A few weeks ago I had a mild stroke. I was putting on my makeup, and when I looked into the mirror and smiled to add my blush, I noticed that the left side of my face didn’t go up. I tried “readjusting my lips” and smiled again. Still a broken smile. I quick put on the blush anyway (because what else was I going to do with a brush full of blush?) and called John from the other room.

I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow of everything that happened because that’ll just make me sound as old as I already feel. But in the midst of it all, I learned a couple of things that are important (some more than others), and that’s what I want to tell you about today.

Know the Symptoms

First off, the important stuff: everyone needs to know the signs of a stroke and how to respond. No one ever plans on having a stroke but they can hit at any age, so knowing the symptoms is crucial. The American Stroke Association, along with the American Heart Association, have come up with an acronym to help you remember the signs of a stroke but honestly, the only one I could ever remember was the one that mentioned a droopy mouth – so it’s handy that’s the symptom I had. The acronym is F.A.S.T.

Face – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb?

Arm – Is one arm weak or numb? Have the victim raise both hands and see if one drifts downward.

Speech – Is the person’s speech slurred? Have the person repeat a simple sentence. If it doesn’t sound right, it’s time to act. I can’t tell you how many times I said “ma-ma,” “huckleberry,” and several other words.

Time – This isn’t a symptom, it’s a call to action. 911 should be called immediately. And I confess, I was annoyed with John when he called 911. Seriously, we live no more than seven minutes from the hospital and being as our EMTs are volunteers I knew we could make it to the hospital faster than they could make it to the ambulance garage and to my house. But here’s one of the things I learned: If you call for an ambulance you are simultaneously alerting the hospital. And trust me, nothing looks better than that team of doctors and nurses when you arrive. Also, and I had no idea this happened, but on the way to the hospital they can run an EKG and start an I.V., on most people at least (I’m a little bit of a problem in that regard and like I mentioned, we aren’t far enough from the hospital to give an EMT time to deal with problematic veins).

The other time-related thing to note is when you first noticed stroke symptoms. They’ll ask you as it affects the treatment process.

All of these symptoms, if stroke-related, will come on suddenly. If the slurred speech follows a night of drinking, you probably don’t need to worry so much about it being a stroke. Other symptoms are SUDDEN:

  • Numbness in one leg
  • Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe headache with no known cause. (Think worst headache of your life otherwise you’ll get all worried like I did the other day.)

Practical Stuff

Okay, so that’s the important information, now for the more practical information. First off, if you have an option, don’t wear uncomfortable clothes to the hospital. The gurney in the emergency room is uncomfortable enough without adding skinny jeans to the situation. I know it sounds minor but trust me, you’ll be on that gurney a lot longer than you might imagine. Put on your stretchy pants. You may not have time or be in any condition to make that decision, so the second-best piece of advice I can offer here is never wear uncomfortable clothes. That’s sound advice regardless of your current health situation.

Also, have a list of your current medications and supplements printed and ready to grab at a moment’s notice. You’ll be glad to have it all four times someone asks you what medications you take.

You Might as Well be Comfortable

After visiting the local emergency department, I was taken to a Mayo Clinic hospital in Rochester for an overnight stay. Once that decision was made I knew there were some things I was going to want John to get from the house. As you may have already assessed, I like to be comfortable, and having a few things from home can help make the hospital experience a little more tolerable. But here’s the deal, even if you’re still thinking fairly clearly, coming up with a list on the spur of the moment is challenging. Fortunately, once I got to the hospital I was able to call Paul, our oldest son, and ask him to pick up the things I’d forgotten and bring them to me. My suggestion may make you roll your eyes, but trust me, if you follow through on it, you’ll thank me should the situation ever arise. Ready? Create a list now of what you might want a family member to bring to you if you end up in the hospital in a conscious state. You might also want to add the general vicinity of where said items are located. Tape this list to the inside of a bathroom cupboard. Based on my experience you’ll definitely want the following items:

  • Lip gloss or lip balm – hospitals will dry your lips right up. Personally, I wish I’d had my lipstick so I didn’t look so close to dead.
  • Lotion – although the hospital probably has some, it won’t be as nice or as effective as your own.
  • Slippers – sure they’ll give you those cute little footies with non-slip bottoms but personally, I don’t like to have anything on my feet while I’m in bed. I do, however, want something on my feet between the bed and the bathroom so a pair of slip-on shoes or slippers is perfect.
  • Your current book or e-reader. Again, you’ll need to be in good enough condition to read.
  • One thing you don’t need is your pajamas. The hospital will provide you with a lovely blue and white gown for your comfort, as long as your comfort doesn’t involve having your back well-covered. But, your own pajamas won’t go on and off well over an I.V., so don’t bother anyone with looking for them.
  • A comfortable pair of leggings or lounge pants – if your back can’t be covered, your backside might as well be.
  • Cosmetics – this one is questionable, but I appreciated having my own toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Your Bible – again, this is obviously optional but I was happy to have mine with me when fear set in. Verses like the following will help get you through the rough patches.

“For I hold you by your right hand— I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.’” (Isaiah 41:13)

I’m happy to report that other than some lingering fatigue I am back to my old self, with my smile intact. Thanks be to God.