Third Age: Personal experience leads to stroke education - The Explorer: Aging Well

Third Age: Personal experience leads to stroke education

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Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 4:00 am

Nearly 800,000 people, and their families will experience a stroke this year.  I just did.  Police near Santa Fe discovered my paralyzed  brother-in-law, Tom, in his home alone two days after he suffered a major stroke  three weeks ago.  

I was ill prepared for the emotional jolt I felt when I entered his room at the Critical Care Unit at St. Vincent’s Trauma Hospital in Santa Fe.  This talented, active man I’ve known for more than 30 years, who  took huge gulps of life, lay suspended, motionless, unable to walk, talk, read or recall much of his life. What he could do, I learned, was hear me speak of my deep feelings for him and that I knew we’d collaborate  on a book about his recovery.  He signaled with his right hand.  I gave him a pen and pad of paper where he wrote:  “Book Title - How my lack of privacy was flashed all over the county.”  With just a hint of a grin, he underlined his book title, displayed his sense of humor and declared his indignity at the hands of a Critical Care Unit.  I was stunned and had to know more about strokes.

That night I read a book by Jill Bolte Taylor P.H.D. entitled, “My stroke of Insight,  A brain Scientist’s Personal Journey.”  

I encourage you to read it.

It took Jill eight years to recover from her stroke suffered at age 37 and devotes a full chapter to: “What I needed most.”   At the top of that list, she wrote, “I desperately needed people to treat me as though I would recover completely.”  She compellingly describes the morning of her stroke, organizing her rescue, milestones for recovery and finding her deep inner peace.

She makes a dramatic point in her first sentence:  “Every brain has a story.  And this is mine.”  Her brain chatter, lack of alarm, confusion, feeling fluid instead of solid, losing memories of the past and dreams of the future were drowning in a pool of blood seeping into her brain.

She writes, “I was thrown off balance. My right arm dropped - paralyzed. In that moment I knew: I’m having a stroke.  This is so cool.”

But it wasn’t cool. She needed to be rescued and that part of the story is fascinating and instructive.  I will only tell you she figured it out, unlike my brother-in-law, who lay in crisis for two days.

Her bottom line: “It was fortunate that I could remember that the best prognosis for someone having a stroke was to get him or her to the hospital as soon as possible.”

Above all, Jill wants you to read about the morning of her stroke December 10, 1996.  “If just one person recognizes the symptoms of a stroke, and calls for help - sooner rather than later - then my efforts over the last decade will be more than rewarded.”

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