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When minutes can mean life or death

As World Stroke Day, October 29, fast approaches, it got me thinking about time. I think you would agree with me that there never seems to be enough hours in the day. How often do you say or hear other people comment, I’m so busy? It feels like we never have enough time and every minute counts. But what happens when minutes can mean the difference between life and death? Let’s talk about it.

In my case, I wasted precious minutes – 14,400 to be exact (10 days) – to get help when I needed it, and that almost cost me my life. Why? Because like many people, I didn’t prioritize my own health. Instead, I made checking projects off my to-do list at work, wrapping holiday gifts and racing to catch a train to get to the office early more important than my own health.

You see, time wasn’t on my side six years ago. I experienced stroke symptoms, which included slurred speech and the worst head of my life during a meeting at work. While I was a bit shaken by the symptoms, I brushed them off. Stroke never even crossed my mind. After all, I was a young, healthy woman. When my mom told me to go to the ER because she thought I was having a stroke, all I could think about was how that would take me away from the office for too long and that stroke couldn’t happen to me. However, I did make the time to stop by urgent care on my way home from work that night, where I was diagnosed with a migraine and sent home with medication. Little did I know at the time that the clocking was ticking and with every passing minute, I was closer to having a life-ending or life-changing stroke.

Time is brain is a memorable catchphrase that explains people experiencing stroke symptoms need to receive care as quickly as possible. It took me 10 days and two misdiagnoses to get the medical help I needed because everything else in my life seemed more important than my health. I was lucky, and as the doctor told me, “I had an angel on my shoulder who kept me from dying.”

Here’s what you can learn from me about time:

Minutes matter when a stroke strikes. The first few minutes following a stroke are critical in determining the short- and long-term outcome for the patient. According to the American Stroke Association, a person loses 2 million brain cells every minute a stroke goes untreated. Being able to quickly recognize stroke symptoms can help a person get the right care and have the best outcome.

Work can wait. Make your health and well-being a top priority. A great example of this is Jonathan Frostick, whose LinkedIn post went viral and made headlines when he shared how his heart attack has made him reevaluate his approach to work-life balance. I encourage you read his story. Make time for your health and wellness. Your manager and company will understand. If they don’t, then it’s time to find a new job.

Don’t delay tests or doctor’s appointments. I delayed getting life-saving tests because I didn’t want to cancel my training at the gym or miss work meetings. Not smart. Deciding to weight lift or attend a meeting instead of going for a brain scan was the wrong choice. That time could have killed me.

Take the time to learn the signs of stroke. The clock starts the moment the first symptom appears. In many cases, stroke symptoms come on suddenly. One out of three times a bystander makes the decision to get medical help when a someone is having a stroke. While not everyone will experience the same symptoms, here are the most common and you only need ONE symptom:

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

  • Confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech.

  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes.

  • Difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination.

  • Sudden severe headache, also known as the “worst headache of your life” with no known cause.

On World Stroke Day, we can all be stroke heroes by taking a few minutes to share the warning signs of stroke with one person and asking them to do the same. Together, we can save precious time and lives.

Visit the World Stroke Organization to learn more.

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