Saturday, December 20, 2008

Next Time, Call 911: A Public Service Announcement

I'm cutting the snark for this one, people.

A friend of mine (let's call her Jan and say she's an accountant, shall we?) told me on the phone that one of her coworkers had developed some worrying symptoms while at work. She'd suddenly been unable to remember anything beyond showering that morning, her speech became slow and her thought processes confused, and she began to drag one foot.

Jan told me that they sent the woman home with her husband. I told Jan--trying my best not to be judgmental, because Jan is in no way associated with the medical profession--that she should've called 911, that those were the symptoms of a stroke.

Jan replied, "We tried to convince her, but she wouldn't let us call the ambulance."

And here's the PSA part of this post:

The next time somebody you work or live with exhibits symptoms like speech difficulty, memory loss, numbness or tingling on one side of the body, gait disturbances, or simply something that seems "off"--like a really bad headache--call 911. 

It doesn't matter if they want you to or not. This is a "Fuck you, I'm calling 911" moment.

See, with strokes, there's a really, really limited amount of time during which treatment can do any good. With ischemic (clot) strokes, it's in the neighborhood of three hours. With hemorrhagic (bleeding) strokes, it's even less--time is of the essence in either case.

And, quite frankly, the person with the symptoms does not get to make the decision on what's appropriate. They're the ones having the symptoms, right? Uh...yeah. And their brain is already not right.

It's really hard not to make somebody like Jan feel defensive when you say, "Listen: next time, just call 911, okay?" It's also really hard to make the decision to call when the person you're calling about is quite upset that you would do such a thing. And, of course, there's a whole 'nother level of bumblefuck that ensues if the person with the symptoms gets it together enough to refuse ambulance transport.

The point here is that you only have one brain. What you do with it is your business, of course, but if you notice something off-key with your own or another person's brain, it's the responsible thing to do to notify people who have good drugs and machines that go beep. If it's a false alarm, dandy. But if it's not, and you send that person home to sleep....

Well. Jan's coworker is fine. What she had was either (probably, since I'm no diagnostician) a TIA or an atypical migraine. Jan and her other coworkers are still encouraging her to see a doctor next week.

The coworker got lucky.

Next time, call 911. Please.


Anonymous said...

Well, you've scared the shit out of _me_. Mission accomplished, Head Nurse.
Love the blog, BTW.

Anonymous said...

WOW and... double WOW.
That's very frustrating and scary for friends to simply shrug off something of that nature.
Is the public that mis-informed?

shrimplate said...

I've seen migraines do that.

Of course, I've also seen people stroke out and spend the rest of their lives dependent upon others for assistance with basic activities of living.

Anonymous said...

You better believe they are that misinformed...

RehabNurse said...

Amen, sister!

Sure beats the heck out of chancing spending quality time with me in rehab!

Like my old nursing instructor used to say, if someone starts acting weirder than their normal baseline, go check it out.

My other favorite: "I've had this nagging chest pain (or "heartburn") for hours. I think I'll just lie down."

One guy I worked with did that and never woke up again. Really, really sad.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen Jill Bolte Taylor's (neuroscientist) description of the stroke she had, and the rare opportunity it gave her to experience firsthand what she had only studied from the outside?

One of the most fascinating 18-minute talks I've ever seen!

Urbie (posting anonymously because I can't remember my password)

Anonymous said...

Working in a stroke unit i am amazed that there hasn't been more public ed regarding this. I have nurse quite a few "Im looking droopy, sound drunk walking with a limp, I think I'll see my Doc in the morning" They are seldom walking next day let me tell you. I give it to them straight. any symptoms and you get your butt to the ED. jacquiBee

Dr. Alice said...

I absolutely agree. That coworker got very lucky.

On a different note, I have tagged you with a meme and hope you enjoy it.