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.
Before I had a stroke, I took health very lightly. I was your typical Malaysian who would travel extreme distances just to get a good bowl of kari laksa or bak kut teh. I would drop everything I was doing to join my makan and drinking kakis when they called. Sports and exercising never really made it onto my list of things to do as I was not a big fan of sweat.
I worked long hours as a regional director of a multinational corporation, and never knew what enough sleep and rest felt like. My life was filled with stress but I always went about thinking that age was just a number, and I could start relaxing when I retired.
The Wake Up Call
On 10th June, 2013, I got a wake up call. Sudden numbness struck my face, arms and leg. It was a terrifying feeling, like I didn’t have bones and simply couldn’t control my body motions. I felt dizzy and had trouble walking. The right side of my body had lost its balance and I was panicking. I could not understand what was going on and why this was happening to me.
After checking the symptoms on Google, I realised that I could be having a stroke. My wife rushed me to a hospital, but the world was not on my side that day, and the traffic was not kind to me. The first facility I went to was not equipped to deal with stroke and could not handle my condition. By the time I got to the second hospital and waited for the neurologist, he told me there was nothing he could do to reverse the effects of the stroke as it had been more than three hours since I had my stroke attack.
He then admitted me into the hospital and other specialists tried to bring down my glucose level through different prescription drugs and insulin, but none of them worked. I was observed in the hospital at my own cost, but treatment after treatment failed to lower my blood sugar level. A nutritionist came by to teach me how to eat right, but that did not reverse my stroke.
Depression Sets In
The following three months were the darkest days of my life. I couldn’t move some parts of my body. I felt like I was in two different bodies, one physical, one floating the the air. Every move was extremely difficult, like trying to lift an elephant, and I didn’t have the mental capacity for that. I felt hopeless, and at just 52, it was like life had ended for me. Work was obviously not an option, and I lost my job as a result to that.
With my life in shambles, I just retreated deep into myself, wallowing in my pain. I did not want to see anyone or do anything. I felt like life had dealt me a really bad card, and there was no way I could turn the game around.
Friends in Need
Fortunately for me, I had a few true friends who stuck around. I need to say a very special thank you to Datuk Wong. He tried his best to pull me from the pits of my depression. He was the one who visited me, encouraged me, and tried to make me see that life was not over. It took me three months but I started trying again.
Soon enough, with enough physiotherapy, I was able to walk again. My progress was steady and I was determined to get back on my feet.
Little Steps Back to Health
I went to the National Stroke Association Malaysia (NASAM) for group physiotherapy exercises like aerobics, singing, qigong, yoga, pilates, balancing, games, and walking. They were truly heaven sent. Through many counselling sessions, and activities specifically designed for stroke survivors, NASAM encouraged us to stay strong and get active again.
Every morning at 7.30am, I was at the doors of the Malaysian Buddhist Association at Old Klang Road awaiting my acupuncture treatment. It was heavily subsidised and cost only RM10 per treatment, but the queue was very long and I usually managed to get my treatment around 11am to 12pm. However, it really helped with getting my nerves back up and running, so I didn’t mind the long wait. I took it as a good training for patience.
I also benefited greatly from the free one-to-one physiotherapy provided by the Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (HUKM), a programme specially created for stroke survivors. HUKM also had a good stroke facility capable of quickly handling stroke attacks.
The doctors recommended that I got plenty of exercise, so I also signed up for a gym membership at Celebrity Fitness. It costs about RM170 per month but there were lots of equipment for me to strengthen my muscles, and swimming pools for water-based exercises. There was also a warm spa pool to help improve my blood circulation.
Some days I spend at the public hot springs in Selayang. Entry is free and parking costs only RM2. I feel like it really helps activate blood circulation in the body.
You Hold the Key to a Healthier Lifestyle
I still worry about a recurrence of stroke, but I’m doing my best to keep it at bay by being good to my body. I eat healthy and stay away from artery-clogging food. It’s been 135 days since I started my morning walks, and I’ve done more than 800km in total. Every morning, I will walk about five to six kilometres. I’ve signed up for runs and walks to keep me active.
As you can see, my life has gone through a 180-degree transformation post-stroke. God had given me a second shot at life, and now that I finally see how fleeting being healthy can be, I am determined not to take it for granted. I’ve started doing some work during my spare time, selling life insurance so I can keep my finances afloat again, but that takes only second place to my priority – living healthy.
Don’t wait for a stroke, or any other disease to remind you to live healthy. Start today.
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