It is even harder to maintain a long distance relationship after a major stroke.
Especially after the stroke left me with speech and mobility impairments. I collapsed during a football game in March last year (on my girlfriend’s birthday, no less). My heart stopped beating causing blood to pool and formed a clot, resulting in a stroke. It is a Pons (part of the brain stem) stroke.
The brain stem controls all basic but vital functions of our central nervous system such as consciousness, blood pressure, and breathing. All motor control for the body flows through it. A brain stem stroke is devastating because it can impair any or all of these functions. In more severe cases, it can cause locked-in syndrome, a condition in which survivors can move only their eyes and nothing else.
FAST is an acronym used for prompt recognition of stroke symptoms. The acronym stands for Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties and Time. FAST is created to expedite administration of intravenous tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) within 3 hours of onset. tPA dissolves blood clots and can be used to prevent disability after a stroke. I missed the window because I lapsed into a coma and none of FAST could be applied on me.
I woke up after 4 days in coma. Besides speech and mobility impairments, I have vestibular issue and severe ataxia (lack of muscle coordination that affects speech, eye movements, swallowing, walking). The vestibular problem is particularly disturbing; I am perpetually dizzy. It feels like opening your eyes after spinning a few rounds with them closed. My balance is so poor, I cannot even sit upright. I could not see after waking up as the optic nerves were affected. There was a tube hooked to a ventilator, in my mouth as I could not breathe on my own. Initially I was fed through a tube via the nose, rendering everything tasteless. That forced me to quickly learn chewing, swallowing and eat solid food again. I realised that pleasures of life, however simple, can only be enjoyed in good health.
The loss of fine motor skills is painfully incapacitating. Overnight, basic daily tasks like eating and bathing became excruciatingly challenging or even impossible. I had to learn typing and using the mouse all over again. Three months after my stroke, I cried for the first time. Maybe I did not have the strength to control my emotions anymore. Maybe it was the bad hospital coffee.
After 4 months in the hospital where I underwent inpatient therapy and heart surgery to implant a defibrillator, I was discharged in July. My routine now revolves around physiotherapy, occupational, speech, vestibular therapy sessions, cardiac and neurology medical appointments. All goes smoothly except that occasionally, I would be seized by a smothering feeling of desolation, amplified by vacuous silence of the night. There are many things left unfinished: Tokyo Coffee Trail is one of them. I wrote only 8 cafes (out of 18) before my stroke. It chronicles our caffeine debauchery in Tokyo and I am bent on finishing it.
These days I look around my room with a baleful countenance. Seemingly innocuous belongings become stark reminders of what I used to be able to do easily. I get upset over simple things I can no longer do; then again, I tell myself to be happy that I can still do many things after the stroke. (Like designing the poster below)
I believe hitting the bottom does not mean staying there; things will get better. I am immensely grateful that I survived so well. I have a wonderfully supportive family who takes good care of me. I am thankful when friends visit with coffee paraphernalia (they even gave me an iPad so that it is easier to video chat with my girlfriend Sonia). Sonia regularly sends me gifts and specialty coffee beans roasted by Intelligentsia Coffee, Stumptown Coffee Roaster and Handsome Coffee Roaster. I asked Sonia why she is so good to me; I am in such a plaintive shape now. She told me not to worry unduly and that we would face the adversity together. Recovery is a long and arduous journey, but with family and friends around, I do not feel lonely. It may be hard to maintain a long distance relationship after a stroke but despite the vagaries of life, we will persevere.
Because coffee drinkers make better lovers.