Those were the words I kept repeating to hospital staff
when I arrived at the emergency department the day after
my 40TH birthday in March 2014. They asked me question
after question, and all I could say was “I can’t.”
I wasn’t trying to be difficult; I simply couldn’t
understand what they were saying, and I wasn’t able to
It turned out I had an ischemic stroke caused by
a carotid artery dissection. My speech was impaired
because I had global aphasia immediately after my stroke.
That was why I couldn’t communicate at the hospital.
When I first heard the word “stroke,” I wondered how
I would ever write again. I was struggling to spell the
most basic words. Becoming a travel writer was an idea
I had toyed with a long time, and creative writing had
always been therapeutic for me. When I woke up in the
hospital room, I realized my life had forever changed,
and my dreams were shattered. Just a few months
previous, I had completed my B.S. in social sciences.
After 14 years of being a stay-at-home mom, I had
decided to return to work and start a career. I thought I
was equipped and ready in every way.
My body had played a cruel
joke on me.
Returning home from the
hospital, life was different.
Instead taking care of my family,
I relied on my family to care
for me. For three weeks, I had
headaches that wouldn’t quit and
made it impossible to sit more
than a couple minutes at a time.
I was unable to recall my three children’s names. It was
extremely difficult to verbally express my needs; my
ability to write returned sooner than the rest so I always
had paper and pen nearby. For months, I would write
down what I wanted to order at restaurants, and then
someone else would tell the server for me. It took two
months before I was able to drive, take myself to speech
therapy, and run errands. I was always nervous having
to talk to people at the grocery store because trying to
understand their questions was the most challenging part
of my disability—it still is sometimes.
One of my passions is travel; you could say I’m a
wanderer. Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve been drawn
to adventure. This led me to move out of state at age
20. The poet Robert W. Service described it perfectly:
By Carissa Kauwell, Survivor
Mount Joy, Pennsylvania