those who had known me before the stroke, that only my physical body had been impaired. I couldn’t walk, speak clearly, or use my left arm, but my sense of humor, cognition, and memories were unchanged. I liken it to people who contract ALS or Parkinson’s Disease. They have fully functioning brains that are merely trapped inside of compromised bodies. There is little more frustrating than mentally knowing exactly what you want to say, but being physically incapable of expressing yourself. It seems that it would often be less frustrating to simply not have the vocabulary in the first place.

The next day was Sunday. Around noon They informed me that it was shower time. So I was strapped into the overhead lift hanging, moved across the room, and deposited in a shower chair. This was a chair with a large opening where the seat should be. I was then wheeled into the bathroom and stripped naked. It’s difficult for me to describe the humiliation I felt at this point. The staff did not belittle me, and they maintained complete professionalism. It was just the feeling of knowing that I was no longer in control of my body. The CNA turned the shower head on. Warm water began raining over my body. She began soaping me down all over. It felt so wonderful that I forgot how uncomfortable and cold the room had felt heretofore.
Monday my routine began in earnest. Around 6:00 am, a lab technician would arrive to draw my blood. Then around 7:30, someone came in to help me get ready. She dressed me, then used the lift to transfer me from the bed to a wheelchair. She wheeled me over to the sink, and helped me to wash my face, brush my teeth, and put on deodorant.
After that, she wheeled me down the hall, until we came to the cafeteria. Instantly I had the same anxiety as when walking into a junior high school cafeteria for the first time: my heart rate quickened and my knees buckled. Luckily, I was in the chair so people couldn’t see my nervous gait. These patients weren’t menacing, but I was used to years of weightlifting. That had brought with it a natural confidence. Without being able bodied, I was stripped of this self assurance, and I felt like an undersized thirteen-year-old again. I had them park me between two fellow patients, and quietly ate my breakfast. After half on hour or so, various therapists began filing in to collect their patients. A young, red haired guy called my name, and when I answered, he wheeled me out the door and across the hall.

The room we entered next was the therapy gym. In it was a mock staircase, several raised mats, various pieces of gym equipment, tables, and all sorts of different activity stations. I was in awe of the room, but I was excited about what kind of recovery was going to take place there. Telling me that he was my physical therapist, the young man introduced me to his helper. However, I was still too bewildered to remember names. They wheeled me over to a set of parallel bars. They positioned me between the bars then the therapist wrapped a gait belt around my waist, so he could support my weight. He then asked me to stand.

I shifted my weight, pushed through my heels, and rocked forward using my right forearm. I felt the overwhelming weight of my body. So much of it felt inert, lifeless. I grunted and strained for several seconds. Then mercifully, the therapist told me to sit back and rest. I sat back for about thirty seconds, then I tried again. Slowly, I rose to my feet. I was shaky and weak. My left leg felt like it would explode from pain. It took me several seconds, but finally, I was standing again. My chest was heaving and I realized that I was sweating profusely. I told the therapist, “I need to sit down.” He then held the gait belt with both hands, and I quickly collapsed back in the chair.
I could feel the back of the chair against my ribs. My lungs were burning. The helper mopped the sweat from my face, head, and neck with a cool towel. I looked around the gym then out window. I could see a water tower, and a construction that must have been erecting a building somewhere to the northeast of us. It made me wonder how much I would have to go through to remake my body into a functional mass of flesh. The muscles would only be rebuilt if I could wake up the slumbering nerves.

