Sunday February 7, 2016
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A little over 15 years ago Fate awarded me one of the greatest privileges of my life. She placed me in the right place at the right time to recognize a stroke and act on it.
I had never in my life seen a stroke. I had never had any training of any kind regarding strokes. If anyone had asked me how they could recognize a stroke and what they should do if they saw one I don't think I could have put together two sensible sentences on the subject.
Harold Bensen was just under 70, a nice old fellow, smiling, cheerful, and easy going. He had retired after a good life and was working for the school district as a means of paying the world back for the good things it had done for him. He worked in our department in Mesa Public Schools, The Instructional Technology Department, but he worked over in the next building, where he made copies of floppy disks for teachers from master disks we kept on file.
I was sitting at my computer in our basement office when I heard a voice. I turned and looked up. There by the stairs was usually smiling Harold with his hands empty and a puzzled frown on his face.
I said hello, but he didn't really answer. Instead he said, "I...I just don't understand. I...I...I just don't understand."
I jumped up, went over to him, looked at that blank face, took his arm, led him to a chair by the long conference table in the middle of the room, and said, "Harold, you stay right here, okay? I'll be back in two seconds."
Dashing into the next room, I grabbed Perry, a coworker, and said, "Call 911! Tell them we have someone who is having a stroke! Tell them to get here in a rush. Tell them there will be someone outside the building to guide them in."
I went back to Harold and made sure he was still able to talk. By then Perry was off the phone and standing by me.
"They're on their way," he said.
"Help me get Harold up on the table. We have to get his head at the same level as his heart."
"Is there a blanket in the office anywhere?" I asked.
"Not that I know of."
"Be right back," I said, heading for the stairs.
Upstairs in a large room filled with desks I raised my voice, "We have someone downstairs having a stroke. We need to keep him warm. Does anyone have a blanket or something we can cover him with?"
A women jumped up, hurried to a shelf, and brought me a wool throw. "Will this do?"
"You bet! I'll be sure to get it back to you."
Downstairs, after we covered Harold, I asked Perry to get on the phone to the next building, find out Harold's home phone number and his wife's first name and write them on a piece of paper for me. Then I shot up the stairs again and went outside to await the ambulance.
The ambulance people were right on the ball. I no sooner got outside than the ambulance turned into the parking lot. I waved them over to our door. As the medics got out I told them they would be going down a flight of stairs and would have to make a hard turn with their stretcher. In and out of the building we went. Back outside with Harold's phone number in my hand, I jumped into my car as they loaded Harold into the ambulance.
At the hospital, I held off calling Harold's wife for a few minutes until a nurse I had spoken with came out of the room into which they had taken him. She told me he was doing well, they had given him blood thinning medication, and his prognosis was good.
Then came the hard part. I dialed Mary Bensen. When she came on I introduced myself and told her that Harold was in the hospital, but that the doctors had just said he was doing very well. As I listened to a short sharp inward gasp of fear that was about as hard to take as anything I have ever heard, I said, "Would you like me to drive you to the hospital?"
"N-No," she said. "I'll drive myself."
"Don't worry," I told her. "Harold is fine. He's waiting to see you." No one had told me that, but it seemed logical that it would be true. And I knew it would imply that he was awake, and that knowing that would help to calm her.
Two weeks later, Harold was back at work, none the worse for wear. He was still there when I retired at the end of the year.
How did I know what to do?
I can't say for sure, but I'm willing to bet that over the years I had read, somewhere or other, the same simple things I am going to tell you right now.
I was prompted to tell you these things because I received a chain letter e-mail with a little story in it I know you want to hear.
Here it is:
During a barbecue one morning, a woman stumbled and took a little fall. When her friends got her up and asked her what was wrong she said it was nothing, that she was fine, she had just tripped over a brick because of her new shoes.
They had doubts but they let it slide. They got her cleaned up and got her a new plate of food. While she appeared a bit shaken up, Jane went about enjoying herself the rest of the afternoon.
Later, after everyone was back home, Jane's husband called each of them. Jane had been taken to the hospital at 6:00 pm, and had passed away at 7:00 pm.
The doctor had told him that she had suffered a stroke during the barbecue, and had they known how to identify the signs of a stroke she almost certainly would have lived.
Neurologists say that if they can get to a stroke victim within three hours they can almost always totally reverse its effects. They add that it is getting a stroke recognized, diagnosed, and treated within that time period which is tough.
Not all strokes are as easy to recognize as the one I saw. My job was easy. I saw and heard a usually bright, cheerful human being who said that he was confused and didn't know why. That was a gift from God.
If you don't get that gift, there are four things you can do if you have the slightest suspicion of a stroke. Just remember the word STaRS. If a person has trouble with any of these tests, call 911.
S Have the person SMILE. Look for crookedness or inability to smile.
T Have the person TALK by repeating a simple sentence, such as, "It is sunny out today."
R Have the person raise BOTH arms.
S Have the person STICK out his tongue. Look for a tongue that is crooked.
I'll just add the common signs of a stroke. You should know them because you experience them while alone or because you may recognize them in someone else.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the five most common signs and symptoms of stroke are:
• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg.
• Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding others.
• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
• Sudden dizziness, trouble walking, or loss of balance or coordination.
• Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Why is this so important to me?
A stroke can happen to anyone at any time. My father had a severe stroke at age 39 and eventually died of it. Being a typical man he shrugged off the signs, and convinced his fellow workers that he was all right. As a result I have no memory of him. If the people he worked with had known what you just read concerning four simple tests, he might have lived a long, full life.
Raise both arms
Stick out your tongue
Question: I see that no one comments when I put up a story like this? Should I bother to put them up?
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