In a second, I fell, from heaven to hell, from peace to utter chaos, from perfection to obliteration. In a second, I lost it all, my past, my present, and most tragically, my future. In a second, I simply faded away … a part of me died. A huge part of me. I’m not just saying that as a dramatic metaphor; I mean it quite literally. A few years ago, when I was 23, during my 2nd year of medical school, I suffered a massive, spontaneous, bilateral brainstem stroke that left me completely paralyzed from head to toe. Unable to talk, unable to eat, unable to move anything (even my eyes), I just silently and begrudgingly stared up at the ceiling for days, weeks, even months, while the machines keeping me alive buzzed and beeped their way into every cell in my body. I had a condition called “locked-in syndrome” (which is as horrifying and inescapable as the name implies) that left me trapped inside my mind, alone with the things that became my only friends—my nightmares, my tears, and Harry Potter’s scar-shaped crack on the ceiling. My life was locked away, left to be forgotten, while I was silently screaming to get out, to be heard, to be free.
People kept trying to console me by saying, “everything happens for a reason.” To that phrase I say, “bullshit.” I’ve learned (quite slowly and painfully) that unfortunately, in life, things just happen and it can suck. A lot. Unfair, irrational, unpredictable things happen in our lives that make us question fate, karma, destiny, and everything that we once believed to be true in this world. This didn’t happen to me because of any deeper meaning or higher purpose, and I adamantly refuse to accept this sorry excuse for a life as my fate. Before all of this, my life was so completely and utterly full—full of friends and family, full of Bhangra and boyfriends, full of summa cum laudes and summa-time cocktails, full of potential and so full of pure, infectious happiness. So, as you can imagine, life as a cripple in a wheelchair feels uncontrollably and incessantly empty. Reality is supposed to offer a brief reflection of your dreams, and a brief respite from your nightmares.
But my heavenly reality before all this was as magical as even my most perfect of dreams, while my hellish reality now is a million times worse than even my most haunting of nightmares. So, I live for those few stolen moments when this cruel world just lets me dream … I dream about running wild through Duke’s campus, singing Beyonce at the top of my lungs, devouring a slice of good ol’ NY style pizza, or falling madly and shamelessly in love with a boy.
I desperately want my life back; to not only live, but to live well. I want my reality to reflect my dreams again, not my nightmares. I want to fight, to believe, to hope for something better. Now, through my borderline insane fighting every freaking second of every freaking day for the last three years, my dreams are slowly coming true. Well, they’re partially coming true. I’m not yet running but I can take a few steps, not yet singing but I can speak (though not too clearly), not yet devouring but I can eat anything and everything, and I can even type this article myself with my right hand. But things are immensely far from perfect, I have a long way to go—I’m still in a wheelchair and still pretty powerless. And love? Well that’s a dream that will have to wait; I have things to do. But I promise you, I will continue to fight, until I have a life I can be proud of, until I can be free.
Harshada Rajani is a 27-year-old North Carolina native. She graduated from Duke University in 2007 and began medical school at her alma mater immediately thereafter. On November 29, 2008, Harshada suffered a vertebral artery dissection leading to a bilateral brainstem (pontine) stroke.This post was first published on Divanee.