‘She’s just a stressed millennial and needs to take Valium.’: Woman survives brain hemorrhage, becomes stand-up comedian

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“I was 22 when my head exploded. That sounds dramatic, but that’s more or less what happened. I was on a Tinder date when I got a migraine. I didn’t think it was anything more than the effects of this boring accountant in front of me ordering us appetizers and warm beer. I was in the first week of my new job as a high school teacher. And no, he did not get a second date.

What followed was a few weeks of blurriness. I was developing weird symptoms. Double vision, clumsiness, nausea. Everything came to a head (ha) when I got so sick I couldn’t leave my bed. My sister took me to the ER, but the diagnosis was inconclusive. Ear infection, vertigo, stress, my ‘ears were plugged up.’ A bag of IV fluid dumped in my lap and the nurse accused me of pissing myself. They sent me home in paper pants.

I kept getting sicker, and my Mom was getting very worried. My primary doctor ensured us over the phone, ‘She is just a stressed millennial and needs to rest and take some Valium.’ Mom flew off the handle and took me to another ER. They did the moving finger test again. My eyes were twisting like a pinball machine. Finally, they let us get an MRI. I’d had a brain hemorrhage.

Courtesy of Mimi Hayes

I was fully convinced I was going to die right then and there, but they said I was ‘stable.’ I found that a weird word to describe someone with a leaky brain, but OK. After meeting with a neurosurgeon, I was advised to go home on bed rest for 4-6 weeks to see if the hemorrhage would heal itself.

During those weeks my friends came to visit to walk me like I was a dog. I had to walk 3 times a day so that I could ‘keep up the blood flow’ so I was basically convinced I could power walk the bleed right out of my head.

But I was quickly losing motor function, mostly on the left side of my body. I developed a limp and my left arm forgot how to be an arm. I was seeing double full time and I lost 20 pounds almost overnight. I couldn’t taste. We called up my neurosurgeon again and he told us to come back for another MRI. It turns out I hadn’t power walked the bleed out of my head, it had gotten bigger.

An emergency brain surgery was scheduled and I immediately went and told my students that I’d only taught for 5 days. The school I was supposed to be teaching at was across the street from the hospital. I came bursting in the door with my cane.

‘Miss, are you gonna die?’ One of the kids asked. I didn’t know how to answer so I just laughed really loudly.

I had brain surgery on October 3, 2014 to remove the now quarter-size hemorrhage in my Cerebellum (that’s the back squishy part). When I woke up from the surgery a nurse pulled a large yellow tube out of my throat and I asked her if I was dead. She said no. So then I asked her if she was dead. Also no.

Courtesy of Mimi Hayes

I spent a few days in the ICU where a lot of crazy things happened, including me yelling at a potentially not-real person named Helen who I believed was crawling up the walls of the anesthesia room causing a ruckus. My vision was sideways and double then so I guess we’ll never know if she was real.

After that came rehab, also something we had to fight for because they wanted to send me home yet again. They really don’t like you using up those hospital beds now do they? A nice guy strapped me and my wheelchair into an ambulance and off we went to a new hospital. My mom still makes fun of me for this but I thought rehab was going to be kind of like a day spa. Nope. It’s a hospital!

I was at Spalding Rehab Center in Aurora, Colorado for about 2 weeks, where I learned how to walk, see, and do 3rd-grade math problems all over again. I was a bit of a rebel, using my walker before I’d been cleared to stop using my wheelchair. I had lots of friends come to visit, bringing me cheeseburgers and milkshakes. I raced an old man named Robin down the hall in our wheelchairs and called it a ‘tie’ even though he smoked me big time.

The physical, speech, and occupational therapy completely changed the game for my recovery. I came in there unable to lift my head in a wheelchair and left by moonwalking out of the place. I credit these people with saving my life.

Courtesy of Mimi Hayes

I got home (finally) and did some more outpatient in the fall. Slowly but surely my double vision went away and I was cleared to drive again. I dipped my toe back into dating, now with an epic story to tell. By January of 2015 (just months after brain surgery) I returned to finish my student teaching semester at the high school. There were those same kids I scared the living hell out of just months before. I was happy to show that one kid who asked if I was going to die that I’d made it back to the land of the living.

I taught for two more years at a different school in Aurora. I told my students my story too. Some of them thought I was a bad*ss but a lot more of them pushed my buttons and tested my patience. I’d cried a lot. I went to bed at 5 p.m. Some days I even took naps on the dirty couch in the teacher’s lounge between classes. And I thought teaching was hard! Try teaching with a brain injury!

Courtesy of Mimi Hayes

I part of this story I skipped earlier is that soon after being diagnosed with a bleeding brain I started writing my first book. It was a way to catalog my strange feelings. It also took me a long time because at that point in time I couldn’t use my left hand. My first words of the book were literally, ‘This is going to take me a long time.’

When I started teaching again I also added a new hobby to my life: standup comedy. With what little time I wasn’t in the classroom (or sleeping) I got up on stage and started telling jokes about my brain bleeding. They weren’t very funny yet, but I got a weird rush of energy from making fun of my near-death.

Courtesy of Mimi Hayes

But this new creative side of me was being stifled by my very intense career as a teacher. It was difficult to do anything BUT be a teacher and I felt guilty any time I was writing or doing standup after hours.

After my 2nd year, I decided to quit teaching and move to New York City. It was just about the farthest thing from the life I was currently living, so why not?! I also really wanted to get a book deal and network since I’d finally developed a pretty decent manuscript. So on July 5, 2017, I packed 2 bags and a copy of my book I’d printed at FedEx Kinkos and moved to New York City.

For more on how THAT all went, you can stay tuned for my next book… but what you need to know is that I hustled my lil’ broken brain off. I nannied, did standup at night, took improv classes, taught writing classes, and tried to make a buck wherever I could. Eventually (actually pretty quickly) I networked with the right person and got a book deal.

‘I’ll Be OK, It’s Just a Hole in My Head’ was released just over a year later and I started touring my comedy, selling books, and doing keynote speeches at brain injury conventions. All those kids who gave me s**t in the classroom now thought I was a celebrity!

Courtesy of Mimi Hayes

I’ve since adapted the book into a one-woman show, a TED talk, and a TV pilot. I’ve had to move back to Colorado during this whole pandemic situation, but I’m currently working on getting more of my content out into the world once things are safe again.

I’ll admit this was difficult to write because so much of it I skipped or had to leave out. If people are really curious, they can read my book, listen to my podcast, or just connect with me on social media.”

Courtesy of Mimi Hayes

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Mimi Hayes. You can follow her journey on Instagram, her website, and Twitter. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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