Memoir excerpt 'Surviving Myself': How Dina Pestonji beat death 4 times before 30

Dina Pestonji’s memoir chronicles her brushes with death and what they taught her. (Photo: Courtesy of Tellwell Talent)
Dina Pestonji’s memoir chronicles her brushes with death and what they taught her. (Photo: Courtesy of Tellwell Talent)

After a decade-long battle with anorexia as a young girl and a car crash in her late 20s that almost killed her, Dina Pestonji was ready to begin a new chapter of her life. She was moving back home to Toronto to finally settle down after years of living abroad. Her go-go-go mentality moved at warp speed as she sought to find a new job and new apartment before the Christmas holidays began. In the nick of time, it was all complete, and she was ready to start the holidays with her family.

Then, without warning, celebrations were halted. Pestonji began experiencing massive headaches and shooting pains that turned into convulsions, two strokes, and emergency brain surgery. She awoke from surgery as helpless as an infant. The following is an excerpt from Pestonji’s newly released memoir, Surviving Myself: How an Eating Disorder, a Car Accident and a Stroke Taught Me to Love My Life and Finally Start Living.

I have been living at Toronto Western Hospital for just over a month. It’s early evening and Dr. Hodaie comes in to say hi and check on me. She places her phone on my bed to see if I can grasp the phone with my right hand, but nothing.

“Dina, can you use your right hand to send a text message? Can you use your fingers?”

I take a deep breath and use all my energy to get my hand to move. It doesn’t budge, but something else moves instead. I wiggle my toes! I can’t believe it! My toes are moving! They have been asking me to do this for weeks now, and it’s finally happened!

I still can’t yell out to tell everyone, so instead I flail my left hand in the hope of getting my parents’ and doctor’s attention. In a millisecond, there are about 10 people gathered around the foot of my bed. My gaze is fixated on my toes but I can hear Mom’s squeals of joy and Daddy’s “Go, Dina, go!” in the background.

I’m in complete awe! Four weeks of feeling nothing on the right side and finally, finally, a glimmer of hope. This is all I need. It is a sign that whatever happened to me will be fixed. If I can wiggle my toe, I will be me again.

In this moment, I know what I will do. It comes to me with such clarity, that there is no doubt in my mind it will happen. I have a plan. There are three things that I will accomplish before the year is out.

I will run a half marathon. I will see my sister receive her diploma. I will celebrate with my parents on their 35th wedding anniversary.

I feel alive and inspired in a way I haven’t felt since I woke up. I want to get out of this hospital and I am ready to fight! I will fight because there is something waiting for me outside those doors. There is no way I will not succeed and achieve my three goals.

Wiggling my toe reminds me of the most important thing I had forgotten: I’m me! I’m not this bedridden girl who can’t fend for herself. I get s*** done. I don’t fail. I set a goal, and I get there. I want to tell my parents about my new plan, but I remember — I still can’t speak. I will write it down!

Wait … I am right handed, but I still can’t move that hand. I have to find a way to tell them about my plan!

I look in every direction and spot a napkin. Perfect! I use my left hand to point to a piece of paper. Daddy always has a pen in his shirt pocket so I grab it with my left hand. They are all looking at me. It’s evident I have a plan so they are all waiting to see what I’m trying to communicate.

I try to write a letter but I notice something strange. I don’t remember what letters look like. I have the words in my brain, but by the time the words go from my brain, down my left arm and into my fingertips, I completely forget what I’m trying to tell them.

Okay, I must find small words and really concentrate. I want to tell them that I will run the Scotiabank half-marathon, which is held every October in Toronto.

I point to my feet.

“Yes, Jaanu, you moved your toes! Amazing job. We are so proud of you,” Mom says.

Yeesh. Let’s try this again. I take my left arm and swing it back and forth to look like I would while running. I must look awkward because the room goes silent and all I see is perplexed looks.

Back to the pen and napkin. Even though I have done many half-marathons and know the month each one is held in, my family doesn’t know this. I can’t remember how to write or spell and it’s frustrating the hell out of me. I continue to gesture and point but I’m getting nowhere.

My dinner tray arrives so this amusing game of charades is done for the evening. I would keep trying, but I only have so much energy. Who knew that wiggling my toes would be such a workout!

Pestonji’s memoir, Surviving Myself, is now available for purchase.

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