After working with the physical therapist, I saw the occupational therapist. It was her job to get my left arm to function again. She strapped my forearm onto a board with wheels on the bottom. Then asked me to push the device forward. I couldn’t. And it was disheartening. Next, she placed electrodes on my arm – one pair along my forearm and another pair on the triceps. This was known as the e-stim. When she was switched it on, she told me to let her know when I could feel it activating the neurons in my. I alerted her when I felt my arm move. She then told me that she was about increase the voltage.
She turned the dial a little more. Slowly I started to feel my arm move.
“Let me know when you start you feel it sting.”
“I think it needs to go higher.”
“Okay. Tell me when to stop.”
As she increased the voltage, I watched my wrist move. My fingers didn’t open, nor did my triceps fire. However, I had never used this sort of device before, and I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t seen any part of my arm work in a month. At least it was something.
During the month that I’d been awake again, my entire left arm had been unbelievably sensitive. It still hurt badly, but I noticed that the pain was slightly less severe with e-stim. I guessed that, for some reason, if I kept allowing current to go through it, maybe it would hurt less. So I I allowed her to keep doing activities with e-stim, no matter how painful. The few seconds of relief were worth the agony I had to endure in order to put my arm into position for any exercise. It was going to hurt regardless of whether it was moving or not, so I figured that I might as well engage in the activities that might make it hurt less.

When we were finished with a few exercises, my second hour ended. A transportation specialist came in to wheel me out of the gym. We went up in an elevator and arrived next at the Respiratory Therapy Department. I was parked in front of a specialist. He asked me to breathe into a tube and exhale until I could breathe no longer. I was asked to repeat this test several times and in different variations. I felt an increasing resistance that made it harder and harder to breathe. He was establishing a baseline of my lung function so they would know which breathing exercises I would be able to perform.
I assumed that they were addressing my chronic problem with asthma. For years I had had a serious affliction with the disease. While I had always enjoyed playing sports, the running aspect had been a big challenge. Whether it was time on a track or treadmill, or the mile run that coaches expected you to complete before practice, my lungs would burn. In fact, my breath capacity had been below 70 percent for years. Running was such torment that I really only got my cardiovascular exercise by the actual scrimmaging.
That was probably what had kept me from having a stroke in Minneapolis years earlier. After I returned to Mississippi, I found that the economy simply didn’t lend itself to people having the type of disposable income it would take to support the multiplicity of adult sports leagues I was used to. And even if the economic situation had been different, the population was much smaller. There are more people in the Twin Cities metropolitan area than there are in the entire state of Mississippi. As a result, there is a critical mass of people in a smaller geographical area to support various types of enthusiast groups. Without readily available cardio outlets, I was reduced to weightlifting for exercise. So while I was in good muscular shape, I wasn’t helping my blood pressure in the least.

In retrospect, I wasn’t able to eat yet. I was still being fed through a feeding tube. Each time I could smell food on the breath of other people, I was insanely jealous. The therapist might have started the day by coming directly to my room, instead of my going to the cafeteria. I don’t remember. But since I’m telling you all of this from memory, I would rather do so with the fuzziness and inconsistencies that exist in my head. A completely reliable record of the facts would obviously be advantageous in some ways, but it would in no way communicate what it feels like to suffer through a near fatal brain injury. I wish to relate what it actually feels like to experience a stroke.

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Dad and I spent the next few days communicating without my being able to speak. I had terrible double vision. As a result, I would attempt to point at the correct letters and often point to the wrong ones. So even with this method, it would take several minutes longer than it should’ve to complete each individual sentence. Moreover, since I hadn’t used my right arm in two weeks, it would become tried after a half hour. So though I was overjoyed to be able to express myself finally, the intervals at which I could do so were very short. And it still pained me to not have the power of speech.
I had always enjoyed talking, so the idea that I might forever be mute was horrifying. Many nights I would force air through my throat, desperate to produce a sound. I would do this for perhaps ten minutes. But nothing would come out. I would be crestfallen, having strained so much to just say one word. It felt like I was enduring a fate worse than death.
Then about a week after I got to Select, I felt someone fiddle with my neck for a few minutes. I didn’t know what happened after that, but within a couple of minutes, I was talking! (I would later realize that I’d had a tracheostomy, but it felt pretty instantaneous, as opposed to the protracted medical procedure I had expected it to be.) I can’t remember anything else of the operation, but afterward I did kept saying, “Okay” with the final syllable being drawn out. I would even tell others that I sounded like Stephen Hawking, because my voice was so robotic. But I just couldn’t shut up. I finally had a voice again. And it was beautiful because it was mine.
The speech therapist came to see me. I still wouldn’t shut up until she yelled, “Stop talking!” She began teaching me how to swallow air and release it gradually to form multiple syllables. It was exhausting, and I could only say a few words before I was out of breath. My lungs would hurt, but I was so happy that I could cry. After a while she released me, as my younger brother and his wife had come to visit me from Texas.

