Preview of Your Coming Attractions

When I retired after 40 years of writing columns for the San Jose Mercury News, I figured I'd said about all I could say. Wrong. I've realized that at age 76, I'm about 10 years older than the oldest baby boomers, who are now turning 66. My very average body has had a lot of experiences in those 10 years. I've learned a lot that could be helpful to people just starting on that same path -- what to do, what to avoid, what to keep an eye on.. Consider me your canary-in-the-coalmine for the boomer generation. Tune in regularly for the heads-up advice.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bad Stuff II

     As you get older, statistics indicate that one of the Big Three – cancer, stroke or heart attack – will get you.
     Well, I’ve already told you about my experience with prostate cancer. Now, let me tell you about my stroke.
     It happened in mid-February. I’d been having a persistent headache in my right temple, which a doctor diagnosed as a possible sinus/allergy reaction. But then, when I went for a shopping trip to Costco, the other shoe dropped. I tried to reach into my pocket to get out my Costco card, and found that I couldn’t. My left hand wasn’t working, I wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do. Uh, oh. Headache and paralysis – two of the warning signs. Instead of going shopping, my wife hustled me to the hospital instead.
     Walk into an emergency room, tell them you think you’re having a stroke, and lots happens fast. They quickly stuck my head into a CT scan machine, where it was discovered that there had been bleeding – a puddle of blood at the temple where I’d felt the headache – that was affecting my left hand. I was given anti-seizure medication (the paralysis was diagnosed as a non-convulsive seizure), plus medication to reduce that blood puddle, and taken to the ICU for overnight evaluation.
     Subsequent brain scans showed the bleeding had stopped. It took awhile for the docs to get the proper balance of meds to keep my symptoms from recurring, but eventually they did. If the bleeding had continued, they would have had to go to Plan B – drilling into my skull to drain the blood – but that never became necessary. Good thing. I didn’t need another hole in my head.
     I had no recollection of bumping my head, which might have caused the bruise on my brain. It may have been that blood-thinning medication I’d been on to forestall heart problems had been contributory. No way of knowing for sure.
     But what I do know is that today I am symptom-free. The blood puddle has been reabsorbed. My left hand works the way it did before the stroke. The medication – and getting to the ER in a hurry – did the trick. If my stroke had been caused by a clot, and if I’d also gotten to the ER within three hours, they would have used TPA, a drug that busts clots, and I’d be in the same good shape afterward as I am now.
     The take-away from all this:
     Recognize the symptoms of stroke: sudden numbness of face or limbs, sudden severe headache, sudden dizziness or loss of balance, sudden difficulty speaking or understanding, sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes. You don’t need to have all of them. Any two will do.
     And if that happens, call 911 or get to a stroke center ER within three hours. Don’t put it off or hope you’ll get better. You will get better – but only if you get prompt help.
    So for me, that’s two out of the Big Three, and I’m still up and kicking. If I ever do have a heart attack, I hope I’ll be able to tell you about that afterward, too.

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