What It’s Like to Have a Craniotomy at 33 Years-Old
Hi there, my name is TJ and I am a young stroke survivor. On October 10, 2018, I suffered a right Hemorrhagic stroke that required an evacuation. Or in simpler terms, I needed to undergo an operation where a disc of bone is removed from the skull to allow access to my underlying brain a.k.a. a craniotomy.
My mind was racing. Why me? Why now, at the age of 33? I was too young. No, this is impossible. This has to be a nightmare. I am literally living my best life and am weeks away from going to Vegas with my friends for a boys trip. The ultimate weekend away was derailed all because of an injury and an operation I am way too young to be having?! I remember that day extremely well, as it marked the death of the old me and the birth of the new me.
At the time, I was an account executive for a tech company on the east end of Toronto. It was, as I mentioned, a period of livin’ my best life and enjoying my youth. Not going to lie, I was the typical party-goer—a regular attendee at downtown Toronto clubs and fancy restaurants. Eating and doing whatever I wanted. Basically, living the life of excess. Some would say I worked hard, but played harder. Some would also say though I was a ticking time bomb. And ultimately they were right, as years of that type of lifestyle caught up to me and resulted in a huge hemorrhage to my brain that fateful day in 2018.
I woke up days later confused and delirious in the hospital. What the hell happened? How did I get here? After weeks of being treated at acute care at Oshawa Hospital, I was transferred to Toronto Rehabilitation Centre downtown to officially start my recovery post-injury. I was eager to start getting better right away. Little did I know, this would be the longest journey in my life.
To paint a picture for you, I was heavily paralyzed on my left side of my body and confined to a wheelchair. The prognosis I received for my situation was very long. I knew deep down I could and will get better, but I just needed to formulate a gameplan to navigate this road to recovery. We hear about and see people recovering from major injuries all the time, right? I can be one of those people you hear about too… right? Sure, this recovery would be longer than what I originally expected, but no one has told me it was impossible. So, changing my perspective on how I viewed my injury was the first step—and was absolutely necessary.
I had to accept this wasn’t going away anytime soon. It wasn’t even going to be a few months. This recovery could genuinely take years, but first thing’s first, I needed to get out of this wheelchair. Luckily for me, while staying at Toronto Rehab I met some brilliant researchers who eventually helped me to achieve my goals. But once I was discharged, I also needed physical therapy to continue the work done at the facility and ensure my long term recovery plan stayed consistent. The people I met and the need for a long-term recovery plan led me to spending 6 months participating in the FLOW study programme at Toronto Rehab—a program that provides exercise and drugs to help with neuroplasticity. I truly believe it gave me the boost I needed to get out of my wheelchair and begin walking again.
After I was finally discharged, I continued to participate in whatever studies I could, such as HIIT (high intensity interval training) study that was aimed at recovery for stroke patients. To this day, I continue to rehab and continue my recovery journey via private, independent studies. Fitness and health has become a top priority for me, so much so my new motto has become “Health is wealth.” Gone are the days of the ticking time-bomb lavish lifestyle that led to this injury—and I’m much better off for it now. Experiencing a life-changing injury at such a young age really puts into perspective what’s important and where your priorities lie. I’m just a humble guy now, livin’ his second life—this time with a different perspective.