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On The Other Hand: Stroke advice: Act F.A.S.T. if this happens to you

Speaking from recent experience, if you’re going to suffer a stroke it’s better for a “mini-stroke” to choose your brain than a “regular” or “massive” stroke. Note: “mini-stroke” is an accepted medical term; “regular” and “massive” are my own.

Anyway, what brings the topic of strokes to this page: A recent MRI showed I’d experienced a “mini-stroke” a few days or weeks earlier; I didn’t even know I’d had such a stroke. This diagnosis, on a Tuesday morning when I expected to go to work, prompted an emergency room doctor at Valley View Hospital to airmail me to University Hospital in Denver later that day, where I eventually learned the following: Act “F.A.S.T.” if you or someone near you experience the following stroke indicators:

F (Face): Ask the individual to smile. Does one side droop?

A (Arm): Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one drift downward?

S (Speech): Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are they able to speak clearly? Can they repeat a sentence?

T (Time): Act fast. Call 911. Get to the hospital right away. Every second, brain cells die.

The folks at University Hospital provided me with the F.A.S.T. info as reading material while I bedded down there for observation for three nights in September. Before we continue, however, let’s backtrack two years. Maybe the following has happened to you.

Two years ago, my left hand suddenly went numb while I was packing some boxes in the basement. This prompted me to rush to a Carbondale medical clinic, where a doctor asked me to respond to the F.A.S.T. questions, which I answered in a way that led her to tell me “You are not having a stroke.”

Good news. I can’t imagine a scenario where a doctor telling you that you are not having a stroke is anything but good news.

Fast forward to earlier this summer. While cat sitting for a friend at Iron Bridge, my entire left arm went numb. I called 911 on my cell phone with my right hand. A Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District ambulance arrived. The EMTs got me into their ambulance, checked me out, my left arm wasn’t numb anymore, so I declined a transport to Valley View Hospital for an examination. Two nights later, I experienced a face-plant in the driveway while exiting my car, but factors other than stroke could have been at play.

A month or so later, one of my two doctors prescribed an MRI because I feel “wobbly” most of the time. Not dizzy or experiencing vertigo, just wobbly. Like an old lady I once worked with in a paint store, who touched or clutched chairs and other objects as she negotiated her way around the shop. The MRI and subsequent CAT scan showed I’d had a “mini-stroke” a few days or weeks earlier.

Long story short, after the MRI on that Tuesday I followed the doctor’s orders, drove to my workplace to tell one of my managers I would not be in for work that day, then drove to the Valley View Hospital emergency room. The ER doc told me I was being airlifted to University Hospital in Denver. The only things I had on me were my cell phone, the T-shirt from the restaurant where I work, one legal tablet, a pen, pants, shoes, socks and less than $100 cash in my pockets.

The helicopter ride from Valley View to the Rifle airport was a bucket-list item and most enjoyable, and the fixed-wing ride to Centennial Airport was OK. The EMTs who cocooned me on a stretcher for both trips were incredibly nice, professional and everything else one could ask from such dedicated people. They treated me like a rock star while loading me and unloading me.

Not so much the rock star treatment when a University Hospital employee rolled me down to the front entrance to wait for a Yellow Taxi for a $40 trip to Union Station to catch the Bustang back to Glenwood Springs. Which I didn’t catch, due primarily to ducking into the Union Station bar to figure out where the actual bus was loading. Me too, so to speak.

Ended up spending the night in my T-shirt, pants and shoes at the Motel 6 at Federal and I-70.

Called a taxi to get me to the Enterprise car rental the next day. Got one. Carefully drove out of Denver during morning rush hour traffic. Made it to Frisco OK, but then headed the wrong way on a roundabout until a guy honked at me.

Last week, I threw my jeans into the washer without taking the belt off. That’s never happened before.

Still seeing how this mini-stroke thing is playing out, but keeping “F.A.S.T.” in my mind.

Lynn Burton is a semi-retired newspaper guy who lives in Carbondale.