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Getting through a stroke

Stroke. I never thought I'd be speaking from experience, but I had a stroke on Oct. 7.

It was frightening, but, so far, I haven't become disabled. While we're publishing more than two months later, I started typing this opening from my Duluth hospital bed. I hoped that if I shared what happened to me, and the knowledge I've gained, it could benefit other Carlton County residents.

Stroke is one of the leading causes of American deaths following cardiac incidents. Can it be eliminated? Probably not. Can it be prevented? Yes, in some cases, with lifestyle changes and immediate response upon the onset of symptoms.

The following statistic stunned me: one in five people who have strokes dies within the following five years.

My story isn't unique. Strokes strike when we least expect them. After a long walk on the Cloquet golf course and then eating supper, I sat down in my easy chair to enjoy some television. While relaxing, I planned to tune in to a Gophers volleyball game. I dozed off, but woke up in time for the game. Strange, but I could hear some TV background noise, but couldn't keep my eyes open to watch. What was wrong? Was I that tired?

I told myself to stand up. No response from my body. I tried to punch in station 833 on my remote control. I'd get an eight, maybe a three, but couldn't enter all three numbers fast enough.

I told myself to stop it, wake up, and go to the bathroom. My body wasn't responding and I was cognizant that something was wrong. I went to the bathroom and tried to turn the light on. I couldn't reach up for the light switch. I forced my arm up and hit the switch.

My youngest son happened to be coming home from Red Wing to attend a friend's wedding. He came in the front door, asked downstairs how I was doing, and then proceeded to go upstairs to visit with my wife.

I tried going upstairs, but tripped on the steps. After hearing my struggles, they both came to check on me. With her 35 years of being a medical professional, my bride took one look at me and said, "Oh my God, he's having a stroke."

My speech was garbled. My son helped me get out the front door and into the car. His assignment was to stay with the dog. My wife drove and set a world speed record for the three blocks traversed to the Community Memorial Hospital emergency room in Cloquet.

This is how I remember the events.

My spouse alerted everyone in the emergency room that I was having a stroke. Nurses and doctors got an intravenous line into me and checked my vitals. After analysis, they determined I should have a CT scan and X-ray. While in the tube, I could feel my speech had somewhat returned, and I could communicate.

Emergency room staff started a dialogue with neurologists at Essentia Health St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth. With no obvious brain bleeds showing up, the medical team determined it was safe if I rode to Essentia. It was about midnight when I arrived there. I could somewhat walk and communicate and was checked in. They were waiting for me.

At Essentia, at 3 a.m., I had an MRI of my brain and neck. The next morning, I met with a physical therapist, a speech therapist, and an occupational therapist. Daily, I made improvements, but still spent five days in the hospital.

Due to Covid-19 and other restrictions on my floor, I could have only two visitors per day. Some slipped in to say "Hi." I regained some strength and walked up and down my hallway, took a shower, and talked to my roommate to pass the time.

I had more checks on my heart and body trying to determine the cause of the stroke. After hospital release, I wore a heart monitor for 30 days to check for atrial fibrillation or other potential heart ailments which I learned, thankfully, didn't show up.

On a restricted calorie diet in the hospital, I lost about 10 pounds even though I really like food.

It's been about two months now since the stroke and I've managed to keep the weight off. I am on blood thinners and other changes were made to my medications. It has taken a while for my body to adjust.

I get up and am dizzy and it takes awhile to stabilize. But, I have no restrictions. I consider myself very lucky.

When I review the recent past, to my amazement, on Nov. 1, on a beautiful fall day, I played and walked 18 holes on the Big Lake golf course with two buddies. On Dec. 4, I walked a couple of miles outdoors to go partridge hunting with a neighbor at Eagle Lake. Exercise feels good.

There are occasions when I search for words or phrases, more so, I noticed, right after the stroke. I wonder if there are repercussions from the brain not getting the proper oxygen for a short period of time. Or, could those word searches be just the normal aging process? I realize that strokes can be disabling, with the loss of speech, vision, limb movement or the permanent ability to drive or conduct other daily functions. Again, I was lucky.

So, is there a miracle stroke prevention pill? Unfortunately not. Some things are just not controllable, such as your age, gender, family history, or the color of one's skin.

But many are. Don't smoke, or quit if you are smoking. Use alcohol responsibly. Monitor your personal blood pressure. If diabetic, keep your blood sugar within your doctor's guidelines. Eat a healthy diet, with low fat with plenty of fruits and vegetables, and watch your weight.

Control blood pressure. Get plenty of exercise. Use no illicit drugs. These are guidelines, also, for nearly every cardiac patient or those with diabetes.

They are words and suggested directives from the American Medical Association and others designed to extend people's longevity. They are all noteworthy and yet, I can attest, can be challenging to try to achieve even knowing the potential negative life outcomes.

Besides preventive measures, the best stroke response is prompt medical care. Pay attention. Know the stroke signs. Be aware of the FAST stroke acronym (face, arms, speech, time) and actions you may need to take for a friend or family member. I'm indebted to all who helped me. Thank you. And Happy New Year.

Steve Korby's interest in writing goes back to when he was in fourth grade and editor of the Scan-Satellite school newspaper in Scanlon. He welcomes ideas for human interest stories and tales regarding Carlton County residents, projects, history, and plans c/o [email protected].

F.A.S.T. warning signs

Use the letters in F.A.S.T to spot a stroke

F = Face drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?

A = Arm weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S = Speech difficulty: Is speech slurred?

T = Time to call 911

Watch for sudden:

Numbness or weakness of face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body

Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech

Trouble seeing in one or both eyes

Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

Severe headache with no known cause

— From the American Stroke Association

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