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Medical Emergency Monday

April 22, 2009 - Michael Palmer
We had quite a scare Monday night when my father called me in the middle of the night and asked me to come and check on my mother. My dad said he was having trouble understanding what she was saying and was concerned. When I arrived, her speech was slow and slurred; she seemed disoriented, unable to coordinate her movements. Although 83 years of age, my mom still navigates fairly well with a walker and is mentally as sharp as a tack, my first thought was she might be having a stroke. We called 911 and the squad transported her to an emergency room.

What is a Stroke? As I sat in two ER waiting rooms and well, waited, I educated myself on the subject. The following is an excerpt from a brochure printed by the National Stroke Association.

It may be shocking to learn that stroke is the third leading cause of death in America and the No. 1 cause of adult disability. A stroke or "brain attack" occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery (a blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the body) or a blood vessel (a tube through which the blood moves through the body) breaks, interrupting blood flow to an area of the brain. When either of these things happens, brain cells begin to die and brain damage occurs.

When brain cells die during a stroke, abilities controlled by that area of the brain are lost. These abilities include speech, movement and memory. How a stroke patient is affected depends on where the stroke occurs in the brain and how much the brain was damaged.

For example, someone who has a small stroke may experience only minor problems such as weakness of an arm or leg. People who have larger strokes may be paralyzed on one side or lose their ability to speak. Some people recover completely from strokes, but more than 2/3 of survivors will have some type of disability.

If you think someone may be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T. and do this simple test:

FACE Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

ARMS Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

SPEECH Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred? Can he/she repeat the sentence correctly?

TIME If the person shows any of these symptoms, time is important. Call 911 or get to the hospital fast. Brain cells are dying.

Stroke Symptoms include: SUDDEN numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg - especially on one side of the body. SUDDEN confusion, trouble speaking or understanding. SUDDEN trouble seeing in one or both eyes. SUDDEN trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination. SUDDEN severe headache with no known cause.

Even though, the night before the classic one-sidedness was missing in my evaluation, I sided with caution and called 9-1-1 immediately. The NSA agrees with my course of action and asks that if you have any of these symptoms you call 911 and note the time you experienced your first symptom. This information is important to your healthcare provider and can affect treatment decisions.

After an exciting two hours of squads, ambulances, ER doctor’s conferences and of course the paperwork, there was little to do but wait. The doctors and nurses were not certain that the cause was a stroke, they gave her an IV and oxygen and monitored her condition.

Little changed through the following morning as we sat in the (specifically designed to be uncomfortable) chairs by her hospital bed and listened to the beeps of the monitors that sounded like an electronic frogs chorus.

I left for a quick shower and an hours nap before heading into Martins Ferry and as I traveled Wednesday afternoon the cell phone rang and it was good news. My sister had taken over the bedside watch and told me the symptoms were slowly going away as speech and memory seemed to be returning, but there is still not a clear evaluation of just what caused this medical emergency. They had taken an MRI but the STAT evaluation was inconclusive and we are still waiting to see how the recovery progresses.

Stay tuned. I will update. As a favor to me, please reread the symptoms section.


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