Presented for your consideration, a middle aged man somewhere in America who awakens one seemingly normal morning to discover his right arm has become a lifeless deadweight, movable but numb.
Puzzled, he pays little attention and goes to the kitchen for coffee but abandons the attempt when his hand is too weak to hold the cup. Strangely, he pulls on his coat and makes his way out the door to his car where he drives to the grocery store. Soon, he realizes that the right side of his face has feels heavy and tingling, like it’s sliding off his skull and eventually goes numb.
He tries to speak, but his words are garbled and slow, as if he’d just had a root canal and a face full of Novocain. Somehow he makes it home, but after consulting WebMD.com, he finally accepts that something is seriously wrong. He dials 9-1-1 and struggles his way through mush-mouthing the word, “help,” followed shortly by the pulsing strobes and screeching sirens of an ambulance.
No, this wasn’t some bizarre trip through an episode of The Twilight Zone. Instead, it was a reasonably accurate account of what happened to my friend Jim Karns just a few days ago when he experienced what turned out to be a series of very dangerous strokes.
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Maybe so, but, oddly enough, this is not an uncommon story.
While he was having coffee, surfing the web and doing his shopping, Jim’s brain cells were being eradicated by a shotgun blast of tiny blood clots which cut off life-sustaining oxygen.
It’s certainly funny to think now about all the silly things Jim was doing instead of calling for help, but a stroke is certainly no laughing matter. Many stroke victims don’t even realize what is happening because symptoms may be so mild as to go virtually unnoticed.
Every year nearly 800,000 Americans fall victim to some type of stroke, a sort of “brain attack,” which happens when a restriction of blood flow kills off vital cells. Symptoms can occur one at a time or simultaneously, depending on the type and severity of the stroke.
In Jim’s case, he experienced numbness and weakness in his face and right arm but his legs were unaffected. A bass singer with what most describe as a strong radio voice, during the attack his speech was slow, frail and garbled and he had trouble closing his right eye.
According to experts people experience a combination of symptoms during a stroke including numbness, confusion or trouble understanding other people, impaired vision, difficulty walking, dizziness, or a severe headache that comes on for no apparent reason.
Fortunately, Jim is recovering remarkably well and I would say the best lesson to be learned from his incident is to act immediately. Coffee and the grocery store can wait, and don’t waste time looking up your symptoms online before taking action. It’s thoroughly frightening to think that a person could be driving or doing something equally as dangerous while these things are happening.
Most importantly, never ignore the warning signs of a stroke and call 9-1-1 as soon as possible. If you are around someone who is experiencing some of these symptoms, take charge and call for help right away, even if the individual protests or says the symptoms have subsided.
The best defense against stroke is to try to avoid one, so know your risks. Women, the elderly, African-Americans, those seriously overweight and people with a family history of stroke are at the greatest risk. As always, eat a heart-healthy diet, exercise and get regular checkups to help stack the odds in your favor. To learn more about the prevention and symptoms of strokes, see your doctor or visit The American Stroke Association online at www.strokeassociation.org.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist from Jamestown, Ohio. More at www.deerinheadlines.com.