Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Is This Happening?

My dad, a few years before his stroke.
May 1989

When I visited my parents' house around 5:00 p.m., I usually found my dad sitting at the table, watching the news and smoking a cigarette after having worked in the garden, tended to the cattle, or any number of other things that could happen under direct sunlight.

This day appeared to be no different. I walked in the front door and said, "Hey." He was at the table, watching television and trying to hold and light his cigarette. He dropped it a couple of times before giving up on the task for a moment. 

As I went to get a drink and some food out of the frig, he began telling me about working in the garden and how it was coming along, and how unusually hot it had been for a day in May. 

In between my munching and gulping, I noticed that his speech didn't sound quite right, a little slurred. I was about 21, so his 51 years seemed ancient to me. I instantly thought he had gotten too hot and was tired, or he had drank one too many beers due to the heat. But, I watched him continue to unsuccessfully light his cigarette. He'd drop it, pick it up, and drop it again. 

I asked him if he was ok. He said he was. I looked at his face. Something looked a little different, but if the slurred speech and cigarette trouble weren't happening, I wouldn't have noticed. 

After another minute or two, he went to lie down and was unsteady on his feet.

I thought, "Is this happening?" It seemed like a stroke, but it took me another couple of minutes to act on my feeling. I called my mother and brother. We went to the hospital. He seemed to feel better. The doctor sent him home.

Later that night, he had another, more significant episode. We went back to the hospital.

At the hospital, after the second episode, we learned that he had suffered a significant stroke and that the initial episode had been a smaller one. He survived, but in the days and weeks to come, we learned the extent of the stroke. His right side had been severely affected. He had no use of his right arm, no use of his right leg and the right side of his face had no movement.

He eventually regained some use of his leg and was able to walk short distances with a cane. His face returned to normal, but he never regained any use of his arm. His mind was not affected and his speech returned to normal, thankfully.

It seems strange to say, but he became more emotional after the stroke. He was much more prone to happiness and sadness, tears of joy or tears of pain. 

The stroke happened in 1989. Dad passed away in 2011. He lived and enjoyed his life for over 20 years after the stroke, but he would never mend another fence, never help another old mother cow deliver her calf, never toss his granddaughters into the air or run and play with them, though he wanted to, so badly.

All of this could possibly have been avoided. 

Please. Learn to see the signs. Learn to act and not think, "Is this happening?"


Visit the American Stroke Association and learn, and consider helping to further research here.

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