Know what FAST means, not just one sign of a stroke
He stepped out of the driver’s seat of his limousine, ready to fill up his tank. Tired, annoyed and ready to go home, this brotha (approximately 6'3, about 220 pounds, with an NFL player’s build) pondered about where his life was headed. He’d lost his job a year before and was in panic mode. How does someone with a master’s degree and years of management and marketing experience suddenly have such a hard time finding a job? His wife and kids were supportive of him, but as a man, all he wanted was to be able to support them — not depend on them. Instead of just becoming an Uber or Lyft driver or a limousine driver, he studied chauffeur businesses and decided he would start his own travel line instead.
But as his business management degree taught him, the first thing he needed to do was learn from the ground up how the industry works. So the man with the master’s degree became a chauffeur driver to learn the life. But that day, he just wanted to go home and relax. As he got ready to pump gas, something along his side felt strange, almost numb. He’d seen enough Internet posts to know what was happening. He turned slowly, walked with purpose and barely made it into the gas station door. By the time he got to the counter, he was slurring.
The cashier turned to look at him and immediately started laughing. He tapped a friend, who also laughed at the burly man barely holding onto the counter. Finally the chauffeur driver made a motion with his fingers as if he was writing with a pen. The two cashiers snickered, wondering what this clearly inebriated man could possibly write. The smiles dropped as they read what was on the paper: 9–1–1. They had no idea up until that moment that the slurring sounds they were hearing were the signs of a man having a stroke.
When a woman went to the doctor’s office, her son tagged along in the waiting room. She was only supposed to be there for a bit. But her doctor looked at her and asked if she was OK. She nodded, “Yes.” The doctor said he wanted to keep her around for awhile. Something seemed off. The son was concerned but looked at his mother, thinking she looked OK to him. They’d driven in the car together with no problem. By the time her husband got off from work and switched places with her son, the doctors were still watching her carefully.
She’d had some tough days at work that week and just wanted to relax for a couple of days. This was throwing off the plan. Her daughter knew she was working very late nights and clashing with a couple of co-workers on her team, but she’d been in the financial business for well over 35 years. She knew her mother would pull through. When her father called her to tell her that her mother was at the doctor’s office for awhile so they could run some tests, she called her immediately.
“Mom,” her daughter said. “If you wanted some time off, you didn’t have to go this far.”
She laughed, expecting her mother to say something equally sarcastic back. Instead her mother was silent on the other end.
“Did you hear me?” she asked.
“Yes,” her mother said.
“You don’t have anything smart to say?” her daughter asked.
“No,” her mother said.
Long pause. “Mom, can you say anything other than ‘yes’ and ‘no’?” her daughter asked.
“I don’t know,” her mother said.
I heard the news that comedian and “A Different World” actor Sinbad recently had a stroke, and my heart goes out to him. Stroke risks are nearly twice as high for black people as for white people, and black people have the highest rate of death due to stroke.
When a person thinks of a stroke, they think of limp bodies on one side and older people. But far too often, people are unaware of how to recognize the other signs of a stroke in the early stages in which it is treatable. In both cases above, both the chauffeur driver (in his early 40s) and the mother (in her late 50s) survived and returned to work. How?
Someone was around in enough time for medical professionals to give the stroke survivors a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) — also called alteplase (Activase) — an IV injection of recombinantis. Usually given through a vein in the arm within 3–4.5 hours, this blood clot-buster drug can make all the difference. Arriving to a hospital within three hours and being given proper treatment can have long-term affects on reducing disabilities later on.
Minus speaking in a higher octave and having trouble remembering some words, you would never physically know the financial manager had had a stroke at all. And the chauffeur driver looks and talks exactly the same after he left the hospital. While 93 percent of respondents recognized numbness on one side of their body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 38 percent were aware of all the major symptoms. The daughter on the phone with her mother knew none of them; she’d never known anyone who had had a stroke before. And that daughter was me. She was also a former co-worker/friend of the chauffeur driver.
I heard the news that comedian/“A Different World” actor Sinbad recently had a stroke, and my heart goes out to him. My mother and the former work friend immediately came to mind. Stroke risks are nearly twice as high for black people as for white people, and black people have the highest rate of death due to stroke. Know the signs ahead of time. You never know when you can help someone else before it’s too late. If you see someone who looks like they are at the beginning stages of a stroke, remember FAST (watch the video or check out the infographic below). If you can practice FAST fast in a compromising situation, you have no idea how helpful it will be to others (and potentially yourself).
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