What It Was Like Having a Stroke at 20 Years Old

I had a stroke this past June. I’m also only 20 years old. I know it’s not often that a young person has a stroke, but I did. I had an arterial venus malformation (AVM), which is basically just a stroke time bomb. It went like this:

I ate breakfast, and started feeling a little weird. Instead of lying down, I decided to work out. By the time I was done, I started to get a headache in the right side of my head. I get headaches a lot, so I didn’t think much of it. That is, until the pain was so bad I threw up.

So there I was in the bathroom, throwing up with a headache. I texted my mom (who I work for) and said, “I don’t know if I’ll be at work on time or at all today. I’ve never had a headache like this.” She told me to take ibuprofen, but I couldn’t get up to go take something. I decided I would take a shower and hopefully that would make me feel better.

I turned on the shower and sat on the floor outside the tub. I was sweating, even though the bathroom was cool. I took off my clothes and put my head down. “When do I decide to just lie here and let someone find me?” I thought to myself. My ears started to ring.


I tried to pick up my phone and text my mom, but I couldn’t read anything on the screen. I tried swiping to the emergency call on the lock screen, but my fine motor skills weren’t working. I ended up throwing my phone across the room. I just wanted to call an ambulance.

So I stayed there, on the bathroom floor, for two and a half hours. I heard the side door open, and I knew one of my parents had come home. My dad came into the bathroom and asked what was wrong. I responded with what was probably gibberish. I tried to tell him to call an ambulance, but it didn’t come out clearly. He tried to find a phone, but could only find mine.

He asked for my passcode, and I tried to give it to him, but I just couldn’t speak clear enough. Finally, he was able to call 911. I’m not sure how much time passed between his call and the ambulance getting there. The EMTs asked me if I could stand, and I told them no. They somehow got me on the stretcher and covered me up, then loaded me into the ambulance.

One EMT asked if I was afraid of needles. I responded with, “Yeah, I usually pass out when I get blood drawn.” She acknowledged my answer and then immediately started an IV. At that point, I closed my eyes. I don’t think I opened them for another two weeks.

I remember that they took me into the hospital. I remember hearing a lot of doctors around me. I remember the doctors saying, “We can’t handle this here. We need to fly her somewhere that a neuro team can look at her.” My parents asked me if I wanted them to stay with me or drive to the other hospital. They left, and the doctors loaded me into the helicopter. It only took about 40 minutes to get to the University of Maryland.

I remember them getting me out of the helicopter, but that’s the last thing I remember until about two weeks later. While I wasn’t in a coma, I don’t remember anything. Apparently I interacted with nurses, doctors, family, and visitors. Finally, I woke up when they decided that I needed an NG tube. I hadn’t eaten anything substantial since I was admitted. Since waking up, my recovery has been exponential. That doesn’t make the stroke any less scary.

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Thinkstock photo by llhedgehogll

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