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Sofley column: Mini-stroke as experienced by a speech pathologist

By Terry Sofley
For the Salisbury Post
In January, I had a mini-stroke. A stroke is when a clogged or burst artery interrupts blood flow to the brain causing affected brain cells to die and function of the body parts they control is impaired or lost. I felt sheer terror since as a speech-language pathologist, I knew what was happening to me. I was home alone, sick, while my husband, John, was out of town.
I had what is called a TIA, transient ischemic attack. For a while the blood flow is blocked, then it goes away, and usually all symptoms disappear.
First, I realized my legs would not hold me up to walk to the bathroom and I had a stabbing headache, an 8 to 9 on a pain scale of 1 to 10. Since I was home alone, I tried to phone for help but my fingers just would not hit the right keys. Also, since I was having trouble thinking, I could not remember to dial 911. With speed dial I managed to leave a couple of messages that I found out later made little sense.
Finally, I actually reached a person and not an answering machine. I realized I couldn’t say what I thought I was saying, but help was on the way. My mother-in-law came to pick me up. I think I told her not to call 911, but I wasn’t thinking straight.
Once I got to the hospital, the one thing that helped me is I keep my list of medications and allergies and medical diagnoses in my PDA. If you don’t have your own list, make one now and put it in your wallet or purse with your insurance card and keep it updated. It kept them from using CT dye for my scan and causing a major allergic reaction. Amazingly enough, I was able to show the staff where to find the list with a little help.
Also in my cellphone, I had an ICE list. This is a who to call “in case of emergency.” You type in ICE and the person’s name and number. Many new cellphones have a place for up to 3 ICE phone numbers.
At the hospital, they couldn’t give me aspirin because I am very allergic to it. Since it took me so long to get help and I was confused as to where to go, it was over the time limit for the new medication for strokes that is now available. Miscommunication had my mother-in-law taking me into the doctor’s office rather than the hospital where I sat in the waiting room for 20-plus minutes. I should have gone straight to the ER.
By the time I was back from my CT scan, my speech skills were coming back. I kept the ER staff laughing at me by telling them I was going to keep talking just for the sheer enjoyment of being able to speak again.
I had been having minor symptoms of TIAs for months that worried me, but they didn’t seem important to anyone else. Many times I told my doctor and husband that I was forgetting words, that I was writing down the wrong dates or times for appointments, that I was having trouble following conversations and that sometimes I would forget whole conversations.
I was having sudden numbness or weakness of my face, arm and leg. I was having trouble walking, because of dizziness, loss of balance and loss of coordination; I was falling without warning, and my legs would give way.
I was having sudden severe headaches with no known cause, and I went from being an avid reader ó two to three books a week ó to having trouble following the storyline. I quit reading the newspaper.
I kept telling my doctor and my husband I was scared, but there was always an answer: “Memory problems at your age are normal.” (I’m 53).
Or, “Pain can cause memory problems.” Or sometimes, “You are on so many medications these side effects can happen.”
They just did not recognize or see the symptoms themselves. This time, however, the symptoms were severe and very clear. Everyone could see and hear my problems.
So go ahead and tell your family and doctor if things aren’t normal for you. Let your doctor and spouse or kids know what is happening. Give examples of things you’ve done out of the ordinary.
I am now on Plavix and pray daily that I will never have a full stroke.
But I still have occasional symptoms, so I stay a bit scared.

Terry Sofley is a speech-language pathologist.

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