Surviving a Stroke: How Almost Dying Taught Me How to Really Live
It was the week of my final exams. I was a 27-year-old mother of two trying my best to balance college, work and everyday life. Being young, I thought I was invincible. I worked almost-80-hour weeks as a mental health worker with little to no sleep. There was just too much to get done in a day, and I was too stubborn to ask for help.
Around that same time, I had purchased an older farmhouse and was remodeling it as well. My body had reached its limit and started to wear down. I knew something wasn’t right with me, but I didn’t want to take the extra time during the day to think about it.
After work one day, I went home and crammed for a final exam. I was feeling extremely nauseated, and by the time I went to bed that night, I felt so unwell that I thought I was coming down with the flu or something. The next morning I awoke to a thunderclap headache that seemed to go from bad to worse within minutes. Never in my life had I endured such pain during a headache. I went on to college as normal that day, gritting my teeth through the pain and taking Tylenol, but the pain never eased up.
After almost a week of it, I caved and let someone drive me to the emergency room. I wasn’t sleeping, eating or drinking and was extremely weak. I could barely stand without getting so dizzy that I would immediately fall down. It was a Sunday evening, and the emergency room was packed. I waited for hours for my name to be called and then gave them my list of symptoms. The hospital personnel then placed me in an empty room where I waited another two hours before the doctor saw me.
Once the doctor arrived, she checked my vitals and said I was dehydrated and needed to be put on an IV drip. She concluded I was just having bad migraines and sent me home. The hospital had placed some kind of painkiller in my IV that actually decreased the symptoms that evening, and I was able to actually drift off to sleep. By 2 a.m., though, I woke to ferocious jolt of pain, like my brain was literally on fire. The headache returned and was worse than before. I endured another week of horrible agony before returning to the emergency room again. They did a CT scan and told me there was nothing abnormal, and put me in a room with barely any light and a Coca-Cola (since caffeine is supposed to help with tension headaches), telling me once again it was just migraines.
This process went on and on for over a month and half. Things got so bad I actually wished for death. Never in my life had I imagined such pain.
One evening as I lay in bed, where I had been for over a month, I had a weird numbness. It started in my arm and slowly overcame my entire body. I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed and afraid. A loved one came in to check on me, and I tried to talk, but nothing would come out. Tears rolled down my face as I struggled to communicate and thought, This is it, I’m about to die.
I later found out what I had experienced was a stroke—something most people would never associate with a girl in her 20s.
I finally got in to see a neurologist, and by this time my eyes had crossed, and I was literally blind. Right off the bat the doctor thought I had some kind of condition that caused fluid to build up on my brain and did a spinal tap to drain some of it. He suggested I have surgery to place a device in my brain to help keep this fluid drained off.
The doctor ordered more brain scans and asked the hospital to send over the original CT scans from my ER visit over a month before. One morning at around 4 a.m., I was jerked out of bed by family members telling me to get up and get dressed. Apparently my doctor had tried to call me during the night. and when he didn’t get an answer, he called some family members to come over to my house. He said I needed to get to the hospital ASAP. I wasn’t even able to change out of my pajamas before being rushed to the hospital, where I was immediately checked in and placed on blood thinners.
He showed the scans to my family and pointed out the three clots on my brain—not one, but three! These clots had formed in the areas where blood drains off the brain in a condition called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. I’d not only had a stroke, but a rare form of stroke that only impacts five people per million each year.
After about a week and a half in the hospital on an IV heparin drip, I was able to go home. I was told I had a rare genetic mutation that caused my blood to become hypercoagulant and would have to take blood thinners for the rest of my life. My doctor told me what I’d survived was miraculous and that I’d have had more of a chance of winning the lottery than experiencing and surviving what I had.
This terrifying endeavor caused me to come to terms with my own mortality. Both my parents died before age 50, my mother from a heart attack and my father from liver cancer. Here I was at 27, facing the prospect of death and coming out alive.
They never did find out what brought on the condition—perhaps it had always been there, dormant, waiting for something to coax it to the surface. Regardless of the cause, the horrible incident had at least one good result: I was determined to live the rest of my life to the fullest.
Stop Putting It Off
It was difficult to come to terms with what had happened to me. It’s still difficult looking back. I started to develop severe anxiety, because all I could think about was what if it happened again and how afraid I was of dying. I started to have incredibly vivid nightmares of lying in a casket with my children distraught in the background. I blamed myself for being so reckless with my health. Things had to change, and that had to be sooner than later.
I quit my stressful job a few months after coming out of the hospital. It was time for me to pursue my dreams and stop putting it all off until tomorrow. I had an ample amount of savings and decided I would do what made me happy from then on out.
I wanted to be a writer, a dream I’d had since childhood, and decided to start my own publication, BioGamer Girl. I had five degrees before I was 30, but not one of them was in writing. I had always let everyone else tell me what I should do, and this was the first time I was taking the reins in my own life.
I didn’t have a lot of support when I started. I freelanced for any publication that would have me and started to slowly build my writing experience. I’d decided to write about video games and movies, since those had always been a big part of my and my children’s lives. I wanted to do something we could enjoy as a family.
Today it has been over six years since I started my journey to a happier and more fulfilling life. My publication took off, and I’ve traveled the world to places like Germany, Spain and Poland to write about video games. I even had the opportunity to write for top industry publications like Fangoria, The Escapist, Geek and Sundry and Blumhouse.
My children and I even got to be in some blockbuster movies and television shows while making creations for our very own production company. We have attended red carpet events and been invited to parties with celebrities I never thought I would meet. When I was 32, I marked the last item off my bucket list, then had to make an entirely new one! I never thought I would live to complete my first list, much less make a new one.
Today Is All We Have
The last two years I have pursued a career in marketing and PR, with my first job in the field being for Curse, Inc., a multimedia and technology company for gamers based in Huntsville, AL. Last November I decided to venture out of video games a bit and make more of a difference in the lives of people who had endured what I had.
I’d seen an opening for a position at Excellance, Inc., a well-known maker of ambulances and emergency vehicles. The company was paving the way for a new kind of ambulance that could actually treat patients suspected of having a stroke while on scene. I was impressed by the technological advances in the mobile stroke industry and thought it was a company I could make a real difference at. I knew if we could get the word out about these lifesaving units, there would be fewer people who’d endure the pain and suffering I did.
I am now 34, and it has been over seven years since I had a stroke. I often tell people my story, and many can’t believe that happened to me. If you look at me today, there are no exterior signs of what I endured, but the memories and internal scars are still present.
Having a stroke ended up being the best thing to ever happen to me, because it showed me how fragile life really is and all I was taking for granted. That experience woke me up and put me on the road to a more fulfilling life—one I never dreamed I could have. I hope my story can help others realize their true potential and make them stop procrastinating in their own lives. Don’t put off your happiness for another day, because sometimes today is all we have.
Amanda Dyar is public relations manager for Excellance, an Alabama-based manufacturer of ambulances and emergency vehicles. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.