Jonathan and Candice were people I had been dying to see. During my delusional period, my father had placed the phone to my ear so Jonathan could speak to me. In my irrational state, I thought my father had played back a recording several days in a row, just to calm me when I acted out. I would hear Jonathan rave about a Gofundme account and how excited he was to see me. I had stopped believing a word of it, because I couldn’t trust one-way communication, knowing that I was dealing with a warped brain. Seeing them there and speaking with them made it more real. Once I could interact with him, I felt like it was real.
We spent hours laughing and talking. Then Candice and Jonathan went to the house to relax for a while. A few hours later, they came back to watch the NBA Finals. Jonathan said that they had seen Golden State play in Dallas that season, and that the Warriors had the best team ball he had ever seen. I was completely oblivious, having not paid attention to professional basketball in years. Instead, I was just thrilled to simply be surrounded by family. Knowing that I would be alone afterward, I hoped that the game would continue all night. With my terrible double vision, I could scarcely even follow the action. I couldn’t even see the ball; I merely pretended, so others wouldn’t get bored and leave.
Later that night, I was reciting “A Farewell” and “The Eagle” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson over and over and over again. The night nurse, a kindly Thai woman came in and told me to stop speaking and get some sleep. I told her whatever I had to get her to leave. Then I continued reciting British poetry to myself. The simple rhyme scheme and the incessant meter were powerful mnemonic devices that allowed me to recall poems, some of which I hadn’t read since the twelfth grade. Reciting poetry was a practice I would repeatedly return to on nights when I was lying in the hospital, bored and lonely.

During the intervening weeks, I had also been without my phone. I had dreamt about my phone countless times. In my dreams, it had always looked new and unblemished. Since I still was unsure whether or not I was dealing with reality, I reasoned that if the phone had any wear and tear on it, I would know that I wasn’t dreaming. When my father brought it to me, my phone looked a little battered. So I knew it was the real phone, and that I wasn’t dreaming.
When my father handed me my phone, my vision was so bad that I had to squint in order to see the display properly. Even with that effort, it hurt my eyes to focus. I tried to enter the unlock code. Inevitably, I punched the wrong buttons due to my compromised depth perception. I tried to enter it several times, and I couldn’t get it right. So, I handed the phone to my father, telling him the code. For some reason, he couldn’t figure out how to enter it. After he couldn’t unlock it, I took the phone from him and tried several times until I successfully unlocked it. Once I was able to see the home screen, I pulled up Facebook. Again my eyesight was so poor, that I was only able to read the two most current messages. Dizzy, I handed the phone back to Dad.
It bothered me not being able to use the phone, because I felt truly disconnected from the outside world. If I’d had my eyesight and the simple ability to hold the phone in my left hand, I could have seen what I was doing and manipulated it with my right. This would have allowed me access to all of the friends I missed so dearly. They had to be worried sick, and if I could just use Facebook or text messaging, I could assure them that I was safe. But as it was, I was having the worst double vision of my life. All of the letters I tried to read either bled into the words above or next to them. This made reading messages next to impossible and composing them out of the question. So, I was only able to communicate with the people who came to see me for the time being.
My sight had still been messed up when Candice and Jonathan arrived. So I had Jonathan send messages to a couple of my friends. I had bad reception in the hospital, so he’d to gone outside to text. A few days later, they had to return to Dallas. Before they left, Candice increased the font size to the largest one possible. I would miss them, but at least I could start using the phone to connect with the outside world again.

