As we got up from a lovely family dinner last weekend, I noticed that my 89 year old family friend, David, seemed to have trouble walking. He stood immobile in the bustling restaurant.
“Are you alright, David?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. I can see clearly out of my right eye, but my left field of vision is blurry. I think I might be having a TIA.”
A TIA is a Transient Ischemic Attack, or “mini-stroke,” is a momentary loss of blood flow to a part of the brain. Nerve cells in the brain will die when they are deprived of oxygen, and this will affect the use of the part of the body that they control.
I helped him to the car and we immediately drove to the closest emergency room. The signs of a TIA and of a stroke are the same, and there is no way to tell how long it will last, so it is important to get help right away. Some signs of a stroke are:
- Sudden numbness or tingling on one side of your body
- Sudden difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes
- Sudden confusion, difficulty with speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble with balance or walking
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
Luckily, by the time we got to the hospital, David said that he could see normally, but we still knew that it was still important for him to get checked. Time can make all the difference when someone is having a stroke – there are medicines available that can prevent permanent damage, but only if they are administered within 3 hours of the first symptoms.
Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the US, but they are not always fatal. According to the American Stroke Association, there are more than 4.7 million people who have had strokes and are alive today.
Risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, carotid artery disease, physical inactivity and cigarette smoking. While some risk factors (age, heredity and gender) cannot be changed, many risk factors can be diminished by steps people can do, including:
- Stop smoking.
- Eat less salt and sugar
- Eat a heart healthy diet and lose weight if needed
The hospital staff did an EKG of his heart and a CT scan of David’s brain right away to make sure that the clot had resolved itself. They gave him aspirin as an anticoagulant and observed him overnight. The next day, they did an MRI of David’s brain and a sonogram of his blood vessels – again to better diagnose what was going on.
We were lucky – David was released from the hospital yesterday, and he will now follow up with his doctors to see if they will adjust his medications. Knowing David, he will be back at work (yes!) tomorrow, and will be cracking silly jokes with the family when we get together again next weekend. And I, knowing how things could have changed in the flash of an instant, will make sure to look into his eyes with love, and to savor every moment we have together.