Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Possible Stroke? Think F.A.S.T.

I was 10 years old. Just came home from school and went looking for my father to let him know I was home. Walked into the master bedroom and saw him lying on the floor - conscious, but barely able to talk. I ran to get my grandmother who was out in the family store (I grew up behind a storefront). I called my mother at work and she called the fire department... this was 1968 - before the 911 emergency program was fully in place. The ambulance arrived soon after and they took my dad to Rush-Presbyterian St Luke's on Chicago's near south side... a decision that probably saved his life. You see, my father, at 62 years of age, had fallen victim to what we would later learn was a "significant" stroke as a result of plaque build up in not one, but both of his carotid arteries. He survived - thanks to two carotid endarterectomies performed by a physician who had been part of the first heart transplant team just years earlier - but he was never quite the same. Rush-St Luke's was one of the only hospitals in the country performing that particular surgery at the time. He had been having subtle symptoms prior to the stroke - slightly slurred speech (he was a "recovering alcoholic", so the slurring was put down to his possibly "falling off the wagon"), inability to "find words", and unexplained rages - unusual even for him.

Fast forward about 25 years - my dad had been gone for about 10 years by then, and my only father figure was my then father-in-law... a great guy, always ready with a joke and a smile and a gleam in his eye. Yes, he ate a bit too heartily and drank a few more beers than I would be comfortable with, but he was a hard worker and always working on something around the house, or playing with the kids, or working at his "retirement" profession of cashiering at a nearby drug store. By this time, my relationship with my ex-husband had begun to deteriorate and his parents were, of course, dutifully siding with their son. I still maintained as good of a relationship with my father-in-law as I was able to - they only lived a few doors down from us, and he would walk over if he saw me outside and we would talk about whatever was on our mind.

One day, the kids and their dad had been over there visiting and came back home early because "grandma was fighting with grandpa"... when I asked why, it came out that she had been on his case about drinking too much - to the point that his speech was slurred. That event repeated itself several times over the next few weeks - but one day, I had joined them because it was a family occasion and I noticed that Dad's speech had become slurred out of the blue - and I also noticed that he hadn't had anything to drink that day. I asked him if he felt okay and he mentioned that he had been unusually tired, but he felt fine otherwise. I called my husband aside and told him to tell his mother that Dad really needed to see a dr NOW. I explained that I thought he might be having TIAs (transient ischemic attacks - and precursors to strokes).

A couple weeks later, Dad was recovering comfortably from his endarterectomies - and he never had a full blown stroke. Luckily for him, his carotid narrowing hadn't been that bad - but had no one paid attention to his small symptoms, who knows...

So, what's the whole F.A.S.T thing about, you're asking? This comes from the National Stroke Association and it's a simple way to remember what to look for if you suspect someone might be having/have had a stroke -

  • F - Face - ask the person to smile. Does one side of their face (mouth, eyebrows, eyelids) droop unnaturally?
  • A - Arms - ask the person to raise their arms. Does one of their arms drift downward?
  • S - Speech - Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred? Can he/she repeat the sentence correctly?
  • T - Time - If the person shows any of these symptoms, time is important. Call 911 or get to the hospital fast. Brain cells are dying.

My father lived for another 16 years after his stroke - not that it didn't change his life or our family life. My grandmother also had a stroke a couple years later - and surprisingly, we learned soon afterward that she never told my mother that she had been having "symptoms" for over a month before she had the stroke that caused her to fall and break her hip. She never came home from the hospital - although she lingered for over a year in a nursing home.

Strokes are equal opportunity - they do not discriminate against race, gender, age, or creed. Luckily, not all strokes are fatal, nor do all strokes leave the victim disabled. Once again, time is of the essence. Don't brush off that "minor" symptom. Don't disregard that "awful" headache or that weird "vision" problem. Better to be safe than sorry.


Carapace said...

What a wonderful post! My father had a similar series of TIAs when I was a child-- but no one knew what we were seeing. He didn't die, but the progressive brain damage from the strokes changed my family's life-and we've only found out what was happening in the last ten years.

I hope your post reaches some families before they face what we did.

SassyBelle said...

What a great informative post...THANKS for sharing:)

Howling Caterpillars said...

My Aunt had a pair of strokes a few years back. Her memory's shot, and her balance too, but she's lucky to be alive...
Some days she doesn't think so...
I've had a mini stroke sitting at the computer. I felt something POP in my head, then my head felt strange and I couldn't feel or raise my left arm. The symptoms wore off after an hour or so, but it was scary. I'm fine now...

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