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When I Couldn't Scratch an Itch After My Stroke

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

If something itches, we scratch it. It’s an innate animal instinct. Animals find trees to rub against so they can scratch their itches. But what do you do if you can’t reach whatever itches? You might ask someone to scratch the places on your shoulders or back that your arms can’t reach. But what do you do when you can’t reach the itch and you also can’t ask anyone to scratch your itch?

Flashback to June 2012: I was in a subacute rehab hospital to receive therapy for my brain stem stroke. I was “locked in” at this point, meaning I could only move my eyes. It was my first day at this place, and my mom was with me. I was very nervous because I had no way to communicate, and many of my needs couldn’t be met because I had no way to express them. That included everything from restroom needs to bathing. I wasn’t sure how it would all work considering I couldn’t speak.

I was on the fifth floor of this old hospital, and the air conditioning wasn’t the best. I was hot, and I was sweaty, but I couldn’t tell anyone. I was miserable, and I was complaining loudly in my head. Then my nose started to itch. You know, the kind of itch that drives you wild — the kind you have to scratch right away

But I could do nothing about it. 

I couldn’t move my fingers to my nose. I looked at my mom for help. I tried to look at my nose with my eyes — which is very difficult, by the way — to get her to relieve my itching. Nope, she kept talking about something else. She was totally oblivious to my itchy, scratchy situation.

But you know what? Eventually the itching sensation went away. I got distracted by the nurses and therapists coming to talk to me and evaluate me. Over the next few weeks, learning to walk and talk were my focus instead of that time I couldn’t scratch an itch. I was distracted by focusing on the bigger, more important things, like getting home to my family.

This experience taught me the importance of focusing on the big picture instead of the smaller details. Everything changes eventually. And if you run into an itch you can’t scratch, try not to worry. It may not feel this way now, but this too shall pass.

Getty image by Nitat Termmee.

Originally published: March 15, 2022
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