When I was alone at night, I would return to the practice of speaking to myself. I would recite the Declaration of Independence, “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, or anything that came to mind. I was still lonesome, but merely being able to use my voice was a comfort. Overnight, when they had to clean out the hole in my neck, they were supposed to keep the speaking coil out. I discovered rather quickly that I couldn’t speak without it. The silence traumatized me once more. It paralyzed me with the fear of being isolated all over again. I was afraid to be without it my speaking coil. Somehow, I eventually convinced them to let me keep the speaking coil more nights than not. Now I could practice speech repeatedly, until I was tired enough to fall asleep.

Speech therapy was a welcome yet difficult task. My therapist cautioned against polysyllabic words, because I was still learning to speak again, and the strain of trying to sustain longer streams of air would wear me out. Instead, she would give me short lists of words to recite back to her. The words had no consonant combinations and were easy to pronounce. So rather than having to concentrate on the task, my mind would drift, and I would imagine my words being read back to me in the voice of a computer. This was what I thought my voice sounded like – cold and electronic – since I had not yet developed the ability to hear it inside my own head. It was a constant fight to do what the speech therapist demanded while trying not to get distracted.

Concurrent with learning to speak, I also began physical therapy. This was very difficult. Every part of my my body seemed to have atrophied and was sore. My physical therapist was a young, black guy from Brandon. A few months earlier, we could have been gym partners. Now, it hurt my entire midsection when he told me to sit up. Next he would have me swing my legs over the side of the bed, and place them on the floor. From there, he would have me lean in all different directions in order to strengthen my midsection. We would work for several minutes. Then, mercifully, he would help me to get back into bed. I would collapse, bathed in sweat.
After a few weeks, the sitting up became less painful. We then progressed to rocking forward to lift myself off of the bed. From there, I began standing. The following week, I began transferring to a wheelchair. This hurt my backside tremendously. I would be expected to sit in the chair for a set number of minutes. Always, whether sitting in the wheelchair or standing, I couldn’t wait until I could collapse back in bed and sleep.
In addition to my muscles having atrophied, my left arm was useless. Pain radiated from my shoulder to my fingertips. The arm was so sensitive that letting it hang at my side hurt, yet trying to rest it on a hard surface hurt just as bad. One of the workers advised my dad to tap my closed fist for five minutes at a time, to keep the blood circulating. His fingers tapping lightly felt like ice picks jabbing my hand. Many times, it would hurt so much that I would snatch my hand back after a few minutes. Later on, the occupational therapist began coming by my room to work with my left arm. She would stretch my arm and fingers. This pained me even more than the sitting up and standing. Whether it was my father or the occupational therapist, I dreaded anyone touching my left arm.

Toward the end June, a lot of the constant pain had subsided. They began wheeling me down the hallway, just to get used to being in different environments. I realized that I had not seen the outside of a hospital room in over a month. During the last week I was there, they even took me to the therapy gym once or twice. An intake representative came from Methodist Rehabilitation Center to talk to my father about the next phase of my treatment. Staff members began to periodically enter the room and tell me that I had to go to Methodist, work hard, and make them proud.
On the last day before I left, Dad helped me to get dressed. It was the first time in about six weeks that I’d been in street clothes. I felt so much more normal being in something other than hospital gowns. When he tried to put my shoes on, my left foot was stuck in the pointing position. He had to take several minutes trying to force the shoe on. I was afraid that my foot would always be like this. After he left, the last thing I did was eat lunch with the speech therapist. I could only eat things like gelatin, pudding, and pureed meat. We chatted and laughed about my progress.
Afterward, my dad helped me sit in a wheelchair. He wheeled me out of the front door. I needed help transferring from the chair to the car. As usual, the air outside was balmy. We drove the short distance from Select to Methodist, which would be my fourth hospital.

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I don’t know how much of what I remember actually happened. Some of it was clearly a dream; some of it is verifiable. Most of it is probably out of sequence, but let me briefly describe it to you as best I can.

After I passed out, I was driven to Biloxi Regional Hospital. It felt like around twelve hours later, I was placed in an ambulance again. This time the paramedics were demonic, but with human form. The conveyance slowly revealed itself to be massive. It was more the car of a train than an ambulance, having two floors. Like a train, we stopped every couple of miles to let riders get off — except these passengers were patients. I kept waiting to arrive at the gym, so I could pick up my car and drive home. I was frightened of my captors and anxiously awaited my stop.

