health sisterhood

A Stroke of Bad Luck?

by Bridget — April 12, 2014

Today we’re toasting the 3rd blogiversary of our Empress Tea empire! Congratulations lovely ladies! What a wonderful collaboration of talent, opinion & drive. I adore each and every one of you and savour your weekly expressions online. To celebrate, we’ve invited guest, and fabulous friend, Nathalie to share a slice of her life with us on the blog. Although a serious matter, she is emphasizing self awareness and the positives of moving on from a difficult situation – something the strong ladies of Empress Tea understand. Good or bad, women can celebrate and support in equal measure. See below for her biography and enjoy! ~Bridget

A Stroke of Bad Luck?    By Nathalie Melville Geary


At the age of 32, I would never have expected to say I had been the victim of a stroke.

I am acutely aware that I am incredibly lucky to be writing this with no aftermath or long-term effects. I don’t smoke, am not a heavy drinker, have normal blood pressure and neither take drugs nor am overweight. All told, I do not meet any of the standard risk factors for strokes under 40.

The only possible risk category that applied to me was that I had been on the pill for a number of years, alongside millions of other women around the world.

Despite being a private person, the shock of this happening, at my age and in spite of a healthy lifestyle, inspired me to write this.

I hope this never happens to any friends or peers, but with strokes in the under 40 bracket on rise – especially in women – I felt it was an experience I needed to share.

We all know the face droop and slurred speech signs of a stroke, but these are by no means the only tells of a stroke in process. (Additional signs are the sudden onset of any of the following: one sided numbness, confusion or difficulty speaking or understanding, impaired vision, dizziness or loss of coordination, severe headache with no known cause).

I was running errands on a usual Friday afternoon when, after a swift onset of nausea, I crumpled to the floor in a busy shop whilst buying a printer cartridge!

In the moment, the feeling resembled that of being pulled backwards into a tunnel, accompanied by a ringing in the ears. In seconds I had come around to find myself in a little heap surrounded by worried looking sales assistants!

The following 24 hours disappeared in a haze of nausea and fever. Once passed I was happy to put it down as a likely bout of food poisoning, but a vigilant doctor referred me for a precautionary MRI. I had brushed off these tests as a box ticking exercise. The shock when I received the results totally blind-sided me.

Extensive tests ruled out any immediate dangers but offered no explanation or cause. (Aside from rehabilitation for physical side effects there is little real treatment for a stroke that has already happened). The pill remained the front-runner, however still seemed unusual without additional risk factors. As I write this, there are still no concrete answers and now the reality is that there may never be.

My reason for being so candid is that I want to make it known that this can happen, easily and unexpectedly.

This is neither a pill bashing stance nor a doom and gloom cautionary tale. It is a message to women who are undertaking higher levels of stress than any generation before us, that we are not indestructible. There are physical gender differences that women, in our own way as humans, cannot escape. These, coupled with ever evolving lifestyle changes, mean that it is more important than ever to protect our health.

Some factors are unavoidable, such as family history. Some are as relevant for men as for women, like obesity or high blood pressure. However, if you fit into two or more of the following categories you are at greater risk of a stroke when introducing the contraceptive pill to the equation:

• Do you smoke, or have you given up smoking within the last year?
• Do you have high blood pressure?
• Are you over 35?
• Do you have family history of blood clots at a younger age?
• Are you overweight?
• Are you diabetic?
• Do you suffer from migraines?

As an aside, if you take cocaine you are increasing your likelihood of a stroke in the 24 hours after by 700% – pill or no pill, male or female.

I want to reiterate how much I am an advocate of the pill. It revolutionized women’s rights and control over their own bodies, but our lives have changed significantly since its inception. With the additional stress and lifestyle options there comes an increased risk. Thankfully this risk still only materializes in a very small minority.

There are, however, other viable options, often not considered from the get go, that do not carry the same risks as the pill, but provide the same protection. If the pill is your recommended course of action ensure you have researched all the alternatives so are able to make the most informed decision. Where the pill is available without a prescription, do not self-medicate – there is a reason it is a prescription item in many parts of the world. Ultimately, any form of chemical contraception is an artificial hormone imbalance. As such, it is essential to understand the risks, as they apply to you, before embarking on any of the available options.

With this in mind, if you, your friend, your sister or wife has the bad luck of falling into the affected minority be aware of the signs. Don’t underestimate how devastating they can be if overlooked. Never brush off a loss of consciousness, make sure you are monitoring your blood pressure if you are on the pill and try to eliminate lifestyle choices that can only harm you.

Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs or mini strokes) can be warning signs of something more serious in the pipeline. These temporary episodes leave no lasting damage, but their symptoms are the same as a stroke. We believe now that I may have had two of these in the four years preceding my full – but fortunately localized – stroke. Both times we had assumed, on balance, that they were food allergies given the repeated situations. However, we have since ruled these assumed allergies out.  TIAs can be valuable warnings if recognized. Obviously symptoms vary from person to person and can even pass in seconds, but if something has happened that is inexplicable, don’t ignore it.

Although thankfully still rare in those under 40, strokes can hit anyone of any age. If you ever, have the slightest suspicion that something is not right it is always better to be safe than sorry. A precautionary check up is preferable to a lifetime of regret.

FAST Stroke Signs




Nathalie Melville Geary – HONG KONG 
A graduate of Central Saint Martins, Nathalie founded Melville Fine Jewellery in 2010. This followed years in the industry working for brands such as Tiffany & Co and exhibiting at Paris Fashion Week.

Melville Fine Jewellery specializes in combining sustainable, ethical and traceable sourcing with innovative design and impeccable craftsmanship. Melville is also Hong Kong’s only Fairtrade precious metals license holder.

As a traditionally trained bench jeweller Nathalie also founded Hatton Studios in the heart of Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan district. An artisan academy, Hatton Studios is dedicated to teaching silversmithery and jewellery design, encouraging a fresh approach to traditional skills whilst developing a creative community.


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