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Stroke Health Center

Surviving Stroke: A Personal Story

Brain Scientist Jill Bolte Taylor on Her Stroke, Recovery, and the Warning Signs Everyone Needs to Know
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

It all started with a headache -- pounding pain behind the left eye -- that wouldn't go away.

A healthy 37-year-old at the time, Jill Bolte Taylor tried to shake the pain with a cardio workout. But that didn't work.

Feeling rocky, Taylor headed for her shower. She noticed herself losing coordination and struggling with balance -- she had to lean against her shower wall.

The shower's roar startled her, and her sense of where her body began and ended was fading. "My perception of myself was that I was a fluid," Taylor tells WebMD.

When she got out of the shower, her right arm flopped against her body. "Oh my gosh, I'm having a stroke!" Taylor later wrote in her book, My Stroke of Insight.

As a Harvard-trained brain scientist, Taylor knew far more about the brain, and strokes, than most people.

And although on one level she was fascinated by what she was experiencing, the planning part of her brain, which was sputtering, knew it was do or die. 

Taylor writes that she wanted to lie down and rest. "But resounding like thunder from deep within my being, a commanding voice spoke clearly to me: If you lie down now you will never get up!"

Calling for Help

Taylor was experiencing a rare type of hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke caused by a malformed connection -- called an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) -- between an artery and a vein in her brain.

The bleeding flooded parts of Taylor's brain involved with movement, speech, physical boundaries, and senses. As a result, the concept of calling "911" was lost to her.

Taylor struggled to remember her work phone number, scrawling the numbers on paper. She writes that the numbers looked like "squiggles," which she matched to the squiggles on her phone.

A co-worker answered, recognized Taylor's voice from her groans, rushed over, and got her to a hospital.

After being in the hospital for five days for her stroke, Taylor later had surgery to correct her AVM. The surgery was a success -- but that was just the beginning of a stroke recovery that took eight years.

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