How stroke changed me
Chapter 1 What’s happening in my brain?
Three years ago I started noticing my left arm was a little numb. I thought maybe my girlfriend had slept on my arm, or I pinched a nerve. I didn’t really think anything of it.
A couple of weeks went by and I noticed numbness in my face. Then one day I was going to work and I just had this feeling like, OK although I’m not in pain right now, something is wrong. I need to get this checked out. So I called an ambulance.
They got me to a CT scan, then an MRI. They found a problem with blood vessels in my brain; it’s called a cavernous malformation. They told me it could bleed and cause a stroke. I needed surgery to remove it.
This was June. But I was thinking about a wedding in October where I was going to be best man, and I was thinking of all the other things I was planning to do that summer. So I scheduled the surgery for November.
Well, I didn’t make it that far. In August I had a hemorrhagic stroke.
That was the most pain I ever felt. I didn’t know what was happening. I could barely walk and people said I was slurring my words. Someone asked me, “Justin, are you drunk?”
So I had emergency surgery. It was a 13-hour operation. They stopped the bleeding but unfortunately they weren’t able to completely remove the malformation. I woke up with a tube to drain fluid from the back of my skull.
Chapter 2 My first try at recovery
After the operation I went to stroke rehabilitation. I just tried to rush through the program. I had to learn to walk again, but I was determined to feel super-positive about the future. I said, my life is going to be awesome and I’m not going to let this get in my way. I was only in the rehab centre for about a week.
The hardest part was seeing everybody else really scared about what I was going through — like my mom, my relatives, my friends.
After I left rehab, I used a cane for a bit and my coordination was not good. I had some facial paralysis and numbness on my left side. But I didn’t let any of this stop me from jumping back into my old life. I went to orientation week at Concordia, where I was studying English literature. I partied like crazy, although I wasn’t drinking a lot.
I didn’t realize how much I was affected by the stroke. I tried to pretend my life was great, but deep down I was a mess mentally. I had some anxiety issues and eventually I gained about 80 pounds. After my girlfriend and I broke up, I finally asked for help through outpatient rehab. I started seeing a psychiatrist.
That was the beginning of a turnaround. I left the partying behind and started getting into shape. I started learning about nutrition.
Soon I was looking better and feeling better. Then, less than a year after the surgery, I noticed at the gym that my left hand was shaking. It turned out the malformation had partly grown back.
Chapter 3 More surgery and a new start
The doctors told me they could operate again and probably get rid of it for good. “But it’s up to you.”
Brain surgery sucks. I was thinking, I got through it once, but will I be lucky enough to survive it a second time? After talking to my parents and my sister, I decided to do it, even though I was scared. My biggest fear was that there would be more damage to my brain — say I wouldn’t be able to walk at all.
The operation was successful. They got everything out — it was my mom who told me that as I was waking up from the anesthetic.
At rehab this time, I took it really seriously. After a week and a half they told me I could go home, but I said no. I ended up staying three weeks. Unlike the first time, I realized this was actually pretty cool. I got to work out every day and I got to realize how valuable it is being by yourself sometimes.
I was the youngest person there by a lot, but I enjoyed it. I’m a very extroverted person and I made a couple of old lady friends. We watched television together.
I went back to university and I was doing really well. But started to realize that I hated it; I knew I was more of an entrepreneur. Having gone through this experience with my two brain surgeries, I felt almost invincible. I could do anything!
So now at age 29, I am running my own business, creating content and podcasting on health and wellness topics. I try to be open to different ideas, maybe be a little controversial. I’m very passionate about what I do.
Some effects of the stroke are still with me. I walk like a drunk. I have a crooked smile. It takes me maybe 2 ½ minutes to tie my shoes. My left hand doesn’t have much of a grip. I’m OK with it not improving significantly.
To be honest, I would rather have come to this place without having a stroke. But looking back at how I was, I am so much better off right now.