The Stroke Blindsided Me. So Did the Aftermath

D. Michael Whelan writes that those who treated him mostly ignored the emotional impact
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 5, 2022 10:00 AM CDT
The Stroke Blindsided Me. So Did the Aftermath
   (Getty Images/Ildar Imashev)

(Newser) – It's totally understandable that D. Michael Whelan didn't realize he was having a stroke. As he writes in a column for NBC News, he was in his 20s, lean, a non-smoker and very light drinker, and free of issues like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. And what he experienced that night wasn't what he associated with a stroke: there was no face droop or limp, no slurred speech, no blurred vision. Here's how it took shape: "I feel strings of rusty nails shoot up and down my right side. I’m on fire, struggling to breathe. My head and ears pound. Suddenly, it stops and I pass out." The next morning—his birthday—his only symptoms were a fever and headache. Then the seizures started. Once at the ER, he learned he had suffered two major strokes the previous night.

Whelan shares his story to generate awareness of the atypical shapes strokes can take, but also to delve into the emotional aftermath. Yes, the physical struggle was an ordeal: He initially couldn't move his left side, had no memory, and struggled to speak. Months of intense and focused work got him back to 60% functionality; today the impact is more minimal: a slightly tweaked gait, the occasional slurred word. But he found that the medical world only focused on the physical and cognitive. "I believe the conversation around the emotional implications are the most important. ... To have a stroke is to grieve the person you were, that you might not be again. ... I never had a medical professional mention this grief to me. It took years to get to the place I am now. If those treating my condition had addressed my emotional state, perhaps I could have gotten there a little faster and a little less painfully." (Read the full piece here.)

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