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Stroke Affected My Ability to Spell: Moh's Stroke Journey

Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is based solely on the personal experiences and accounts of the interviewed stroke survivors. The symptoms, treatments, and challenges discussed by the interviewees are unique to their individual circumstances and should not be taken as medical advice or generalized medical claims. Readers should consult their healthcare professionals for advice and information specific to their own health conditions. Singapore National Stroke Association (SNSA) does not endorse or validate the medical accuracy of the personal experiences shared in this article.

Meet Moh, a 50-year-old man diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. To better manage his health, he took up cycling, and within three months, his doctor was pleased to reduce his Metformin, a medication that controls high blood sugar. Married for over 30 years, Moh led a busy life until he semi-retired at 55, coinciding with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As pandemic restrictions eased, Moh opted to resign and spent his newfound free time enriching his spiritual knowledge by reading the Bible. His career in manufacturing had kept him occupied for decades, leaving little room for personal pursuits. Now, he cherishes the freedom to engage in activities he enjoys, such as volunteering.

Volunteering became a significant part of Moh's life. He joined NParks' Citizen Science Programmes, contributing to biodiversity statistics by observing and documenting wildlife such as butterflies, herons, and dragonflies. He also participated in coastal conservation efforts, including monitoring turtles. Additionally, Moh volunteered with Food from the Heart, distributing food to those in need, often accompanied by his wife, who was also enjoying retirement.

However, Moh's health journey took a turn when he experienced cardiac concerns. A visit to the doctor revealed high cholesterol levels, compounded by a family history of heart issues—his father had suffered a heart attack. Moh's cardiologist recommended Atorvastatin to manage his cholesterol, a decision Moh initially hesitated over, given the commitment to a lifetime of medication. After some contemplation, he chose to start the treatment.

Three months later, at 5 am, Moh embarked on a cycling journey from his home in Jurong to meet friends at East Coast Park, covering a distance of over 20 kilometers. Along the way, near Marina Barrage, he encountered strange occurrences at two traffic junctions. The traffic lights seemed to malfunction, momentarily blacking out while Moh was crossing. He dismissed it as potential changes in traffic rules.

Arriving at Marina Barrage, Moh felt unusually fatigued but pushed on after a short break. As he reached East Coast Park around 7:30 am, he faced another puzzling situation. Although he was supposed to meet at Carpark D4, the signage appeared incomplete, delaying his reunion with friends. Despite these odd experiences, Moh didn't realize the seriousness of what was happening.

While cycling with his friends, Moh's condition deteriorated. He began feeling drowsy and eventually collapsed briefly, colliding with a jogger. The impact woke him, but he struggled to communicate or understand what was happening. Unaware of the severity of his condition, Moh assured his friends that he would rest and return home later.

As he made his way back, Moh encountered further challenges. Near Kallang Stadium, he became disoriented and couldn't navigate his way home, ending up in Little India instead of Marina Barrage. Exhausted and confused, he walked with his bike, unable to cycle any longer. At Havelock, hunger drove him to order food, but his speech started to show signs of confusion—he mistakenly asked for "char peng" instead of the intended dish, "char kway teow."

These incidents, though seemingly minor, were early warning signs of an impending stroke, unbeknownst to Moh.

Moh continued his journey on foot until he reached Telok Blangah, where his sister lived—a closer refuge than his distant home. Leaving his bike there, he took a taxi, but his ability to communicate verbally was fading. Thankfully, the patient taxi driver understood Moh's gestures and drove him home, guided by Moh's unspoken directions, a skill honed from his experience as a driver.

Upon arriving home, Moh found himself struggling to understand a letter from the traffic police. The sentences appeared fragmented and disjointed, making it difficult for him to grasp the content.

The following day, accompanied by his wife, Moh visited the polyclinic. He narrated his experiences to the doctor, who promptly referred him to the Accident & Emergency (A&E) department. Moh quickly packed and headed to the hospital, where he was attended to by a team of doctors. However, he noticed that his vision was distorted—he could only see three and a half doctors, a surreal and frightening experience.

The doctors delivered the grim news: Moh had suffered a haemorrhagic stroke. Although the bleeding had stopped, he was in critical condition. Facing his mortality, Moh shared heartfelt words with his loved ones, fearing he might not survive the night.

