Guest Blogger: Lisa Michael
May is American Stroke Month. It makes me wonder how my life would have been different had I known the signs of a stroke. Would I have been as scared when I woke up disoriented and unable to think clearly? When I tried to speak and found it difficult to express what I was thinking, would I have picked up the phone to dial 911? Or when I tried to get dressed and had no balance while standing would I have insisted to the doctor that I should be treated immediately for stroke? Of course when I lost my speech completely and began to lose feeling and movement on my left side, I should have known I was having a stroke, but I was only 19 years old and, in my mind, strokes only happened to older people.
The American Stroke Association has a simple acronym to help people remember and look for signs of stroke; it's called FAST.
F stands for face. Typically, one side of the face will droop, especially if you ask the person to smile. When I didn't know what was happening that morning, I tried to drink some juice -- and it spilled out the left side of my mouth. That's when I decided to go to the hospital.
A stands for arms. If a person lifts her arms out to the side and one arm drifts downward, that's another red flag. I remember that my left side felt heavy, and try as I might, I couldn't get my left arm up without help to pull on my coat.
S stands for speech. A person's speech may be slurred or strange-sounding. When I first woke up with symptoms, my speech was okay but slow. However, it got progressively worse as time passed so by the time I made it to the ER, I was unable to speak at all.
T stands for time. As you can see, time is crucial when someone is suffering a stroke! Again I wonder if I would have called the ambulance immediately would my story be different? The doctors who were deciding treatment for me decided against the clot-busting drug tPA because they were unsure of the timeline (at that time, they didn't know that it could be administered after a certain window without negative effects).
Though I wasn't aware of what was happening when I was having a stroke, and it was a scary time, thankfully my story has a happy ending. I was flown to a larger hospital and went through extensive testing and days of therapy; I was fully recovered within three months. Sadly, this is not the most common result with people who have suffered a stroke. And that makes for one of the biggest reasons to know the warning signs. Feel free to take my story as your lesson, and for more information, please visit www.strokeassociation.org.