My sister had a stroke the other day. It sneaked up on her, disguised as post-vacation exhaustion. She had arrived back home feeling great, and the tiredness showed up a few days later. She had other symptoms as well, but nothing so profound as to make her believe she was having a stroke. It never occurred to her to seek medical attention until a coworker mentioned that she was holding her arm the same way her sister did after she’d had a stroke.
Missing the stroke warning signs
My sister had noticed a few things, but none of the numbness, confusion, difficulty walking and speaking traditionally associated with stroke. Her arm felt funny when she woke up Monday morning. When she couldn’t summon the right hand strength to press the clip on a skirt hanger, she decided it was due to sleeping on her arm the night before. She had a headache as well, and her leg felt a little funny; but she was used to knee aches and pains so she didn’t connect the dots.
Besides, a George woman does what she has to do.
We were raised in the George family household. Our mom and dad were the hard working parents of 11 children. They taught us to get up every day, work like someone was watching us and do whatever we had to do. That meant a little headache, a little leg pain, even a little arm weirdness shouldn’t keep us from getting on with our day’s tasks.
My sister is a George woman, so she squeezed the hanger with her left hand, got dressed and went to the recreation center to teach her morning line dancing class. Later she drove several miles to cook my father’s dinner before taking I-75 to her night job in Florence, Kentucky. After her coworker commented on the way my sister held her arm over her keyboard, she called her doctor and made an appointment; but first she finished her 10 hour shift.
TIA vs Stroke
The doctor referred my sister to the hospital after diagnosing her arm funniness as probable weakness due to a transient ischemic attack. TIAs or “mini strokes” occur due to a blocked blood vessel in the brain. They are like a stroke except the symptoms dissipate within 24 hours. National Stroke Association predicts that 40 percent of people who experience a TIA will go on to have a full blown stroke, some within days. It’s important to get treatment right away.
As it turns out, my sister had a stroke, not just a TIA. Family members rushed to the hospital when we got the call, but by the time we arrived she was in bed resting comfortably. Her children were concerned but she seemed mostly annoyed over not being able to figure out how to operate her new cell phone.
Fortunately, her stroke was mild with only a bit of residual weakness on her right side. The hospital released her after 24 hours of tests. They recommended a diet change and a daily baby aspirin. She must exercise her right arm, but otherwise she can do whatever she chooses, even teach her morning line dancing class.
I’m sharing this story because a stroke can sneak up on anyone. The symptoms are subject to mistaken identity; and had my sister not listened to her coworker’s warning, her story could have had a different ending.
The National Stroke Association wants everyone to have the same stroke awareness as my sister’s coworker so they can help save lives. They want everyone to learn the ” Warning Signs of Stroke ” and tell others how to recognize a stroke and respond FAST:
Face- Ask the person to smile to see if one side of the face droops.
Arms- Ask them to raise both arms to see if one drifts downward.
Speech- Have them repeat a phrase and listen for slurred or strange speech.
Time- If you recognize any one of these symptoms call 911 fast.