Soon I realized that I was not going to my stop. Now the scene shifted to a hospital room, where I was confined to a bed. I began hearing the voices of my sisters, god sister, and parents. They were concerned about me, but I couldn’t open my eyes or speak. It was as though there was a veil between me and the outside world. I liken it to being a ghost – fully aware of what was going on around me, but unable to interact with others. As I lay there motionless, two and a half days seemed to pass. I became anxious about the need to get back to work by Friday. Suddenly coworkers began to file in every few hours. My immediate supervisor, her manager, and a coworker all came in. I wanted to apologize for missing so much work. Next, my roommate came in. He beseeched me to speak. I couldn’t. Finally, my friend Tony came in. He begged me to get out of bed. As he stood over me, I tried several times to sit up. I could feel myself strain, as I attempted to lurch forward time and again. Finally, I collapsed, exhausted from the effort. I saw him walk over to a couch and sit between my parents. He put his head in his hands and dug at his eyes with his knuckles, determined not to cry.

At this point, all the visitors stopped coming. As Wednesday night rolled in, I felt that there was cream colored light coming from behind the bed. We seemed to be behind the face of the clock at the top of the hospital. The next two days passed more quickly, as various specialists came in and out of the room. My family left several times to eat and to go about living their own lives. Eventually Friday came, and I had finally missed enough days to be terminated for attendance. Humiliated, I tried not to worry, and I began focusing on the task of recovering.

The doctors ran a plethora of tests on me all day. Then Saturday, all of the medical intervention activity stopped. My father became impatient with all of the waiting and wondering. So, he asked to have me discharged. Two orderlies came in and wheeled me out of the room. Their next task was to wheel me down an external flight of stairs, so my bed could be placed beside the table of a seafood restaurant, where my family could have shellfish, before they would drive me back home to Jackson. The workers tried maneuvering the bed several times before finally getting me out the door.

Outside, the early afternoon noon was sweltering. It was over ninety degrees and the humid air left moisture on your arm as though it had been dabbed by a sponge. The orderlies could barely hold onto my bed as they alternated between mopping their foreheads with their wrists and using both hands to keep me from rolling down the grated metal stairs. They barked at one another while they pushed and pulled at the bed. They cajoled it to cooperate. It remained stubborn. Ultimately, they felt that trying to get me safely down the stairs just wasn’t going to work. So, they wheeled me back into the safe, air-conditioned hospital and deposited me in my room.

From somewhere in the building, the order now came to move me to Jackson. I didn’t hear it given; I just knew somehow that this was the next place to take me. It is a mystery to me how I entered the next vehicle and how it was constructed, but it had three sections – one was submersible, the middle traveled along the road, and the other soared through the cloud like an airplane. I could move between the vehicle components though each was thousands of feet away from the others. It was here that I began episodes of appearing to wake up periodically. I would open my eyes to a squint, hoping that the sinister medical staff wouldn’t detect me, and I would begin suffocating after a few minutes. To prevent myself dying, I would then purposefully pass out, and fall into a dream sequence. This would be a regular thing. I would regain consciousness, conceal the fact that I was awake, almost choke to death, and faint in order to fall back into a peaceful dreamland.

After what seemed like three days, I was brought to a hospital bed. It was here that I began interacting with medical staff. I became aware of the fact that I couldn’t walk, and that people were periodically coming in to do things that would help me breathe and otherwise stay alive. It seemed as though I had something in my mouth that had a powerful adhesive on it. I’d tried to chew through it, but I only managed to clog up my mouth even more. As a result, I couldn’t speak whatsoever. Somehow, I got it into my head that my parents were secretly trying to convert me back to Christianity by taking advantage of my helpless state, and staging a medical intervention. I convinced myself that the providers entering my room were putting on a night of periodic visitations, like a Charles Dickens novel, that would lead me to accept Jesus by dawn.

