It was 8 a.m. Friday when we sat down to breakfast at a hotel in New Glarus, Wisconsin, where we met Kay’s Sycamore High School classmate, John Oltman, and his wife, Chris.
As we sat down, Kay fell over sideways, and as I grabbed her to put her back into the chair I sensed something was seriously wrong. She was mumbling. Chris, a retired nurse, immediately said “stroke” and I went to the front desk to call 911. Five minutes later, a police officer arrived to offer first aid, and the New Glarus Rescue Squad arrived in about 10 minutes.
Chris suggested instead of the local hospital we take her directly to the University of Wisconsin hospital, which has a specialty team for dealing with strokes. This was a wise move, as the golden hour is critical in treating a person early on.
When the ambulance arrived at the hospital, the stroke team was already on notice and rushed her into the emergency room for a CT scan. Minutes later, they told me the bad news. There was a blood clot in the brain, and a clot-busting drug would be tried.
Another scan showed that surgery using a thin wire inserted in the groin going up into the brain was advisable, a fairly new technique but one that’s been proven effective, so I signed the necessary papers as she was rushed into surgery.
The clot broke into two pieces when they were drawing it out, and one went into the area where speech and comprehension are affected. Something called “aphasia,” they told me. They managed to remove the second one, as well, but the damage was considerable.
Her right side had been paralyzed, and she lost the ability to swallow, but as I write this three days later, she has regained the use of her right side and can swallow again. Her speech and comprehension, however, are impaired for now.
By the time you read this, she will probably already be transferred to an acute stroke rehab hospital closer to home, and the long road back to recovery will begin for both of us.
It is too early to know the outcome, but I learned some lessons to be better prepared when away from home:
• Always have a list of medicines in your billfold or purse and know your spouse’s special dietary needs or allergies.
• Carry your insurance cards, names of your doctor(s) and pharmacy, and important family and close friends’ phone numbers and emails.
• Even a signed medical directive should be taken on trips. With smartphones, storing this information should be easy, but many of us don’t take the time to enter that vital data.
In my next column, I hope to share more about strokes and our situation.