Portrait: Melissa

My name is Mel. I have been a paramedic for over thirteen years in Brisbane, Australia. In 2019, I had just returned home from a sporting event and holiday in France and Italy when I started to feel unwell...

A little bit about Melissa 

It felt like a general unwellness, but as I regain my memory, I actually think it started whilst I was in Italy. In the first week being  back home I started to get a ringing in my ears and profound fatigue. After the holiday, I went straight back to shift work, so it wouldn’t be unusual to be tired as our shifts are 12 hours long. But I knew this was different.  

Beginning to seek medical attention 

I decided to go to the doctor thinking that I may have an infection. I was wondering if my ears were infected because this noise in my ears was getting worse. But after a check, the doctor just said it was probably from the plane trip.  

Another unusual occurrence was that I missed a shift at work because I didn’t wake up to my alarm, which had never happened before. I was training for a triathlon at the time, so when I would comment about how unwell I felt  , people would often attribute it to training and say that I should slow down.  

Progressively, I became nauseated and very thirsty, and craved an incredible amount of salt. I became more disoriented at work, dropping my drinks, driving the ambulance in the wrong direction, and hardly finishing shifts due to such intense exhaustion. I went back to the doctor three weeks later and said that I really thought something was wrong. She did some blood tests and notified me on Friday that I had low sodium.   

Oh now I thought ‘thank goodness it’s not a brain bleed’ and laughed about it.

I continued to work but I knew something was wrong 

When I walked in for my shift on Saturday, 28 September 2019, , I said to my work partner,  “I think I’m having a brain bleed.”   I laughed and he told me how ridiculous I was, and we continued with the shift. However, I felt extremely unwell and tired but just put it down to the low salt. I started a night shift on the 29th of September. Again I walked in and this time I started crying and said ”no I really think I’m having a brain haemorrhage” and I was being very serious this time. My work partner reassured me that I was super fit and that I was just tired and stressed from my trip and training. Needless to say, I could not complete this shift. I basically have a memory of falling asleep at some point and then waking and somehow going home at midnight.  

Things took a turn for the worst 

I woke abruptly on Monday 30th of September and my acute symptoms started. I could not think, I could not find words, I could not name things. However, I did not have a headache. The aphasia would go but then I started seeing flashes in my left periphery. I would later find out this was seizure activity. Progressively I became very agitated and anxious. I intrinsically knew I needed help otherwise I would die, but I was scared that no one would believe me because I appeared anxious to the people who saw me early that morning.  

I ran down to the local GP and stated I was going to die but I was put in the waiting room. By the time I went in to see the GP, I was pretty much fully aphasic. In my head, I knew I was trying to speak, and I knew she had no idea what was going on. I was screaming at her to get the paramedics or get me to the hospital, but of course, nothing was coming out. She did ring the paramedics and I remember one just staring at me like she was stressed. It was very strange because I was in such a state of fear and agitation and then all of a sudden, I felt such calmness. I later would become aware that this was due to the different sides of my brain malfunctioning.  

Eventually, the noise inside my head became overwhelming, and it was only getting louder. I was dreaming for them to stop it but no one could hear. They were just looking at me . I don’t think I could even move and then suddenly as fast as it came it went. 

How my experience has affected me 

When nobody was listening to my health concerns, it did affect me. I thought I was going crazy like I was losing my mind, even though I had always been in tune with my body. I thought people thought I was crazy 

When returning to work isn’t an option  

I wanted to reintegrate back into work especially as I was learning to communicate again. I just needed to be around what I had known and spent so many years doing, but I wasn’t wanted. I guess it was too much of a risk that they couldn’t be liable for anything if it happened. 

I became so angry and depressed, and I believe it’s impacted my social skills. I felt like I lost my world as I had also lost my memories of my kids; I left my home, my animals, everything.  

I now communicate better but have gone through my parents both dying during my recovery, as well as not really having any of my own friends. I have experienced a breakdown in my relationship because of my anger and depression, and my partner not understanding the impact that a stroke can have.  

With so much pain surrounding my health, relationships and loss, I’m now trying to rebuild my life. 

Melissa’s story highlights how brain injury survivors have to fight for their health. At SameYou, we’re dedicated to advocating for people like Melissa by bringing more awareness to brain injuries, ensuring that people aren’t alone in their recoveries.  

This Stroke Awareness Month, understand the impact of stroke.

Learn more about stroke

Before you go, help us spread the word...