Monday, May 18, 2015

Spot the Signs of a Stroke- FAST

I am the last person in the world you want around in the event of emergency. I just never seem to know what to do. 

For instance...

When I was younger, my friend Catherine and I volunteered to wash the windows at our pastor's home. Standing on nothing but a narrow brick ledge, she scrubbed the large picture window in the front of the house.  All was going well until she lost her balance and fell backward into a hedge of  thorny holly bushes. There she was, sinking deep into the hedges, flat on her back and feet  up in the air.  It was a sight to see!  Covered in scratches and starting to bleed, she was screaming and crying, but attempts at pulling her out only brought her more pain and made me start cracking up laughing. All I could do was leave her there and run for help. 

A few years later, I was babysitting a bunch of kids- I think there were 6 altogether. I was personally responsible for 3 of the children and a few neighbors had come over to play. I was certainly out of my league in terms of crowd control, and it was becoming obvious that I was outnumbered by little people. They were running all around the house, jumping on the sofa, acting like kids,when I decided to take control. "Hey everybody, let's go outside!" 

Just as I was scooting the last one out the back door, the craziest thing happened:  one of the boys was impaled with a wire coat hanger. It was as if the thing jumped out of the clear blue sky and into the skin covering his knee cap. So gross! Like a fish hook, the curved part of the hanger went in at the bottom of his knee, it came back out at the top of his knee, so that, as he stood there, the hanger actually hung from his knee. I didn't even want to look at it more less try to remove it, and having no idea what to do, I left him there on the back steps with clear instructions not to move and ran for help.

Do you detect a trend here?

Over the years, there have been other emergencies where I was totally useless: the afternoon my mom got run over by a horse, the morning our pontoon boat began sinking in the lake and the night the barbecue pit caught fire and exploded. I could go on, but the point is, life is scary, painful and  dangerous...and you better not count on me to help.
Of course, everyone reacts differently in emergency situations, but clearly, I am useless in the event of accident, bodily injury, catastrophe or fire.  Or so I thought...

I was just a few months out of grad school, working at a nursing home in Wharton, Texas, when I had an opportunity to redeem myself.

It was lunch time and I was seeing a patient for dysphagia therapy in the dining room. As my patient ate his Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes and spinach, he started slurring his words. The food he was eating began seeping from the corner of his mouth and dripping down his chin to his neck. His left eye was nearly closed shut, and he began to lean to the side. It could only be one thing: he was having a stroke!

I jumped right up, alerted the kitchen staff, got the nurse, called 9-1-1 and in less than 10 minutes, the man was being loaded into an ambulance. Yay for me! Now, I'm not trying to make myself into a hero, but I do believe that, had I not recognized the signs of stroke and taken action, the outcome would have been very different. 

So, here we are, recognizing American Stroke Month, and  come to find out, the American Stroke Association, in their 2015 campaign, would classify me as a hero- a stroke hero. 

Stroke heroes are ready to spot stroke signs and act quickly by calling 9-1-1. They might help make the difference between life and death, or between full recovery and permanent disability. 

You too can become a stroke hero just by knowing the stroke warning signs.  

If you have 60 seconds,  NBA star Paul George can give you a quick run down of the basics:  Spot a Stroke- FAST

Now for the specifics:

Face Drooping:  Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the smile uneven?

photo of raised arm

Arm Weakness:  Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

photo of a woman speaking
Speech Difficulty:  Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "The sky is blue." Is the sentence repeated correctly?

Time to Call 9-1-1:  If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you'll know when the first symptom appeared.

Next, take time to learn the other signs of stroke:

Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.


Sudden trouble walking,dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.

Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.

Sudden trouble seeing from one or both eyes.

Sudden headache with no known cause.

Over the course of my career, I have been a stroke hero a total of 5 times. My kids say that qualifies me for being a stroke super hero.  I'm not so sure about that, but one thing is certain, you can count on me to recognize a stroke and get you the help you need.

I hope you'll join me by learning the FAST signs and sharing them with as many people as possible. Teach your family, friends and coworkers to spot a stroke FAST and call 9-1-1 immediately. 

Because anyone can have a stroke, everyone should be ready.  American Stroke Association