I want to devote this post to an emergency my family had to go through the past few days. Last Saturday, just as I was coincidentally adding my last post to this blog, I received a voice mail message from the eldest of my two sisters. Our stepfather was rushed to a hospital in Ohio with what was determined to be a stroke.
A small bit of background first: My stepfather, who is in his mid-70s, has been an over-the-road truck driver in one form or another for most of his life. It could be logs, food, corrugated cardboard: You name it, Dad more than likely hauled it from coast to coast or border to border. In recent years, Dad has done less of the 18-wheeler thing and more of small transport tasks, including what he had finished last Friday, transporting a large boat for winter storage.
Early last Saturday morning, according to the details my mom and the older of my two sisters told me, Dad was somewhere in northwestern Ohio, grabbing breakfast at a service plaza along the Ohio Turnpike and readying himself for another job hauling a boat with his trusty and capable pickup truck. Suddenly, Dad felt some numbness along the right side of his body. It steadily got worse as he tried to dial 9-1-1 with his cell phone. Problem was, though, his brain wasn’t able to tell his fingers how to dial 9-1-1.
At least Dad’s brain was still able to tell him how to hit my sister’s icon on his phone’s contact list. It was through that that Dad was able to tell her that he believed he was having a stroke. Sis suggested that Dad look for another emergency sign near his stop. And with that, I want to highlight the first big thing that may have saved Dad from any prolonged damage, or even saved his life: Up and down the Ohio Turnpike are signs advising drivers to dial #677 to report any unsafe situations or emergencies. Dad saw such a sign and had enough strength — and brainpower — to dial #677 and let the operator know he was having a stroke as well as a description of his truck. That triggered an alert system similar to AMBER Alerts or Silver Alerts: Every service plaza along the Turnpike was alerted of Dad’s medical emergency and to look for his truck. A clerk at Dad’s stop saw the alert, found Dad in his truck, and assisted him in contacting 9-1-1.
The clerk’s contacting 9-1-1 (and subsequently resolving the Turnpike alert) led to the second thing that certainly saved Dad: Within 20 minutes or so, a specialized ambulance arrived. I say it was “specialized” because not only was it manned with medics trained to care for stroke victims, it also had a video hookup with a doctor at a nearby stroke center in Toledo. That doctor was able to examine Dad’s situation and advise the medics on how to proceed. Indeed, they determined Dad was having a stroke, and the doctor advised the medics to inject medication into Dad’s bloodstream that would help alleviate the blockage. (Dad felt burning throughout his body from it, but that was a sign that the medication was doing its job.) This particular truck, from what Sis told me, is somewhat new and may be very rare; Sis learned there may be only 12 such trucks in the entire country, and none here in Wisconsin — making Dad and his emergency an effective testimonial to its benefits. (Makes me think some TV station around here, once they learn of these trucks, is gonna come calling to do a profile.)
Dad was alone in Ohio, so both of my sisters had to drop everything and make the long drive from Eastern Wisconsin to Toledo (7 hours or so?) to be with Dad. When they found the hospital Dad was in (after a lot of driving around), they found Dad resting comfortably but also alert. They met with the same doctor who examined Dad from the ambulance (Dad upon seeing him in person: “Hey, you were watching me from the TV in the ambulance!”), and the doctor advised that Dad was doing well with the anti-blockers in his system. However, he recommended that Dad undergo a carotid endarterectomy, a surgical procedure in which they would go into an artery in the left side of Dad’s neck to clear out the buildup of plaque that caused the stroke (and could lead to another stroke if left unchecked). Dad underwent the procedure first thing Monday morning, and after 3 hours came out with flying colors.
After two more days in the hospital to recuperate, Dad was given a clean bill of health (i.e. all limbs moving well, no need to walk with a cane, no sign of additional physical damage from the stroke) and checked out of the hospital. My sister drove Dad back, with Little Sis right behind driving Dad’s pickup truck. Dad, obviously, was still not in a condition to drive himself, and that was obvious when they came to a split on the interstate highway, whereas Sis and Dad would go one way and Little Sis would take Dad’s truck the other. Dad was confused by the road sign stating “Highway 57 to Green Bay.” “Hey,” he told Sis, “Highway 57 doesn’t go to Green Bay.” And despite the sign being right and Dad previously knowing that Highway 57 went to Green Bay, he was rather insistent that it didn’t.
That confusion on Dad’s part was a sign of two things: [A] Dad was slowly getting back to his ornery self… which, in a way, was unfortunate, as he’s always had an obstinate side. And [B] Dad’s brain still has a ways yet before fully recovering; he can’t entirely tell as before left from right or up from down… or, obviously, the road layouts he once knew so well. Which means, obviously, that he can’t drive for at least another month, nor can he legally drive commercially for at least 6 months. And when he will be able to drive commercially, it’s a probability that he’ll first need to pass a test (I’m not sure the legal ins and outs when it comes to that). Between now and then, he’s thinking about the sorts of jobs that will not only keep him occupied and put bread on his table, but also won’t cause him any more stress than he needs to have.
The good thing of all this, of course, is that our family still has our stepfather. Not only will he and his brain likely make a full recovery (including knowing his left from his right and all that), he’s now also a living testament to the need to react quickly at the first sign of a stroke. As the PSA says, “Time lost is brain lost.” Dad didn’t lose a relatively large amount of time when first noticing something was wrong, and it led to not a lot of his brain being lost, with whatever was lost hopefully rejuvenating over time.
For sure, I am not my stepfather’s stepson. Dad and I are like two peas from totally different pods. Heck, we’re probably from different rows of the garden. He can be conservative and ornery, while I can be… well, definitely not conservative (I mean, look at the heading of this blog), and I try my best to not let the difficulties of life get me all ornery and upset. Despite all that, however, I am cognizant of the fact that Dad has been in my life… er, our family’s lives for 38 years now. And even though we are not entirely like him and have our differences and our disagreements with him, we know how heartbreaking it would be to be without him. Hopefully, after this rather serious health scare, we won’t have to know how that would feel like for quite a while.