I Didn't Recognize the Signs of Stroke

Syndicated

I arrived in the restaurant parking lot around 1.10 pm.  I saw her car, and her silhouette.  I wasn’t sure why she was waiting in the heat, so I walked over to the car and called her name.  No answer.  I called her name more loudly (and impatiently, because good lord, let’s eat already).  No response.  I walked up to the driver’s side door and noticed the window was down; she was sitting in the car, sort of leaning back and forth in the seat.  I told her I was there, and as soon as she made eye contact I knew something was wrong. 

I had one of the most frightening experiences of my life yesterday. 

Over the weekend in Southwest Virginia, I’d picked up a couple of things for my parents. I called my mom around noon to see if she wanted to meet me for lunch.  She’d already eaten, but we decided to get together around 1.15 to exchange some things and she could watch me hoover up something for my own lunch.  She was perfectly normal when I talked to her.

I arrived in the restaurant parking lot around 1.10 pm.  I saw her car, and her silhouette.  I wasn’t sure why she was waiting in the heat, so I walked over to the car and called her name.  No answer.  I called her name more loudly (and impatiently, because good lord, let’s eat already).  No response.  I walked up to the driver’s side door and noticed the window was down; she was sitting in the car, sort of leaning back and forth in the seat.  I told her I was there, and as soon as she made eye contact I knew something was wrong. 

Her eyes were barely open and her speech sounded like she’d been on an all-night bender in Vegas.  When she tried to get out of the car, she pitched forward immediately and I was able to catch her.  She was unable to walk without falling, and although my mom is petite, she sure felt heavy as I dragged her - literally dragged her - to the other side of the car where I got her to lie down.  Through her thick, slurred speech, she told me she was “just tired” and assured me she hadn’t been taking any medication. 

Internally I was panicking.  I thought she was having some life or death reaction to a medication from the surgery she recently had; the other part of me was idly considering how in the HELL she had driven 20 minutes in the condition she was in without killing herself or someone else.  She was mostly incoherent, making half-hearted hand gestures and mumbling the same sentence in a strange, strangled tone I’d never heard her use before.  Occasionally saliva would bubble out of her mouth, causing me to internally panic and wonder how much I could fake my way through CPR. 

After 2 or 3 minutes of trying to wrap my mind around this person who didn’t resemble my mother in the slightest, I finally began to react.  I called my father first, irrationally asking him why he let mom leave the house in this condition and what medication had she taken?  He said she’d been fine when she left and that she hadn’t taken anything this morning.  I told him to get there as soon as possible. 

In the silence that came after hanging up the phone with him, I began to shake.  My mother kept trying to get up and move around in the car; I kept telling her to stay still and stop talking (the stop talking part was for my benefit, because every time she tried to communicate with me, it scared me even more).  I realized that she wasn’t getting better and I also realized that I needed to make a decision. 

 

Emergency Room

 

I told her firmly to stay put and ran to the restaurant, grabbed a manager and told him to call 911.  I ran back to the parking lot and stayed with my mother while we waited; the cliche is that minutes seem to take forever when waiting.  In this case, the fire department rescue squad was right around the corner and within 30 seconds of the call being made, I could hear the sirens.  A minute after that, I could hear the ambulance.

 

Many things happened in the minutes and hours after I made the decision to call 911.  They included a ride to the hospital with my mother in the back and me in the front seat, next to an incredibly buff and sexy EMT (high point of the day), a dawning realization that my mom was probably having a stroke right in front of me, the amazing ability to communicate to large groups of people via mediums like Facebook and texting, and many interactions with a superb, if not overworked, ER staff.

A few minutes after my mother reached the ER, she was assessed for stroke symptoms.  The doctor and nurse both agreed that she was probably having one and activated the stroke team.  Since she was getting better on her own, they didn’t use some of the new medication they have for severe strokes but gave her aspirin immediately and began a long process of CT scans, x-rays, blood work, carotid ultrasounds, swallowing tests and echocardiograms.  A few hours later, we were told that she probably had experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or in layman’s terms, a “mild stroke”. 

I wasn’t familiar enough with the symptoms of a stroke to know that it was urgent to get medical help for my mother.  I didn’t realize that she was smiling and the right side of her face wasn’t the same as her left.  All I knew was that she was completely out of her mind and going downhill; it was that fear of waiting in a parking lot and watching my mother die in an Arby’s parking lot that propelled me to risk the wrath of her later, healthy self about ER copays and ambulance costs to dial 911.  (Really, who wants to pass on to the next fabulous plane of existence with a giant cowboy hat in the background and the smell of greasy fries in the air?  It doesn’t bode well for the next life)

Without wanting to sound too much like a Public Service Announcement, strokes really aren’t that difficult to spot. I’m sure these same symptoms can appear in other situations, but it’s not worth taking a risk.  I’ve pasted some information below from the National Stroke Association about recognizing and reacting to stroke symptoms:

-Sudden numbness or weakness of the 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

Immediately call 9-1-1 or the emergency medical services (EMS) number so an ambulance (ideally with advanced life support) can be sent for you.

Also, check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared. It’s very important to take immediate action. If given within 3 hours of the start of symptoms, a clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) may reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke.

tPA is the only FDA-approved medication for the treatment of stroke within three hours of stroke symptom onset.

A TIA or transient ischemic attack is a “warning stroke” or “mini-stroke” that produces stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce your risk of a major stroke.

The usual TIA symptoms are the same as those of stroke, only temporary. The short duration of these symptoms and lack of permanent brain injury is the main difference between TIA and stroke.

Now that I’ve done the most basic of research, I’d recognize a stroke from miles away.  It’s plainly obvious if you know what to look for.  I’m posting my story of yesterday in the hopes that others will read this and be able to react quickly if they are ever (and I hope you’re not) in this situation.

In the meantime, my mom is doing much better today.  She will probably stay in the hospital another day while they finish running her through the gamut of tests and using her as a human pincushion, but I’m thankful for a couple of things.  First, I’m grateful it happened when she had stopped driving and I was there to see it happen.  Second, I’m grateful I stopped worrying about how it would look if I overreacted and called an ambulance, and just did it.  Third, I learned a bunch from the experience - both about the signs of stroke and how I react when put in a situation like that. 

I stayed in “competent daughter” mode until 10 pm last night, when I finally got home.  I then reverted to “freaked out daughter who saw her mother having a stroke” mode and let all the pent up emotions from the day spill out.  After a long night of not sleeping, I’m still a bit of a mess but feeling much better today - just like my mom. 

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