Monday, April 25, 2011


I Had a Stroke When I Was 26

I am a quirky young woman whose Mind went Pop. Mindpop. My stroke took away my limbs and speech for a while. Here are some chronicles…

I. Speaking Around

I couldn't speak much for a while after my stroke. It was hard to think of words. Some words were sort far away, and I had to think hard to reach them. Others were just … gone.

When you have trouble thinking of a word, speech therapists teach you to talk around the word to make yourself understood. At the rehab hospital, they showed me a picture of a volcano. I couldn’t remember its name. I identified it as “that place where they sacrifice virgins.”

They showed me a picture of a shawl. I couldn’t remember “shawl.” I identified it as “pashmina.” Stroke Fashionista.

II. Hallucinations

Right after brain surgery, I saw acrobats in my right-hand vision. The acrobats were small, about six inches tall, and wearing shiny white leotards and teal blue tights, climbing on ropes. They showed up several times a minute, blocking whatever I wanted to see. I couldn’t see their faces, but they were all men, and they only climbed down, never up.

The acrobats faded after awhile, and then came scribbles. Whenever I looked at a large white space, like a blank wall, for a moment it would be covered with scrawls, as if a giant child had been turned loose on it with a fat black marker. The scribbles have gone away, too.

I knew these were hallucinations when I saw them. My neurologist said they were probably because surgery or blood irritated my optic system.

My brain surgeon said it was probably because I was a nut.

III. Addled Brain

Depending on where your brain injury hits, your language can be affected. The scientific name for communication loss is “aphasia,” from the Greek for “without” and “utterance.” For patients, it means “frustration.”

Right after the stroke was when the really bizarre words came out of my mouth. Like:

I was trying to say: outpatient
I said: amphibian

I was trying to say: Helen
I said: Halibut

I was trying to say: surgery
I said: veterans

I was trying to say: Dilantin (my seizure medication)
I said: golub jamun (Indian donut)

If the words coming out of your mouth are not what you intend, who’s talking?

IV. Dlrow

In the hospital a shrink was trying to figure out how addled I was.

He asked me to spell “world” backward.

He gave me a blank piece of paper and told me to draw a clock.

He asked me to count backwards by 7s, starting at 100.

I was awful at these tasks. My clock had wrong numbers, and they were not evenly spaced around the dial.

I am better now. Dlrow.

V. Ankle

I have a limp now, although it has gotten better over time. Stroke victims often do. Then we wear an ankle brace on our bad leg to keep us from tripping all over the place because our ankle doesn’t work properly. The brace is huge, plastic up to our calf, and bulky. It often requiring a shoe several sizes bigger than our feet.

Women stroke victims particularly hate their ankle brace. You can’t wear a skirt without drawing attention to it. There goes femininity.

I made a recording early on. Here is one part:

“And I may never wear nice shoes again, which makes me sad. I want to wear nice shoes. I want to wear nice shoes. And I want to not wear these giant clunky shoes that I have to wear.”

At my rehab hospital, an employee who wears click-click sexy shoes has said that when my foot gets all better she will give me lessons on how to walk in super high heels.

Previously: Other Mindpop Posts.

Nina Mitchell had a stroke when she was 26. Her chronicles are at Mindpop and Facebook.

© 2011 by Nina Mitchell, The material in this article is protected by copyright and may not be copied or published or otherwise distributed without the Author’s permission. All Rights Reserved.

Photo via Flickr

22 Comments / Post A Comment


Thank you so much for writing this. You have an amazing voice. I'm a speech therapist and it is so valuable to hear first-person accounts. Keep up the great work!


You have the best username/profession match ever. Ever.


@spiralbetty DOESN'T SHE?!


@spiralbetty @clare
Ha ha, thanks!


Love love love this. Dlrow.


I just sat and read all of the Mindpop posts to date. Pithy, humorous, touching, thought-provoking, cool.


@applestoapples I'm on the 6th page. She's really created something wonderful.


@applestoapples Yes, it's really good. My grandmother had a stroke a few months ago--she's recovering quite well, considering--and I want to share this with my family.


Dlorw will be my new personal shorthand for the feeling of being totally addled.

viola bruise

This is a great piece. "Joe Versus That Place Where they Sacrifice Virgins" needs to get made (remade?)


You, Miss, are a delight. Google Reader'd.


I read this while I was taking a break from studying from my aphasia final (speech therapy grad school), how relevant! I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this article!


I like this.


I'm in grad school for speech therapy too, and I'm going to show this to my 26 yr old client who had a stroke at 20 and now has aphasia...solidarity among survivors!


Wooow! This is awesome! Yet another voice we never hear from: those who have experienced strokes and other communication issues. We hear *about* them on the news sometimes, but never directly *from* them. Until now! I'm starting to notice a trend here, and I wonder, who is doing all the talking in our society? Who is speaking for everyone else? What other unique voices are we missing out on? This is fascinating.


Another SLP here (who knew there were so many of us lurking on the Hairpin?) Thank you for your insights. I'm headed over to Mindpop to read the rest directly...

Lera Atwater

Nina: I would/will absolutely by the book if you make it.

Brobdingnagian Brainboners

This piece was very powerful, and I thank you for writing it.

My father also had a stroke when he was 26, after he and my mom were married but two years before I was born. I've grown up seeing how it's affected him, but never hearing him talk about it. His most significant lingering symptom is aphasia--words and phrases get mixed up; pronouns are almost meaningless. My younger brother and I joke that we're "fluent in Dad" because we've been interpreting him since birth.

My dad and I used to go on long walks through town when I was young, and when he wanted to cross the street he'd say things like "let's turn the page" or "let's change the channel." I thought it was a funny joke, not a sign that something had changed in his brain and he couldn't get the words he intended to come out of his mouth. Even now, 31 years after his stroke and despite being a functional, employed member of society and an awesome loving father, he has difficulty finding words sometimes.

It's funny writing about this, because this isn't how I think of my dad. If you asked me to write down his traits, I'd probably write down ten other words before I got to "talks funny." It sounds terribly trite, but he's not "a stroke victim." He's my dad, and he had a stroke.


@DevilDucky extremely touching....


@DevilDucky My dad had a stroke when he was 46, and I was 11, so I also know what it's like to be "fluent in dad". Aphasia is a totally underrecognized disorder by society at large, and the number of people that think that he's mentally handicapped is astounding. The worst example I can think of about lack of awareness was that when he started driving again, he had a card to carry in case he was pulled over that explained that he was not in fact drunk, but suffering from a speech disorder.

My dad is still one of the smartest people I know, and he's inspired me for years with his dedication to improving his speech. The doctors told us at the time that improvement would taper off at 6 months post stroke, and that was the what we should expect to live iwth the rest of our lives. At that point, he was still calling me by either David (his dead brother) or Bitsy (the dog). And everything was "standard".

16 years later, he still gets frustrated a lot, and his speech is far from perfect, but he has nouns and verbs, and even some adjectives and adverbs. If you have patience, you can have a pretty good conversation with him. And the part that makes me the proudest is that he still works his communication--he only dropped weekly therapy 2 years ago, and now has monthly group at the local support group my mom started!


This is so good.


Wow I feel so much better after reading is article my father just had a stroke and from ur article it sounds like he has aphasial. I felt terrible when I heard my dad talk that way. But with ur speech I now know he will be better its like a wake up call for my dad and my fam. To be healthy. Thank you so much u just don't know how my attitude changed after I read ur article god bless u. I'm going to let u go now cause my wife is jeleous.

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