To thwart this activity, I started lashing out. Unable to speak or move the left side of my body, I would grunt and swipe at the imagined missionaries. My father reappeared in the room, and angry at him for taking part in this charade, I began giving him the two-finger British symbol for “Up yours”. Night turned into day, and a trio of young women came in. They said that they were physical therapist, and they would help me learn to walk again. They began to twist me and pull on me in ways that were supposed to help. But I only ended up feeling exhausted and sore. I was relieved when they finally left the room and let me lie back down.

Over the next few days, I had many more people come through my room. I continued acting out. I finally flipped off an elderly, silver haired lady who must have been someone important, because I was discharged shortly thereafter and moved by ambulance to the fourth hospital of my odyssey. In the ambulance, I started to feel a stabbing pain in my left shoulder. It increased in severity until it was nearly unbearable. I begged to be removed from the ambulance so I could get relief, but the words could go no further than my brain, and I just had to lie there until I was taken from the position I was in.

I came to fully at Select Specialty Hospital in Jackson, Miss. I remember having horrible double vision and not being able to keep my eyes open while all the activity was swirling around me. I now fully realized that I couldn’t get out of bed or speak to the people coming in and out of the room. I was also completely incontinent, and I was embarrassed by how many times per day that the staff had to wash and change me. My father came in to see me, and he ended up talking to a CNA about them both having grown up in the Mississippi Delta. After he left, the speech therapist came to tell me that, although it was Friday, she would be back to see me on Monday. She asked me what month that would be.

I held up five fingers.

She corrected me, telling me that Monday would be June.

Even had I been able to speak, I would have been silent with disbelief. I had thought that I’d been asleep for a week. In fact, I had lost over ten days of my life.

This is another point where my memory can’t be certain of a clear timeline, because I think that I started seeing the speech therapist the following week when I was still incapable of speech. Over the next few days I became aware that my father was coming to see me every day. Since I couldn’t speak to him, I would try to pantomime what I wanted to say. He would turn his head, looking at me askance, then pat me on the head and shake my hand. Although I realized that he simply was at a loss as to what to do in this situation, I was frustrated, because my mental faculties were returning to me, and I could not express myself to the outside world. I felt so alienated from everyone. Yet it was even more frightening being left alone. I would imagine myself wandering the halls of a nearly abandoned hospital, afraid that I would fall or stop breathing. No one would come to my rescue because I could not cry out.

My father continued to visit me daily. While I had always held him in the highest regard, he will always be the hero of my life for how much he was always there. Toward the end of that first week of June, I was attempting to sign to him. One day a nurse told him that she knew some sign language. I closed my hand and brought it to my throat, then I opened it to mimic speech emitting from someone’s trachea. Next, I pointed to him, and I made the spending gesture again. I WAS ASKING HIM TO SPEAK. Finally I pointed to the clock. Somehow the nurse pieced everything together and slowly said, “Tell … me … what happened.”

Dad told me that I had been lifting weights when I had a stroke almost three weeks ago. He told me all of the details – how he had come down to see me, the hospitals I’d been in, and everything that I’d been through. I was very much in denial. I thought, I shave my head. If I reach back and touch the back of my head, and there’s little or no hair, maybe I can go back to sleep and eventually I’ll wake up from this horrible dream. I slowly reached back and slid my hand up my neck. When I got to my skull, I could feel thick hair. My heart sank. I knew that there hadn’t been that much hair there in a year. I knew it was all true.

Then one afternoon, while trying desperately to communicate with me, Dad declared, “I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before.” He took out a scratch pad and wrote a table of the alphabet. Then he said, “Point what you want to say. I’ll figure out where the words and sentences end.” I don’t know what my first words were, but that was how I was finally able to communicate with another human again. I began to release all the thoughts and emotions that had been pent up inside.

