Monday, May 2, 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. Red, Red Wine

Problem: Recently I was in my apartment trying to open a bottle of wine. I took out a wine opener but realized it doesn't really work when you have only one working hand. As I don't drink wine alone, when I want to open a bottle of wine, there's usually somebody else there to help. Frustrating. It wasn't even for me, this wine. It was for a recipe that I was taking to a party.

Solution: I finally carried the damn bottle and its opener a block and a half away to a café. The cashier, a skinny guy with tattoos and piercings, said he would normally open my bottle, but he was under 21 and he didn't want to get anyone in trouble. I looked at him. I waited. He said he would call his manager. The boss, clearly older than 21, without tattoos and piercings, arrived. She opened my bottle. I thanked them.

As I was leaving, I asked them if this was their weirdest request. "No," said the tattooed guy. "Once, a customer wanted us to stop the sun so it wouldn't get in his eyes."

II. Personality

Do you think personality is permanent?

Have a stroke and you will know that you are wrong.

III. Fake Type

I wrote this post using voice-activated software. If you have only one usable hand, talking to your computer is better than poking at it with a finger. The software takes a while to recognize your voice, but after a while it does the job.

Sometimes, though, it makes silly mistakes. I told my computer “existential crisis” and it heard “Texas dental crisis.”

IV. Strokewatching

Stroke victims tend to have certain patterns of movement. For instance, patients often walk with a raised hip on the bad side, to let a messed-up leg go through. Normals keep their hips even. Once you have noticed the stroke walk, you can spot us easily. Then you will realize that we are everywhere. Six million people in the US are living with a stroke. Stroke is a top cause of long-term disability in the US.

You can strokewatch. If you use binoculars, you are weirder than we are.

PreviouslyOther Mindpop Posts.

Nina Mitchell had a stroke when she was 26. More chronicles are at Mindpop or 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.

15 Comments / Post A Comment


Please keep posting Nina's pieces on The Hairpin. They are insightful and interesting and moving and important.


@littlebopeepshow Strongly seconded.

oh, disaster

@littlebopeepshow I third this.

constant reader

@littlebopeepshow fourthed!

Mary Miller

@littlebopeepshow strongly fifthed!!


More about item number II, please.


Stroke watching is one of my dad's favorite activities, especially on vacation. When he finds one, he likes to go up to them and say "I'm a stroke too!" Mom and I try and make it more diffcult be watching faces.

le mango

I am very curious about this voice recognition software. For instance, to make this list numerical, did you have to say things like "eye-vee period" to make the IV.? Or do you say "Roman numeral four" and it knows to make it into a list? Or did you go back and add the finishing touches by hand after doing the bulk of the text vocally? INQUIRING MINDS MUST KNOW.


Nina (can I call you Nina?)I'm curious. Has your recovery been typical of patients with this type of stroke or has it been different somehow because of your age? Do you want to smack the next person who reads your chart and says "But you're so young!"?
I read this post and the last one this weekend, from the hospital, where I was under observation for a suspected transient ischemic attack. Stroke. I knew it wasn't. I had a really bad pinched nerve in my neck that made it impossible to use my left hand for about an hour. But I couldn't convince anyone else of the fact. Plus I have a clotting disorder, and there was a slight chance I did have a stroke. I didn't. But I'm sure more aware of it.


You can learn to type with one hand!!
I have a disability caused by a possible in-the-womb stroke, I type with my left hand, which would be my non-dominant hand were I completely able, and I type faster than most my two-handed peers. I'm 21, so my peers type fast!
So, what I'm saying here is when you feel ready, practice. You'll learn to jump all over the key-board effectively, to extend your fingers while you hit the shift key with your pinky and the "K" key with your index, and to use one finger on your right hand (probably your thumb as it is easiest to aim accurately when your control and movement is restricted) to hit the odd key you need to hold-down on the right side of the board (this is assuming that your restrictions pertain to your right side, otherwise reverse).
Also, try a notebook computer while you learn, the 80-90% keyboard size makes typing with one hand less demanding.
You can learn to do anything with one hand, including opening wine bottles (hold the against your chest using your weak arm and do the manual work of twisting the cork screw with your strong arm). Its tough, it takes a lot of prethought often, and it means worrying about your ability to take part in an unknown game or task frequently, but it is not such an obstacle that it cannot be overcome. Good luck learning to overcome it.


@kiddabby There are lots of great one handed assistance devices (some of them aren't even really "assistance", yay for lazy, crazy Americans!), but the reason that one might need speech recognition software doesn't have to do with physical ability so much as it does with the brains ability to send the right signals. Neural plasticity decreases with age and makes adaptation for things like one-handed typing more difficult as well. It also sounds to me like Nina had a left brain stroke, which means her right side is affected. If you are right handed this becomes a problem, because your left side isn't strong enough to compensate, at least not right away. But with trial and error and creativeness a lot of problems can be worked around!


How has your personality changed?

dracula's ghost

the ways people can learn to live with or work with all the various things that can go wrong with a body during its lifetime are so inspiring/interesting to me. I am really loving these posts! Please more!

And @kiddabby, that is awesome. There is also a famous one-armed concert pianist named Paul Wittgenstein (brother of the philosopher!) who lost his arm in WWI but was like "screw it" and kept playing and performing, after figuring out how to do it minus one hand. Since he was rich he even got all these famous composers to write whole piano concertos for just the left hand, so he could then perform them, etc. So great!!! Not totally an inspiring character, as he was somewhat of a crazed misanthropic miserable human being (see: WWI; Wittgenstein Family), but this aspect of him I find really moving and lovely and hilarious in an awesome way. Just like, "who says I can't keep playing piano? F YOU"


To those interested in personality changes: I've not had a stroke myself, but my father suffered a hemmoragic stroke in 1996.

Pre-stroke, Dad was kind of a gruff, macho type, who sometimes had a bit of a stick up his butt and could be overly stern. He loved music and reading, and I don't remember him ever watching a tv program other than the news and PBS. He was a Republican but was also the one who taught me that you shouldn't judge others, that people are different, but that everybody deserves to be treated with respect and kindness, and I would say that he was to the left of social issues. He was always well dressed and took pride in his appearance. He was never a friendly or talkative man, although he was well spoken; he was very serious and grave guy for the most part.

Post-stroke: There's almost been a few cycles of personality change, which is somewhat related to the recovery process. He doesn't really remember much of the first 6 months, just pieces here and there, and that reflected in his personality--he was totally "gorked out" as mom says. Then there was a good year or two of anger, and not being able to control it--again, this was in part due to the completely reasonable frustration of being 47 and suddenyl unable to button your own shirt or communicate with people (there were also somem anti-seizure meds that were HELL). The control thing was the big change there. Fast forward 16 years, and the lasting changes are things like how he watches FOX news ALL the time, and won't even listen to other viewpoints. He sometimes completely avoids interaction, even with his family, in favor of watching television. For me, one of the most interesting quirks has ben the passing obsessions. He'll get interested in a hobby, and invest some time and money in it, but a year or so later, doesn't care about it at all. I can't exactly say that he still out right enjoys reading, but he works really hard at it, and is something that he has stuck with. There's things like he'll walk out of house in completely inappropiate schlumpy clothes, and doesn't care--in fact, he gets super annoyed if mom or I mentions it. There's not always a lot of consideration for others if it's contrary to his desires--for example, if it is suggested that we put on a program that the whole family might enjoy instead of "Guns, Hitler, and Apocalypse, tonight on the History Channel", he might very well THROW the remote across the room and storm off.

From the endless stroke/caregiver support groups I've been hauled to over the years, my dad is on the lower end of moderate personality changes.

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