It Can’t be a Stroke
"Recognize the warning signs of a stroke," the TV blares, but when someone I care about was having a stroke, I missed it completely. Because I did, it is possible that valuable time was lost. I thought I knew the signs, and was prepared to react, but I was wrong. My purpose in telling my story is to help others to avoid the mistakes I made. Each person's experiences might be different, and I think it is human nature to deny that such a grave situation is actually happening. The internet is full of stories about people having strokes. Sometimes, the person will be able to articulate that he or she is having a stroke, or feels numb on one side. Many times, however, friends or family miss the crucial signs. As blind people, we miss seeing that one side of the face is drooping, or one side of the body does not seem to be moving properly. For this reason, it is important to bring all our knowledge and observational skills into play when something just does not seem right.
I woke up on Friday, April 7 of this year to hear my friend calling for my help. She lives upstairs in my house, and I live downstairs. She told me she had fallen, and she needed help to get up. This had happened two other times, so I wasn't overly alarmed. When I got to her, I asked if she thought she could get up, or if she suspected anything was broken. She said she thought she could stand, and I tried to help her, but was not successful. After a few attempts, she fell asleep, right there on the floor. Due to a number of circumstances, she had not been sleeping well. I thought it was a little odd that she'd fall asleep like that, but I assumed she was just over-tired. I thought that if she slept a little, she would be better able to help me get her up, but it was not to be.
Even before she fell asleep, there were warning signs. Her speech sounded a little muffled, but I attributed that to the fact that she had a face full of carpet. She wasn't reaching for my hand with her left hand, but that seemed perfectly natural to me. After all, she had some problems with that shoulder, and I figured that maybe falling and then lying on it made things worse.
There was another thing that should have been a warning sign, but which didn't sink in at the time. I tried to get her up multiple times, and felt something pull in my lower back. I let out a small sound of pain, and she didn't react at all. This was completely different than her normal, concerned reaction would have been.
Even before she fell asleep, I said I didn't think I was going to be able to help her up this time, and we needed to call someone. She said she didn't want anyone to come in because she was a mess and she needed to vaccuum the floor. She asked for a few minutes, which was when she fell asleep.
After she woke, I tried to get her up again, but was not successful. She seemed a little off to me, and I called a friend to help me. At this point, she did not protest, and I was becoming worried. We could not get her on her feet, which ended up being a very good thing, since she probably would have been unable to stand. We got her turned on her back, and I was concerned to hear that her speech was still garbled. She still could not reach for my hand with her left hand. At this point, things had been clicking into place. I called 911, and she went by ambulance to the hospital. She has a long, difficult recovery ahead of her, and I am doing all I can to help. As much as I am tempted to blame myself for what I didn't do, there is simply too much to do in the here and now to indulge in something which serves no purpose. It is my hope that someone will recall my experience and act quickly. From what I have heard, every second really does count.
According to the American Stroke Association, the acronym FAST is commonly used to spot the signs of a stroke.
F is for Face Drooping. Friends and family are advised to ask the patient to smile and to assess if both sides of the face are even. If you can't see clearly enough to make out this detail, you have a few options. If the person has sufficient speech to answer, you can ask if their face feels numb. You might also try giving the person a mirror and asking him or her to assess this. However, this may or may not be possible. The affected person may think it looks fine when it does not. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, yu could also use Skype or Facetime video to have someone else take a look.
A is for Arm Weakness, which may present another obstacle for people who are blind. Again, you could get more information using video calling. You can also try asking the person to squeeze your hand with one of his or her hands, and then the other. You can also ask the person to raise both arms while holding his or her hands.
S is for Speech Difficulty. Is the speech slurred or hard to understand? You can get an idea of this by asking questions or having the person repeat a simple sentence like, "The sky is blue."
If any of these symptoms are present, then be aware that in the FAST acronym, T stands for Time to Call 911. So that crucial treatments can begin.
If you have questions or experiences you would like to share, we would welcome your responses.