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Monday, May 18th, 2015 was the scariest day of my life. On that day, I walked into my gym in Biloxi, MS to go through an accelerated chest workout and my life changed forever. I passed out on the coast and woke up about ten days later in a hospital bed in Central Mississippi, unable to walk, speak, or move my left arm. After awakening, I drifted in and out of consciousness for several days, and it was not until I arrived at the third hospital of my ordeal that I finally became aware of what had happened to me. Over the next few weeks, my memories came flooding back to me in a way that finally seemed to form a coherent picture. As with anyone who has not suffered a severe brain injury, my memory is not completely reliable. Now ratchet that up several times, because my brain was starved for oxygen during a significant period of time, and I’m amazed that I can recall what I do. One day while I was in a rehabilitation hospital, I was telling my story to a speech therapist. She pointed out that I should record my story because – in her experience – few people can recall their strokes in such detail. I began trying to keep a mental record of everything I had been through in the past few weeks and everything that would happen afterward. Not knowing what form to publish the memoir in, I finally decided to chronicle my journey in blog form.

This is the continuing story of my post stroke life.
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I believe I should first tell you the story of my stroke. I wanted to save it until I had been blogging for a month or so, but I really should begin with explaining how I got to where I am. Let us begin with the hours leading up to the event.

Working out was always a significant part of my life. It was something I saw as a major component of who I was. However, I had to spend less time in the gym in the week leading up to May 18th because I had begun having terrible headaches a week before. At the time, I had been living in Mississippi for almost four years. Although it was my home state, I had spent the previous nine years in Minnesota, and felt more at home in Minneapolis. I had worked solely for two major companies during my time back in Mississippi, and I had hoped to use one to transfer back to the Twin Cities. Since each offered virtually unlimited overtime, I found myself constantly working as much as possible. When I moved home in 2011, it was only supposed to be for a year or two. However, with the increase in income and the low cost of living, I had gradually lost the sense of urgency I felt during my first year back. Still I promised myself that this move to Mississippi was only temporary.

I spent two years in Jackson, then I accepted a job offer on the coast. My life started to feel fairly comfortable. My social life wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but I could work enough hours to pay for things I wanted, and enjoy the time I wasn’t at the office. Nonetheless, I really missed my old life and friends in the Midwest, and I wanted to meet someone with whom I could settle down. In January of 2015, I decided that, despite how rewarding the pay was, it was time to return to Minneapolis to begin the next phase of my life. Thus, I decided to move back in August of the same year. I instantly added the stress of worrying over the logistics of the move to the list of things that fed my insomnia and high blood pressure

Around the beginning of May, I began to have headaches. They were not too painful at first, and I could borrow headache medicine from coworkers to get through the day. However, they gradually became worse over the next few days until I could no longer work through them. I spent most of the weekend prior to the event taking aspirin and trying to rest my head. Though I would have normally spent Saturday on my friend’s cattle ranch, shoveling feed, tackling calves, or climbing ladders to roof the tractor shed, I resigned myself to sitting on the couch and trying to let the splitting headache pass. It rained all weekend, so I spent the hours watching sitcoms and listening to the gentle raindrops patter on the ground outside. Thunder grumbled softly in the distance and gave me some semblance of relaxation, despite the fact that my head felt like it would explode. The subdued light overhead and of the overcast skies outside was a comfort to me as well. There would be nor piercing light and no violent noise to disturb my senses. This was how I wanted to spend the weekend – moving as little as possible, popping pain medication, and trying to rest up enough to be able to get back into the gym before Monday.

Things did not go as planned, and Monday arrived all too quickly. I woke up around 10:00 am, and my headache had only slightly gone down. Knowing I did not have to be at work until 2:30, I rolled over to get a couple more hours of rest. Before long, noon arrived. Realizing I had to leave in the next twenty minutes in order to spend any amount of time in the gym before work, I packed my bag, dressed in my workout clothes, and then slammed a can of Red Bull, hoping to force myself to be more alert. I still felt a bit groggy after finishing it, so I took another Red Bull from the refrigerator, loaded up the car, and placed the can in the cup holder next to the driver’s seat.

My headache was finally quieting as I drove the scenic drive to the gym. The trees seemed especially lush that day and the skies were still overcast from the previous few days of rain. I listened to the Red Bull can vibrating its thin, tinny shell against the plastic of the cup holder, as I slowly tried to prepare my mind for the task ahead. I was still feeling somewhat tired, but determined. It would take every ounce of concentration I could muster to get through an hour lifting weights. I began focusing before I got out of the car.

