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kottke.org posts about Christine Hyung-Oak Lee

“I had a stroke at 33”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2014

When she was 33, Christine Hyung-Oak Lee had a stroke. It was not exactly a normal stroke and it ended up saving her life.

Our fridge was empty. I went to Andronico’s grocery store and browsed the aisles, a blur of colors and letters and shapes. What was it we needed? I wondered. I could not figure out how the pieces fit together, that I would need onions because we used onions for everything, that I would need bread for sandwiches, that I would need meat for a possible entree. They were shapes and colors and textures. That fleshy pink package was a fleshy pink rectangle. The countless numbers of canned soup and canned vegetables were mere metal cylinders.

I emerged with one thing: a jar of Muir Glen spaghetti sauce. I grabbed it because I had seen it before, because I could read the label. If it was something I could understand, it must be something I needed. I did not need spaghetti sauce.

I still do not remember how it is I paid, whether by cash or by debit or credit card. I do not remember swiping or handing over bills. I just remember blinking in the cold winter sun at my car in the parking lot. Holding a jar of spaghetti sauce.

And wondering how to get home. I did not know how to get home.

I got in the car and started driving. If I just drove, I thought, I would somehow get home.

Each time I thought about whether I needed to make a left turn or right or stop or go, I felt lost. I had no idea. And so I pressed on without thinking, while relying on intuition. Each time I stopped, I recognized landmarks - a tree or a house or a store. I knew I was getting closer to home, but I did not know how to continue.

Intuition carried me when logic and memory failed.

I made it home.

And then I thought, I need to get to a hospital.

I picked up the phone and then I asked myself, What is the phone number for 911?

I looked at the numeric keypad, and I could not figure out what number each shape represented. And what is the number for 911?

I thought perhaps I should try calling my husband. I could not remember his phone number, either. It did not occur to me to look for it in the contacts list on my BlackBerry, either.

I finally decided I would mash a bunch of numbers on the keypad and talk to whomever it was I dialed on the landline. I did not think about the fact that I did not know where I lived, but I punched in a set of numbers anyway.

“Hello,” a man said.

“Hi!” I said.

“Hi,” he said.

“Who is this?” I asked.

“This is A-,” he replied.

“Oh! I have been trying to reach you! I forgot your phone number and I didn’t know how to get ahold of you! I called this phone number, because it was in my fingers.”

Just go read the whole thing, what a great piece.