by Dennis Townsend Do we take life for granted? When you’re young you have the feeling of invincibility and you see yourself living for a long time and retiring at an age where you can still enjoy the fruits of all your labor. You expect your health to be at a point that while you may feel the early stages of arthritis, it’s nothing that’s going to incapacitate you. But what if life throws you a curve ball and right at the time you were ready to retire, you have a stroke? My sister-in-law was the unfortunate victim of a apoplexy, better known nowadays as a stroke, at the age of 67. On November 21, 2013 the person that we all knew, the person that was so full of fun and laughter, the person who kept us amazed at the way she could emulate Patsy Cline at her impromptu concerts at the kitchen table, was unable to communicate.
Sandra Gaye Lambdin was the last person we thought would become a total invalid and as a matter of fact, we thought she would be the one rocking on the front porch telling the old stories to the grandchildren. There were no signs of trouble prior to the stroke so needless to say we were all caught by surprise. Truth is, more than 200,000 Americans die of strokes each year and hundreds of thousands are incapacitated by this sudden “striking down” affliction. It’s times like these that we really come to grips with our vulnerability and realize just how fragile the human brain is. Each part of the brain is involved with a different part of human activity; one part controls speech, one part controls the arms and legs on one side of the body, another controls the muscles in the mouth and so on. A stroke is the stoppage of blood to certain parts of the brain and it can be caused by a number of disorders or malfunctions in the blood vessels. There are different kinds of strokes and they go from mild, little strokes, to massive in which it may not be fatal, but it will immediately be reflected in some parts of the body. It is said that a non-fatal massive stroke patient has a life expectancy of 3 to 5 years of unrecognizable faces, lost memories and constant seizures.
Sandy was the one spoiling all the grandchildren and knew exactly what each one wanted for Christmas. Grandchildren who were now just shadows in her mind. She spent her days straining to understand what her daughter Tina is trying to tell her, but after a while she becomes so frustrated that she lashes out in what can only be described as a damnation of her solitary confinement inside of a now irreversibly damaged brain. She could not speak and for her family and friends to watch someone who spent her life as a saleswomen and who possessed the proverbial “gift of gab”, plus a singing voice that would have given Dolly Parton a run for her money, it was heartbreaking to watch her steady decline. And even though it seemed like Sandy’s brain was permanently afflicted, there was the thought that she could still think clearly but she just didn’t have the ability to communicate. That could have been the main reason for her bouts of anguish and despair that had become her constant companion. Recovering from a massive stroke sometimes requires months or even years of intensive physiotherapy to prevent the deterioration of muscle. Sandy requires constant care which required moving her out of her home where she lived alone and into her daughter’s house where she could be easily cared for. That officially gave her daughter Tina the title of caregiver and we all know, especially military families, the gamut of difficulties that goes with that title.
Are there warning signs that a stroke is imminent? They say that many of us have warning signs in the form of “little strokes”. Dr Walter Alvarez, an authority on these little strokes once stated ; “One of the commonest diseases of man is that in which, over the course of 10 or 20 years, a person is gradually pulled down by dozens or scores of thromboses (clots) of the little arteries in the brain .” In reality these little strokes are common but physicians are not familiar with all the peculiar things that happens to individuals who have these little strokes, and therefore, they go unnoticed. Little strokes are an indication that all is not well inside the blood vessels that feed oxygen to the brain. Recognizing little strokes and acting swiftly could prevent the “big stroke”, the one which leaves the permanent injuries including paralysis.. Strokes do not discriminate and age makes very little difference so everyone should be familiar with the warning signs of a possible stroke. The American Heart Association uses the acronym F.A.S.T., (Face drooping, Arm numbness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 911.) Time is the enemy here, and you want to get medical attention immediately if you feel any symptoms that you think is associated with your heart. Whether one recovers from a stroke depends on the severity of the stroke and how long the brain was without oxygen.. Sandy survived the stroke in a sense, she was still breathing, and her heart continued to beat, but how do you define her quality of life after the stroke? We were all happy that she was still alive,, but you could see it in her face everyday that she was not. We may have called it a blessing, but knowing Sandy as I do, she would have been quick to call it a curse. On August 3, 2016, Sandy left this world and I for one believe she is happy to be free of the chains in her mind that held her hostage for two and a half years. And that voice will stay with me forever.