F.A.S.T. — What to do in case of a stroke . . . . by PDN maritime columnist David G. Sellars

By David G. Sellars

On Sunday, March 2, I returned from a four-month hiatus and resumed writing the Peninsula Daily News' “On the Waterfront” maritime column.

Friends, acquaintances and constant readers were quick to welcome me back with the universal question:

Did I enjoy my vacation?

My stock reply: If one considers recovering from three strokes a vacation, then the answer is an unequivocal no.

Once these fine folks heard that I had suffered a series of strokes, I was inundated with a host of questions that pointed up that like me, these people for the most part were unaware of the warning signs.

Some of the questions involved whether it was painful, whether I had a pain running down my left arm — and if I knew I was having a stoke.

To begin with, I did not know I was having a stroke.

Fortunately, my wife, Mardi, was home, recognized the warning signs and immediately called 9-1-1.

I shudder to think — and I don't shudder very often — where I would be today had my wife not known the warning signs of a stroke and not acted immediately.

I am not exaggerating when I say that she saved my life and, certainly by some measure, from a fate worse than death.

As for me, I did not know any of the warning signs of a stroke, so that's where this discussion begins.

Let's start by committing the acronym FAST to memory with the intent of using it as a mnemonic to help detect a stroke and seek medical help immediately.

The acronym stands for Facial, Arm, Speech and Time:

■   Facial drooping: A section of the face, usually only on one side, that is drooping and hard to move.

Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

My wife saw that the left side of my mouth was drooping.

■   Arm weakness: The inability to raise one's arm fully.

Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

In my case, my left arm was hanging lifeless at my side, and my left leg was not functioning.

■   Speech difficulties: An inability or difficulty to understand or produce speech.

Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is his or her speech slurred or strange?

In my case, my speech was very slow.

■   Time: It is of the essence when having a stroke.

An immediate call to 9-1-1 or trip to the hospital is recommended.

Also, it is important to note the time when any symptoms first appear. Write down the time.

If given within four hours of the first symptom, there is an FDA-approved clot-buster medication that may reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke.

There also are other types of treatments available that might help reduce the effects of a stroke.

Additional warning signs of a stroke include sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, and sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

Olympic Medical Center's website, www.olympicmedical.org, has an excellent public resource that is free of charge that confidentially assesses an individual's stroke risk.

Click on “Health Resources,” then select the “StrokeAware” drop-down tab and then click on the link in the StrokeAware section.

I had my first stroke on Monday, Nov. 4, and was transported to OMC, where my care was undertaken by the emergency room physicians in concert with the stroke team at the Cherry Hill Campus of Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.

Because of my wife's timely responses to my stroke symptoms, I was within the window for administering an FDA-approved rescue therapy drug called tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA.

I was discharged the next day.

The following Thursday, Nov. 7, I was walking through the living room in our home and collapsed with another stroke.

Mardi called 9-1-1, and I was returned to OMC. Later that day, I was transported via ambulance to Swedish, where I spent a few days in the CCU unit of the cardio and stroke wing.

Upon discharge from Swedish, I was referred to a neurologist in Seattle under whose care I remain.

During my first consultation with him, my wife and I reviewed a CT scan of my brain. The doctor pointed out the areas where I had suffered three strokes.

That tidbit of information came as a bit of a surprise to us because I thought I had had just two strokes.

Insofar as me having any pain associated with the strokes, the only pain I felt was when I fell in the living room and aggravated a previously injured hip.

In answer to those who asked about pain in the left arm, I believe that pain is symptomatic of a heart attack and a call to 9-1-1 is the correct response.

According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death, killing more than 133,000 people each year.

It also is a leading cause of serious, long-term adult disability.

As for me, when I had my strokes, I thought I had come to the end of the line. Thankfully, that was not the case.

Now that I'm four months past these life-changing events, I'd like to say all is back to normal — but that is not the case.

Life is challenging and sometimes a struggle, but each day is better than the one before, although my muddled thinking often is a roadblock to a few days' worth of progress.

Our life mimics the title of the 1970s sitcom “One Day at a Time” while keeping in mind my neurologist's words: “Life is for living!”

But along the way — every arduous step of the way — I have had the unwavering support and encouragement of the love of my life, Mardi, who keeps a sharp eye out for me and has 9-1-1 on speed dial.


David G. Sellars' essay, he advises, is intended not to be medical advice as much as “a cautionary tale woven to give others an insight . . . should they not think fast when their body is issuing them a stroke warning.”

Last modified: March 22. 2014 10:20PM
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