Signs of a Stroke

A 70-year old man did not show up for work last week, so his employer called the man’s son to have him check on his dad. The son goes to his dad’s condo and cannot get in. The police are called and the son is able to break into the condo. His father is there, but is disoriented. The son – and the cops – think he is drunk. The cops leave.

The son calls his mom, who drives to her ex’s condo to help. When she arrives, her ex cannot talk and has trouble walking. She has no medical experience, but she thinks “stroke” right away. She calls for an ambulance and her ex his taken to the hospital where doctors confirm he had a stroke.

Why don’t police have training to identify the signs of a stroke? Had they not assumed he was drunk, this man might have gotten critical care early enough to prevent devastating brain damage and paralysis.

Years ago, my mother had a stroke. Time was wasted in her case as well. My mother was talking on the phone with a friend who was giving her a phone number. My mom kept repeating the phone number wrong. She kept mixing up the numbers, and her friend got frustrated and gave up. Mom hung up the phone and told my dad that she felt funny.

She called her doctor’s office, which was near Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut. She was told to “come on in” so they could check on her.

My 70-year old mother did not like the way my father drove, so she took the wheel and drove 20 minutes into New Haven. Part of the route involved a four-lane highway. During the ride, my father kept asking her why she was drifting off to the side of the road…and she continued driving into the city. When she got to her doctor’s office, my father was told he should take my mom to the hospital emergency room which was only minutes away. Nobody told my father my mother was having a stroke.

My mother was admitted to the hospital and her symptoms got worse and worse. This was around the time that clot-busting drugs were first used to restore blood flow to the brain of stroke victims. But my mother did not get this treatment in time. She lost the use of her right arm, and her right leg was weak after the stroke. She was able to walk and talk, and she lived another four years with her disabilities. But we always wondered, “what if….”

Because of my mother’s experience with a stroke, I think the signs of a stroke are pretty clear. And even if there is some doubt, an elderly person who is disoriented and having trouble speaking needs to get to a hospital ASAP.  Drugs that break up clots must be administered within the first few hours of  the onset of a stroke, so time is of the essence. Police and emergency responders, and the general public, need to be aware of the signs of a stroke.

If an older person is disoriented and mumbling, they need help. Don’t assume they are drunk or on drugs. They need to get to an emergency room ASAP.

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