Rebekah H.


Having a Stroke in South Korea

Always pay attention to the signs when you're taking an oral contraceptive

I am 25 years old, and my stroke happened while I was at school this past June. My husband and I are both ESL teachers in South Korea. Two weeks before the stroke, I had been having strong headaches and pain in my neck and shoulders. I went to a chiropractor, who started treating me with medication and physical therapy for a cervical problem.

On a Monday, I had finished lunch and was about to start prepping for my afternoon classes. I had been reading a book during lunch, but after the bell I couldn't focus enough to read one more paragraph. I decided to go get a drink of water before starting on my lesson planning. I couldn't understand why my heart was racing, and I went to an empty room to calm down. I thought I was having a panic attack, but I didn't know why. I told myself to pull myself together, though, and I went to the office to get my things. I had a major headache, so I took some of the pain medication from my chiropractor. A co-worker saw that I looked a little strange and asked me if I was okay. I smiled at her and tried to reply, but nothing I said seemed to make sense. In my mind, I knew what to say, but my mouth wasn't forming the words. I could tell that she was worried, but I smiled at her again, took my things, and went back to the empty room to try to work on my lesson planning.

I couldn't do it. I couldn't read the words in front of me, and I couldn't focus enough to figure out what page to go to in the textbook. It was then that I texted my husband, trying to tell him that something was wrong. In my mind, I told him that I couldn't communicate and that something was wrong, when actually my messages were unintelligible. My husband thought someone was playing a prank on my phone. When he walked toward the office, he saw me in my room. I don't know how I looked then, but I felt scared. He asked me what was wrong, and I said, "I can't talk," and I started to cry.

He immediately took me to the management office, where he found our boss. Our boss then drove us to the emergency room. The rest of that day is a blur. My communication ability got worse as the afternoon progressed. The nurses didn't seem to understand what was wrong with me, and it didn't help that they didn't all speak English, and I didn't speak Korean. Near the time before they took me in for tests, I remember people trying to ask me questions, and while I knew they wanted me to answer, I could not speak at all. Soon after that I was in and out of consciousness. I woke up when they undressed me. I woke up during some test and vomited, but they kept working after cleaning me up. I woke up after an angiogram with my hips wrapped up tightly with a sandbag. I remember seeing my husband and my boss periodically in the hallways. Later, I saw them in the ICU, where I saw my husband with my purse and my birth control.

I was in the ICU for two days, and I was in the hospital for about two weeks. Later, when I could understand better, I was told that I had had one blood clot causing two hemorrhages in my brain, one affecting speech, understanding, and memory, and the other affecting my optic nerve. While at the hospital, I underwent physical and speech therapy daily. Those sessions helped me immensely, even though the speech therapist wasn't sure if she could help me at first. At the beginning, I couldn't remember names of people or places. I couldn't say the alphabet, and reading was very difficult. But since then, my memory, writing, speech, and reading have returned almost completely. My eyesight has suffered from the stroke. I have double vision now, but I can tell that my eyes are improving over time, and I hope they will recover in a matter of months.

My mother flew from America to stay with us here in Korea so that she could help take care of me. She ended up staying for a month, and she helped us tremendously by just being here. Also, my co-workers, friends, and family have been extremely supportive. Lastly, my husband has been amazing during this whole ordeal. Even though this was a scary and traumatic experience, he has never been negative or anxious. He has been my strength.

One month after my stroke, I returned to the hospital for another angiogram to check my hemorrhages and blood clot so the neurologist could decide upon a treatment. This time, I was conscious for the angiogram, and let me just say: Koreans don't really give their patients much for pain or sedatives before a procedure like this. However, the news was amazing. After just one month, both hemorrhages are gone, and the blood clot has already absorbed by 50%. My recovery has been remarkable.

The future looks good. I have to visit my neurologist for regular check-ups and scans, and I am taking an anti-coagulant until my clot is gone. My eyes, though still impaired, are recovering slowly. I can no longer take oral contraceptives. I have to be careful about lifting heavy things, especially over my head. I have to "take it easy," as my neurologist says. For the rest of my life, I will be more susceptible to hemorrhaging again. All these things aside, I feel lucky to have my life. And though being a stroke survivor has changed my life, I have been able to keep myself.


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