HealthWorks Voices is a space for Malaysians to share their amazing stories, advice, and experiences. Here, stroke survivor Alvin Tay shares an inspiring story on how he battled stroke, and learned to live again.
Work Was My Life
I was a life insurance salesman and my days revolved around work. I always believed that the more time I spent with work, the more I’ll get out of it. My working hours began at 7am and usually lasts till midnight. I had no day off the whole year and for many years I slept for only 3 to 4 hours each night because work was still on my mind.
When I turned 30, I was diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. It could’ve been my wake up call but I did not bother too much with the news until I collapsed due to high blood sugar (my reading was 5 times above the normal reading).
At that point, my doctor told me that if I continued with my current lifestyle, without going on any medication or taking control of my health, I would say goodbye to life within 5 years. The stern warnings fell on deaf ears. I still felt like I could manage my health my own way. I would only take the medication if I felt dizzy, otherwise I’d forget. I missed my doctor appointments deliberately to save some money, and just acquired the medicine from the pharmacy based on my last prescription.
Over the years, I’ve also fell into the habit of buying vitamins from direct-sellers and friends. I bought so much that I had to throw them away when I did my annual spring cleaning.
Food Was Everything
Because work devoured my life, I devoured food as entertainment, and to satisfy my appetite. My favourites included roast pork (siew yok), barbecud pork (char siew), Bak Kut Teh, curry laksa, Nyonya kuih, nasi lemak, nasi bryani and so forth. I would have 4-5 cups of teh tarik and coffee to accompany my breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper appointments with my clients, on top of all the greasy food I’ve already been consuming.
My Weight At The Time
I weighed 91kg and had a 38″ waist line, I exhibited all the signs of a fat person. I was chubby and had a double chin, and my belly protruded so much that I could barely see my own toes.
Despite all that, I was reluctant to sweat or exercise, and I didn’t have the patience to acquire the skills and talents for any kind of sports. The only time I sweat was when I go to the sauna. My annual new year’s resolution to lose weight and live healthier seldom, if ever, even kickstarted.
2 Weeks Before My Stroke
My friend and I decided to drive to Koh Samui in Thailand for the Hari Raya break in 2013. We had over 2,000km to cover but I started feeling sick when we arrived at Penang. Despite my runny nose and lack of health, we were determined to make the trip, and we did. We travelled through the night and stopped in one place after another to explore. We ate all sorts of delicious food, from the spiciest to the sweetest.
When we got back, my cold was so bad I went to a specialist. He did a scan on my nose and told me that I had a severe nose block. I was prescribed with a heavy dose of antibiotics and a nasal spray to clear the blockages. I felt my immune system weaken after taking the antibiotics for 5 days.
The Day of the Stroke
I usually sent my daughter to school at 7am during the weekdays. But on 10th June, 2013, I woke up with a very heavy body and collapsed immediately, unable to balance the right side of my body at all. I felt boneless, and it felt like my flesh and my body was not linked to each other anymore. My wife came to my aid and drove me to the hospital shortly after.
Too Late for Help
I got an MRI and based on the report, I had already had multiple minor strokes on the right side of my brain earlier. This time, it was an acute stroke that struck the left side of my brain. With such an acute case, they were unable to provide any kind of help except to refer me to a government hospital. It took me almost an hour to get there, another 5 hours till I got to see a neurologist.
The neurologist concluded that I cannot be helped any further. He also couldn’t use a clot busting agent to dissolve the blood clot and restore blood flow to the brain due to the fact that it had been more than 6 hours since my stroke. And thus, the entire right side of my body, from head to toe, was paralysed.
Despair and Depression Strikes
My future seemed bleak now. While lying in bed, all these depressing thoughts floated through my mind. I imagined not being able to do anything for myself, always having to rely on a caretaker. I imagined not being able to drive, write, kick, sleep, turn, or move any parts of my body for the rest of my life.
Every move I made involved lots of internal pain and stress. I could not stand or sit properly, I couldn’t put on my pants and clothes, and I couldn’t seem to think or talk normally. I thought of my new status as an OKU (orang kurang upaya), the total permanent disability that would incur lots of expenses in the long term.
These thoughts just swirled around my head, and I felt like I was going crazy, feeling every negative emotion, from anger, anxiety, trauma, to stress.
The Support that Helped me Survive
I’m thankful for God’s mercy for the support groups from the church who prayed, blessed and encouraged me to stand up and walk again. In the beginning, under the recommendation by the doctors, I went for physiotherapy in various hospitals.
My wife then found out about the National Stroke Association of Malaysia (NASAM) which provided rehabilitation activities for stroke patients.
My First Week at NASAM
As I could not lift my face during the assessment by the head of physiotherapists, I was placed together with a group of stroke patients of the same level of ability. They were mostly wheelchair bound (like me) or were aided by walkers with four wheels in the front.
The group I was with consisted of many types of people, from engineers, to businessmen and pianists. They have all been in the same debilitating condition for several years now.
My Healing Journey
Each difficult step I took was a new start, a new learning to redevelop my ability to move. It was a very hard and painful process. We had 2 hours of non-stop physical movements like aerobics, Pilates, yoga, Tai-chi, dance, games, obstacles, balancing, walking, hurdle crossing, picking up and passing balls etc.
To help us bond with our fellow stroke victims, there were gatherings like movies, functions, walkathons, outings with our family members. I made many new friends throughout my three months of rehabilitation.
After three months at NASAM, I was able to move and walk again. But I didn’t revert to my old ways. No, the stroke had finally awoken me.
The First Six Months After NASAM
From then on, my daily timetable included queuing up for acupuncture at 7.30am in the morning for my session at 9am, and then exercising at 11am for 2 hours. I also made it a point to exercise for 2 hours at 4pm daily. I cycled, walked on the treadmill, swam and did stretching to build my core muscles. In the evenings, I’d sit in a massage chair or use vibrators to relax my body muscles.
Going Back to Work
After 6 months of this, I started to get slowly back into work again, but I didn’t neglect taking care of my body. Every morning I’d wake up at 6.30am to walk up the hill near my home. This was about 5-6 km of walking per day. Then at 9am, I would work until 2pm, before continuing with my exercise at 4pm. I would swim, stretch, do Pilates or weight training at the gym on alternate days. Every evening I’d continue with my regime on the massage chair. Through this I built up my core muscles and strengthened what was previously weak and numb.
Life Now After Stroke
Right now, I’ve walked a total of 1,080km. I hope to hit 2,000km by end of the year with slow jogs and walks, and to lose another 3-5kg of my weight.
I also volunteer at the NASAM centre in Petaling Jaya every Wednesday from 10am to noon. Should you have any friends or relatives who would like to know more about how to survive a stroke and work their way towards returning to normal again, I’m all ears. Contact me through my mobile: 013-270 5099, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t wait for a stroke, or any other disease to remind you to live healthy. Start today.
HealthWorks Voices is a space for Malaysians to share their amazing stories, advice, and experiences. If you have a story to share, send it to email@example.com.