The following morning, Moh underwent cognitive tests. He struggled to verbalize simple objects like a pen or a cup, though he recognized them in his mind. His memory retention was poor, requiring repeated reminders from nurses to recall basic information. Moh's ability to pronounce words correctly was also affected, and he questioned familiar objects, indicating a loss of cognitive function.

Aside from cognitive challenges, Moh's mobility was impacted, making walking unsteady. He began sessions with a physiotherapist to regain stability. However, his most significant struggle was with his vision, which was severely impaired.

The professor overseeing Moh's case revealed the diagnosis of Gerstmann syndrome, an uncommon stroke type with no known cure. This rare neurological disorder brings about specific impairments, including the inability to name one's own fingers, confusion between right and left, difficulty in basic arithmetic, and the inability to write spontaneously. Moh also discovered a lingering deficit in spelling, struggling even with words like "uncommon" during his recovery.

The medical team emphasized to Moh that there was no surgical procedure, treatment, or medication available for his condition. It was a stark reality of having no options but to rely solely on divine intervention and support from loved ones during his journey.

During his seventh day in the hospital, the professor administered tests to determine if Moh could be discharged early or required an extended stay. One crucial test involved identifying his "ring finger." Moh faced a moment of intense pressure, with doctors, nurses, and family members eagerly awaiting his response. A correct answer would mean early discharge, but an incorrect one could extend his hospital stay by months.

In a tense silence, Moh finally answered in Mandarin, pointing to his "无名指" (ring finger) and reminiscing, "with this finger, I married my wife." The room collectively sighed in relief as Moh's witty response showcased his cognitive abilities, earning him the approval for early discharge.

Moh's life changed drastically after the stroke, affecting his physical abilities, cognitive functions, and emotional well-being. Initially, he found himself startled and anxious when people crossed his path, leading him to use a blind man's cane for safety. However, he also felt invisible to others, learning the solitude of silent suffering.

Cognitively, Moh faced challenges with reading and retaining information. The words seemed to blur, making it difficult to follow sentences or solve puzzles like Sudoku. He even experienced visual hallucinations, seeing formations of UFOs during sleep, a puzzling and frightening phenomenon.

Emotionally, Moh underwent a shift. Initially happy that he had survived the stroke, he later struggled to feel hurt or emotional. However, a moment of disheartenment at a park led him to encounter a sign that read, "It Takes Time," bringing a realization about the gradual nature of recovery.

Months later, as he contemplated re-entering education and employment, Moh had to navigate unkind behavior and hurtful remarks from others while still grappling with his cognitive and visual challenges.

Moh's recovery process focused on adopting a healthy lifestyle, following the guidance from Singapore's official health apps like Healthy 365, Health Hub, and HealthXchange. This included maintaining discipline and motivation to adhere to the recommended practices.

Post-stroke, Moh's perspective on life, health, and relationships underwent a profound shift. He reflected on the fragility of life, acknowledging the wisdom in the saying that human life is like "6 scores and 10 years." In Chinese culture, a similar sentiment is expressed in the idiom "人七十古来稀," highlighting the rarity of living beyond 70 without significant health challenges.

This realization led Moh to value each day and prioritize living rightly for the remaining years, mindful of the account to be given to a higher power. He embraced a renewed perspective on life, health, and relationships, cherishing each moment and striving to make meaningful contributions to the community.

Moh's advice to other stroke survivors and individuals at risk of strokes is rooted in his own experience. He emphasizes the importance of not dismissing any form of stroke, including transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), as minor. Each stroke is a significant indicator of underlying health issues that require attention. Moh encourages accepting one's predisposition and making necessary adjustments in lifestyle, including dietary, physical, mental, emotional, and stress management aspects. He advocates for taking proactive steps towards healthy living, starting with small changes and progressing at a suitable pace.

Additionally, Moh highlights the value of understanding family medical history as a potential indicator of one's own health risks. It's never too late to adopt healthy living habits, even if one feels well at present, to mitigate the risks of experiencing a stroke.

Moh discovered the Singapore National Stroke Association (SNSA) while searching online for solutions to overcome his post-stroke challenges, including poor vision, difficulty reading aloud, and spelling issues. The resources and support provided by SNSA became instrumental in his journey of recovery and adaptation to life post-stroke.

Engaging with Singapore National Stroke Association (SNSA) and volunteering as a befriender became integral to Moh's cognitive engagement and social connection. He recognized the potential cognitive challenges that post-stroke survivors face and aimed to support others in similar situations.


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