A Cautionary Tale: Know the Signs and Symptoms of Stroke and ACT FAST!

by Rich Cassidy on January 26, 2013

A few weeks ago, a client who is also a friend and I agreed to have lunch at a local restaurant. I arrived first, and within a few minutes, my friend arrived. He is an ebullient fellow, and as he joined me he was in his usual, buoyant mood. We shook hands and as we sat down, we started chatting animatedly, when suddenly I noticed my friend’s speech was slowing markedly. Within seconds, he was having trouble finding a word, and then his speech stopped altogether. As I tried to ask him if he was all right, he started to slump slightly to the left.

I jumped up, stepped around the table and put my hand on his left shoulder. I called out to the nearest server, and shouted: “Call 911, I think my friend is having a stroke.” She acted immediately. Within moments the manager had taken over being sure that my friend would not fall over, and I was on the phone with our fire department dispatcher, explaining the history. I resumed my post, and within three or four minutes, the Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Technician squad and a police officer were on the scene.

My friend was on his way to the hospital within 15 minutes from the onset of his symptoms. My guess — that he was having a stroke — turned out to be correct. He got prompt treatment, and it appears that this has minimized his long-term injury. I’ve visited him in the hospital several times, and within two weeks from his stroke, he was transferred to a rehabilitation facility, where he is receiving 6 to 8 hours of therapy a day, and seems to be making a rapid recovery. When I stopped by this week, he was speaking clearly, if a little slowly, and working hard on the treadmill to reduce some partial paralysis on the left side. We have reason to hope that he will have no permanent damage.

My friend says I saved his life. That’s speculation. I’m confident the restaurant staff would have reacted with equal speed had he been there without me. But the point about swift and decisive action in the event of a stroke is correct. The Mayo Clinic says:

Seek immediate medical attention if you notice any signs or symptoms of a stroke, even if they seem to fluctuate or disappear. Call 911 or your local emergency number right away. Every minute counts. Don’t wait to see if symptoms go away. The longer a stroke goes untreated, the greater the potential for brain damage and disability. To maximize the effectiveness of evaluation and treatment, you’ll need to be treated at a hospital within three hours after your first symptoms appeared. If you’re with someone you suspect is having a stroke, watch the person carefully while waiting for emergency assistance

I’ve had no training in recognizing a stroke, and only a little experience. I feel lucky to have quickly come to the right response.

There is a widely accepted protocol for laypeople trying to figure out what to do in such a situation. Take a look, and if you need to, as the video suggests, ACT FAST:

The bottom line is simple: If a person’s face looks a little bit uneven, if his arm drifts down, if her speech doesn’t seem right, don’t wait; seek immediate emergency medical attention. My friend and I hope you never need to know this, but that you will remember to act fast if you do.


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