After fifteen, minutes I arrived at the gym. It was a weird juxtaposition of opposites. Outside, there were palm trees that are so characteristic of the Gulf Coast. The covered walkway to the entrance must have been two stories high, giving one the sensation of entering a grand building as opposed to a warehouse. Inside, the weight room was dimly lit. Much of the paint was flaking off the walls. There seemed to be dust everywhere. It was probably not nearly as dank as I remember, but it was just the type of environment I needed to be in in order to get the best workout I was capable of getting. (My best results seem to come when my workouts feel as blue collar as possible.)

I arrived in the weight room wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants in an attempt to keep my muscles warm and prevent shoulder injury. Because of feeling unhealthy all weekend, I decided to go no higher than 245 pounds during this workout. I stretched out my shoulders and lay down on the bench for my warm-up set of 135 pounds. I easily put it up fifteen times. However, I began feeling weak after the first set, so I got up and had a drink of water. After having some water, I still felt less energetic than I thought I should, so I decided to keep the weight at 135.

I performed one rep and instantly felt my left arm start to give way. Since I knew that I had high blood pressure, and that it could lead to a stroke, I immediately pushed the weight up as high as I could and racked it. I sat up in a panic. I feared the worst.

I generally didn’t take my blood pressure meds until after I finished working out, because I didn’t want them to cause me to feel drowsy while lifting weights. Now I rifled through my bag for some, desperate to stave off the stroke. The first pill bottle I found was either Hydrochlorothiazide or Atenolol. I tried to open it, but instead of the lid coming off when I twisted the cap, the bottle only spun in my left palm. I was losing grip strength in my left hand! There was another club member on the weight bench next to me, so I asked him to open the bottle for me. I thought I was communicating in plain English, but my speech must have already begun slurring, because he verified what I was asking him. I nodded and he opened the bottle for me. I poured out a pill and shoved it into my mouth

As I swallowed the pill desperately, he asked whether I needed him to get the staff doctor. Again I nodded yes. He quickly enlisted two other members to hold me steady on the bench while he ran to get the doctor. One of the men holding me on the bench spoke casually to reassure me, but now I can’t recall a word he was saying. I just kept mentally trying to urge the doctor to come faster. After what seemed like an eternity, the first gentleman appeared in the doorway, followed by the doctor and the club manager.

They asked me a few questions. I couldn’t form words by now. They gave up trying to verify what was wrong and called 911. It seemed as though it took the ambulance thirty minutes to arrive. During this time, I was unable to speak, but I kept worrying that with every second that dragged by I was losing more brain function. I was sure that I’d end up a vegetable. Or worse, since I had never bothered to give my dad’s phone number to my roommate, I might die on the coast without anyone knowing a thing. I was also aware that I was losing control of my other bodily functions. I tried not to urinate on myself, clenching as best I could.

It seemed an eternity before the paramedics arrived. I felt people lift me off the bench and place me on the floor. The floor was made of concrete. It felt cool and soothing compared the stuffy, humid air of the weight room. The overhead door allowed in a gentle breeze. I felt less panicked now, as I knew medical help had finally arrived. A sense of tranquility washed over me. There was really nothing to do but wait and let the medical professionals take it from here. I even stopped trying to trying to hold in the urine, relaxed, and gave in.

Now I was completely unable to move. I lay there listening to the paramedics. The chatter from their radios would have made me smile with peace, had my voluntary muscles still worked. The men lifted me onto a stretcher and loaded me into the ambulance. One of them asked me to breathe. I tried to, but every muscle I could feel had begun seizing. He asked me to breathe a second time, but I couldn’t. Finally, he slammed the oxygen mask on my face. Though I could not comply to the simplest command, I felt so relieved to finally be receiving medical treatment. I relaxed and stared up at the shadowy ceiling. The paramedics were talking, and the voices of the unseen dispatchers mixed with the electronic sounds of static. These were the last things that I can remember before passing out.

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