It's Al's Turn: Something was wrong with mom
The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
It’s been 13 years since my mom died and I still struggle with the “what ifs.”
What if I would have immediately recognized something was wrong when I talked to her on the phone and called 911 right away?
What if I had dropped everything I was doing and immediately drove to see her in Parkers Prairie that night?
What if we could have got her to the hospital sooner?
What if bad weather hadn’t prevented a medical helicopter from getting her specialized care at a Twin Cities hospital more quickly?
My mom suffered a stroke on September 11, 2009. In fact, she likely started showing symptoms of a stroke days before then. But none of us knew it.
My wife, Celeste, and I were out having dinner with friends that night when I got a phone call from my brother that something was wrong with mom, who lived in Parkers Prairie. He and my sister had talked to her on the phone and she wasn’t making a lot of sense, stumbling over her words while insisting that was OK because she was able to write her name – over and over, which in itself was strange.
I called her too and there was definitely something off. She struggled to complete her train of thought and was foggy on the details of what was wrong, yet her vocabulary was razor sharp at times. She said she had an “excruciating” headache earlier that day but thought it was from a severe sinus infection. She made it clear she didn’t want to go to a hospital.
My siblings and I talked things over and thought it could be related to the new medications she’d been taking. We also realized a stroke was a possibility. We knew she needed to be examined. My brother and sister drove to Parkers Prairie and took her to the hospital in Alexandria. They quickly gave her a CT scan, which confirmed our fears of a stroke.
The doctor wanted to fly her to stroke specialists in the Twin Cities but heavy fog grounded the air care helicopters so they had to take her by ground ambulance.
The next few weeks are a blur – a horrible night at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul, praying that mom could get through it and survive a risky surgical procedure on her brain the next day when her blood would be thicker; moments of hope when she pulled through; the dawning realization that the recovery was going to be a long one with different hospitals, physical therapy and speech experts; and the many frustrating conversations with her as she struggled to relearn what was once her favorite activity – talking.
The doctors changed her medications many times, thinning her blood every time it thickened and then repeating the process over and over. I’m by no means a medical expert, but I think all the blood procedures ultimately led to her death nearly two months later on Nov. 9, 2009. She suffered a pulmonary embolism, which occurs when a blood clot gets stuck in an artery in the lung. She was only 73.
I’m sharing this experience with the hope that it might save a life.
World Stroke Day was Oct. 29. Stroke is the sixth leading cause of death and one of the leading causes of disability in Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, outcomes improve for victims when they can get to the hospital for treatment as soon as possible.
Please, help keep yourself and your loved ones safe by learning the warning signs of stroke. Remember the acronym, BE FAST:
B – Balance loss. Does the person have sudden loss of balance or coordination?
E – Eyesight changes. Is eyesight suddenly blurred or double? Is there a sudden loss of vision?
F – Face drooping. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
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, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand?
T – Time to call 9-1-1. If the person shows ANY of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to a hospital immediately.
Do everything you can to get care for stroke victims as soon as you can. Don’t look back and wonder, what if.
“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.