Closing Range

When Fast Isn’t Enough

BE FAST, call an AMBULANCE and you might have the chance I never had

By Dave Skinner

A few weeks ago I was on a roll, working well past bedtime. Sure enough, at 3 a.m. my eyes fuzzed, my head hurt, so I reluctantly swatted “save,” shut down and walked off in the dark to home and bed.

Now, since teenage cancer treatments left me looking like a grilled hot dog, I’ve had sporadic but always temporary vision freakouts, migraines, and vertigos of various types. With age, they’ve gotten more common, especially when I behave badly.

But this “freakout” was different. I wasn’t walking straight, and couldn’t look directly at what I was trying to see. I actually got lost on the way home.

Finally home, I wondered, “Stroke?”

We have all seen those “FAST” commercials, maybe memorized the FAST card often handed out at first-aid training, or learned the hard way when those close suffer strokes. So — how’s my Face? Symmetrical beauty, at least the parts I could see. Arms? Went down and did a few pushups, no problem! Speech? “We the people, in order to form […] do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Patriot perfect, of course! I even “drunk tested” myself. Aced it.

Through all this, I had a wet headache, meaning when you cough, an evil elf stabs an ice pick in your skull. “Gosh, I’m getting old.” So I popped a couple of Aleve, “Time” for bed. Should have been aspirin … for at least two prior late-night “zonks,” I’d FAST’ed myself, passed, popped some aspirin for the headache and woke up fine.

Not this time. I woke around noon, fully, permanently blind in the left half of both eyes. “Whaaaat is THIS? Can’t be a $#*^% stroke, nobody in my family has ever stroked before age 80!” By then, I was already toast, too late for intervention.

Because I could still read, before riding to the hospital I went poking around, hoping hard to find something ELSE that might cause what I wasn’t seeing. No luck. It was one depressed puppy who dragged into the ER, life forever changed and not for the “better.”

Things got worse, too. Normally, I’d not be a stroke candidate. But I’m not normal. I’m a Hodgkins lymphoma “survivor” of 45 years now. My vultures are back. Scans found a big, fat “meninigioma” at the bottom of my brain. Even happier, my heart is fried, too. Cause of both? Radiation aftereffects. So much for a “cure,” eh? I’ll write about that in a future column, and if you have had Hodgkins, too, you’ll want to read it.

But by far the biggest shock hit as I read the “stroke management” handouts victims are issued. Along with explanations of all my yummy new “medical conditions” was, yep, a shiny new red-and-white “Spot-A-Stroke FAST” card to add to my collection. Oh, goody.

With the card came six pages on strokes, and on the fifth page came this: “’BE FAST’ is an easy way to remember the main warning signs of a stroke:”

Yo, what’s this BE you talkin’ ‘bout, Willis? I mean, I know FAST. Whazzis BE?

B – Balance. Signs are dizziness, sudden trouble walking, or loss of balance.”

Oh, no kidding? Had that in spades.

E – Eyes. Signs are trouble seeing or a sudden change in vision.”

I HAVE that in spades. (Insert long string of enraged cuss words here, which still can’t express the worst I’ve ever felt in my life, realizing I’d blown right past a last chance I’d never been told I had.)

Here’s my problem: Balance and Eyes were, and are, the ONLY symptoms that manifested in my case, including what I now know were at least TWO “transient” warning shots after similar late nights when I had, yep, FASTed myself. If only, right?

Even now, you can’t tell I’ve ever, ever stroked by watching or talking to me. But neither Balance nor Eyes are included in any of the “stroke education” materials I’ve seen, not the card, nor in the Montana public-service commercials.

To me, “educating” only with FAST falls way short, especially for those Montanans who spend significant time alone, especially outdoors. Critically, Balance (a couple drinks’ worth) and Eyes (a vertical split, not round) are things YOU experience when YOU stroke. The FAST four are things OTHER people notice when you stroke. If you’re alone, FAST simply is not enough for you. Instead, BE FAST, call an AMBULANCE and — you might have the chance I never had.

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