My dear friend Mervin Reed is one of the greatest characters our city has ever known. Without going into the hysterical details of it, he holds the singular distinction of being the only boy in the history of Lookout Junior High who was ever old enough to drive his own car to school. To hear him tell of it is one of the greatest one-man comedy routines of all time.
But Mervin made us cry down at our watering hole earlier this year when something very bad went wrong. Nobody quite knew what to do and for a long time he wouldn’t come around. He wouldn’t answer his phone and then we learned why; our fabled master of mirth had suffered a stroke. It is because of Mervin that I pause on this – World Stroke Day – to tell you that every 40 seconds in America one of us will suffer the same affliction.
The first thing you need to know is what the acronym F.A.S.T. means because those four letters, all early warning signs, can save your life. “F” is your face. If you see it drooping, one side of your smile unable to move, get to the emergency room fast. The “A” is your arms; if either becomes weak or tingly, get to the emergency room fast. The “S” is speech difficulty and if you are slurring your words or unable to complete a simple sentence, get to the emergency room fast. “T” stands for “time,” as in dialing 9-1-1 and telling the operator you are having a stroke and need an ambulance.
The dumbest mistake many of us make is we drive ourselves to the emergency room, or wait for a friend to come and take us, but stroke experts now believe “The Golden Hour” following a stroke is the very first hour. The faster ER doctors can get an amazing drug called “tPA” into your system, the less brain cells will be damaged and chances of a better recovery are tremendously increased.
Chattanooga is blessed with Dr. Tom Devlin’s program at Erlanger Hospital. Remember when President Bush came to Chattanooga just to see it? The Stroke Center at Erlanger is one of the best in the country but is helpless until you get in the door. The last thing a stroke victim wants to do is “save money” by shunning an ambulance ride with well-trained EMTs, radio contact with emergency-room personnel and an overwhelming safety factor. Yelling at Bernice to run a red light in the family Toyota is bad for everybody.
The biggest reason a stroke kills somebody in America every four minutes is because we are a stubborn people, thinking up excuses rather than solutions. We say we “slept funny” or must have gotten tired driving home. We dismiss obvious symptoms when all it takes is a look in the mirror to see facial paralysis or that tell-tale floppy smile. Time is critical and I’ll give you my word no doctor or nurse will ever laugh at our misdiagnosis – they have seen what strokes can do.
The biggest reason we have strokes is high blood pressure, which is more easily treated today than ever in our history. Every adult should know their blood pressure and monitor it. If you hate doctors go to one of the pharmacies that offer free screenings and check it as often as you can. If you need hypertension medicine find a doctor you like rather than croak because you simply dislike Dr. Rude. That’s stinkin’ thinkin’!
Diabetes, cholesterol and other factors can also make your blood pressure rise and, if suddenly you get what are called TIAs, little mini-stroke deals that are “transient ischemic attacks,” don’t discount them because they may be tipping you off that something bigger could come along. One in six Americans will have a stroke in their lifetime. Deaths from strokes are our nation’s fourth-leading cause of death and rank No. 2 in the world.
I can’t help but believe if Mervin Reed had been rushed to the hospital and administered tPA drugs, he might not be going to Siskin for speech rehab right now. But, don’t worry, he’s now cracking jokes and his marvelous humor is back.
He told me the other day that not long ago he when to a fast-food drive-in window and said his halting, stuttering speech kicked in just as he placed his order. When he finally finished the attendant asked if he’d repeat his order. “What for, honey? I’ve just told you three times!” he blurted just perfectly.
If you even think you may be having a stroke – F.A.S.T.