Quick Action Makes All the Difference

One Woman's Experience

For the vast majority of stroke patients, their best bet for preventing long-term disability is the clot-busting drug tPA—but the time frame for administering tPA is short: within three hours of the onset of stroke symptoms. That’s why calling 911 is critical.

Liz Dirkse is one of 134 stroke patients treated at Holland Hospital in 2011. Liz agreed to answer our questions to help inform others of the importance of knowing stroke symptoms and acting quickly. Following is an account of her experience, in her own words.

What were you doing when you started experiencing stroke symptoms?

It was around 8:30 pm, and I was at home in my office, playing a computer game. My husband, Tom, was in the living room watching television.

What happened? How did you feel?

Watching the computer screen, I noticed that the game I was playing stopped moving. Naturally, I assumed the computer had frozen up. I kept watching as I clicked and scrolled and hoped something would move, but it didn’t. I looked down to see if the mouse had, perhaps, turned off. The mouse was fine. I realized nothing was moving because I wasn’t moving! I tried to shut down the computer, to go tell my husband what had happened, but all I could do was stare at it. I walked (kind of jerky) into the living room, and found myself flapping my arms to get his attention, but couldn’t tell him anything. Everything was right on the tip of my tongue, but my brain couldn’t tell my mouth what to do! After a few questions from Tom, he realized that something terrible was happening. He told me to sit down and sit still.

Did someone call 911? How did you get to the Holland Hospital ER?

Tom called 911 and told them I was having a stroke and needed an ambulance right away. I live in a rural area, so my husband called right back to make sure they knew where we were. Within minutes, the Port Sheldon Township Fire & Rescue guys arrived and rapidly started taking all kinds of readings. They kept talking to me and asking me questions to test my cognition. I got horribly frustrated trying to answer, but couldn’t talk. Shortly thereafter, the ambulance arrived and bundled me into the vehicle for a quick trip to Holland Hospital. (They asked what hospital to take me to and I nodded rapidly when they offered Holland Hospital.) The ride was very bizarre, like watching a movie, or looking out of water or a fish bowl.

In the Emergency Room, a whole team of people and machines took over. They tried to let my family (daughter, sister, and brother) know what they were doing each step of the way, and were dealing with me constantly trying to communicate with them. The time rapidly came for Tom to make a decision as to whether or not I was to have the “Magic Medicine” [tPA] that can be administered to stroke victims if given it within a small time window and if certain conditions are met. All the pluses and minuses were discussed and family questions were answered, and Tom agreed to have the physician administer the medicine. Within a few minutes, my mind started to clear a little. I still wasn’t talking sensibly, but I was muttering nonsense and that seemed to satisfy the medical team, so they sent me up to a room.

How long were you in the hospital? Was it a positive experience?

I spent the next two days in Intensive Care with almost continual monitoring. I was frequently questioned about the day, year and president, told to smile, and was shown lots of pictures and asked what they were. When first starting these tests, I was very disappointed in myself. I knew exactly what the answers and pictures were, but couldn’t get the words out of my mouth. Then, I was put in a Telemetry room for three or four more days while I got control of my speech and reasoning before being released to home. During the whole time, I was treated in a very professional manner while being shown kind and sincere care from all staff members. It was a very positive experience. Even my family members, who were terribly confused and frightened in the beginning, were treated in a fashion that left them trusting the doctors and staff.

Did you receive follow-up care after you went home?

After returning home, I had a [Holland Hospital Home Health] nurse visit for a week, where she checked all my vital readings and continued to administer the questions and pictures to test my cognition and speech abilities. She made me feel at ease and confident in what she was doing for me.

How are you feeling now?

Now a year has passed and I still have some lingering problems. The most aggravating is my short-term memory loss. (I can remember what color my Easter dress was in 1956, but I have no clue what I had for breakfast.) I have Post-it notes all over my house and car, and a date book in my purse to help remember appointments and obligations. My husband, bless him, gently reminds me of things that I forget. Thankfully, my physical capabilities are pretty normal—normal for me, anyway.

What advice do you have for others?

I think the most important part of this whole ordeal was to have the right information for the people who needed it to treat me. Tom, my husband, recognized stroke symptoms and acted quickly. The rescue guys started treatment and kept me going till the ambulance arrived. The Emergency Room personnel were well versed in the diagnosis and process of treating stroke victims. Everything was dealt with very quickly and accurately. The nurses and doctors involved were focused and able.

These are the things that count in a stroke. Knowing what to do and doing it quickly make all the difference. And, as unpleasant as it is, please make sure your family is told what you wish to have done in the event that you have a stroke. It is immensely easier for them if they know your wishes.

Thank you, Liz.