I learned about strokes the hard way

I learned about strokes the hard way

(Editor’s note: Steve Kruse, who has written on other subjects previously for Senior Scene, suffered a stroke recently. In this article, he offers his perspective on being a stroke survivor and the risks and warning signs of a stroke.)

When I realized I had a stroke, I panicked I might never be able to write again. My speech was messed up a little, but in my universe, I write, therefore I am.

Luckily, most of my faculties were restored within 24 to 48 hours from the time the medics rushed me from Lake Spanaway Golf Course to St. Joseph Medical Center’s stroke ward in Tacoma.

I don’t remember much of the details, other than it happened somewhere on the fifth hole and was witnessed by several of my old pals who were my playing partners that day. For some reason I suddenly couldn’t hit the ball. I missed it by a mile, which is not uncommon for me. I am a horrible golfer, so no surprise. However, it persisted. I was still not able to hit the ball, not even close. I remember trying six or more times, but then decided to simply watch my friends complete the nine-hole round rather than slow everyone else.

I also had some issues in talking with my friends in those remaining several holes, but nothing I was worried about, other than wanting to just go to my truck and head home. I refrained from talking much during those final four holes to the clubhouse.

My friends insisted I stop at the restaurant in the clubhouse, as they could tell that my behavior wasn’t right. I was having a hard time with my speech and comprehending what they were saying to me.

By the time the medics arrived I was thinking of leaving, but my friends and the management at the golf course wouldn’t let me. However, when I realized I couldn’t remember my name or birthdate, I knew it was time to go in the ambulance–a ride I don’t remember much at all, other than the CT scan at the hospital. I was still disoriented, having memory problems, and slurring my speech.

I first remember feeling I was recovering about the time I was admitted to my room in the stroke ward, shortly after the doctor confirmed my preliminary tests. It was firm: I had a small stroke in the frontal lobe.

At that point, the reality set in along with some emotions. I wasn’t sure what to expect or if there would be any long-term consequences. My main thought was I would never want to be a problem for my family or friends.

I ended up sleeping most the day and night at the hospital. I also had an MRI, while they continued to bring down my high blood pressure that typically accompanies a stroke, they explained. Of course, the MRI basically confirmed the small stroke, maybe a little bigger than first thought.

In short, I took a hit in the speech and reading area, possible language and     concentration areas. A big percentage of people lose motor control over muscles, arms, face, etc., but none of those were a problem for me.

I was extremely lucky, but I still don’t understand why it happened to me, even though nearly 795,000 people have a stroke in the United States every year, with 137,000 deaths, according to the American Heart Association (AHA) and Strokecenter.org. The majority is around 610,000 first-time strokes, though 185,000 (roughly 30 percent) are most likely to have another stroke within five years.

Layout note: copybreak header or use dropcap. STROKE RISK HIGH FOR OLDER FOLKS

In general, a stroke is the leading cause of death and disability in the U.S., with nearly 75 percent of those 65 years or older.

At 69 years old, looks like I’m a prime candidate for another stroke and need to take better of my health, as well as do a better job of recognizing when I’m having one. I also need to understand better what happens in a stroke.

For starters, my stroke was an “ischemic,” which makes up about 87 percent of most strokes. A “hemorrhagic” stroke is around 13 percent.

In general, the ischemic occurs when a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain is obstructed.

Hemorrhagic strokes are caused by a weakened blood vessel, ruptures or even an aneurysm. High blood pressure is associated with all strokes, but specifically with the hemorrhagic.

In fact, the American Stroke Association has several classifications for strokes, including a Transient Ischemic Attach (TIA), a “mini stroke,” Cryptogenic Stroke, and Brain Stem Stroke.

Though age is the biggest factor in having a stroke, African Americans have twice the risk as white people. Hispanic Americans and Indian/Alaska Americans are also at higher risk than whites, but not as high as African Americans.

Strokecenter.org, an independent web resource for stroke-related information, also notes that men are more likely to have a stroke than a women, and the highest U.S. stroke death rates are slightly higher in the southeastern states.

Any of the following can easily increase your chance of a stroke:

  • High blood pressure.
  • Diabetes.
  • Heart disease.
  • Previous stroke or TIA.
  • Cigarette smoking.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Too much alcohol.
  • Drug abuse.
  • Overweight.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • Being pregnant.
  • Menopause.
  • Family history and genetics.
  • Genetic conditions.

Unfortunately, I hit a lot of the checks on the list of risks (like most people), including the fact I am old (69), have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and some bad genes, I suspect.

However, to my credit, I have lost 55 pounds since January through a strict diet and exercise to the point I feel healthier than ever at 170 pounds. In fact, my doctor has slowly reduced some of the Type 2 diabetes and blood pressure medications.

I don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t abuse drugs and don’t eat any sodas, processed food, sugar or treats. My normal meal is baked chicken and steamed vegetables or salad.

My doctor, Cory Sullivan at Hawkes-Prairie Family Medicine (Providence Health and Services), tells me I’m in fairly good shape for my age and have been a model patient the past several years. As he said, I may have been lucky with this stroke due to my better overall health. It could have been worse with the extra weight and higher blood pressure I was packing less than nine months ago.

So, if I dodged a bullet this time, I need to be more diligent, as this stroke greatly increases my risk of having one again. Best I can do at this point is simply continue with my healthy diet and keeping the weight down, as well as exercise or at least being active each day.

Perhaps the most important lesson for me is to do a much better job of recognizing the symptoms of a stroke in the first place. Fact is, I didn’t realize or understand I had a stroke until I was at the hospital. I should have recognized my symptoms instead of spending more than an hour denying I had a problem.

That additional time makes a huge difference in helping your chance of greatly mitigating a stroke. Main thing the therapist and nurses at St. Joseph drummed into me is to remember the main stroke symptoms in the acronym FAST:

COPY/LAYOUT NOTE: Boldface first letter of bulleted sentences to reflect the FAST acronym in previous graph.

  • Facial drooping. Face typically droops on one side.
  • Arm weakness. Hard to raise arm fully.
  • Speech difficulties. Sluggish speech, inability to understand or comprehend fully.
  • Time to call emergency services. The sooner the better.

The sooner you recognize you are having a stroke, the better chance you have of living through it.

While I can’t say I’m 100 percent yet, I’m a good 95 percent as far as my speech and writing/reading comprehension. I’ve recovered quickly from the point I could not remember my name, though I still forget a word now and then, and remembering the best use of words isn’t always there.

I’m following the advice from all the experts and my doctor – read, write, and talk as much as I can each day. Good thing is I have abundant passion for each of these activities.

Again, I consider myself extremely lucky that I was with good friends who saw I wasn’t right and didn’t take my guff about not wanting to go to the hospital. And even luckier that I had a great hospital and medical services.

I hope I don’t have a stroke again, but I’m more educated now and will be more aware and responsive in the future.

Steve Kruse is a former newspaper editor and computer technology industry executive. Now retired, he also has managed youth baseball organizations in California.