Thursday, December 13, 2012

Australia's 2nd biggest killer

A couple of Fridays ago my parents, Farmer Bill & Granny were enjoying morning tea at the Riverside Café with me before they headed north to their home at Red Hill Station… a few short hours later I was on the phone to Triple O requesting an ambulance to meet my brother, Tom, who was rushing Farmer Bill back to Barham. Out of the blue my fit, healthy and lively father had suffered a stroke.

Several times during the Triple O phone call I had to stop and take a deep breath to calm the feeling of panic that was ballooning rapidly inside me. My voice waivered badly as I explained to the operator where to send the ambulance and the condition my father was in.

A medical emergency is a frightening experience no matter where you are but more so in rural Australia where medical help may be hours away. Red Hill Station is 160km north east of Barham between Moulamein and Hay. We made the decision to bring Dad to Barham Hospital even though it was considerably further than the Hay Hospital due to Hay’s current medical crisis.

For some time now the $15 million Hay Hospital has been without a doctor. The two doctors in the town do not have Visiting Medical Officer (VMO) status and as such, are unable to access the hospital. This leaves the local paramedics with the job of transferring all medical emergencies to Griffith, a further 160km east of Hay (215km from Red Hill Station).

Our family is feeling extremely grateful for the high standard of medical services that were available to us. The ambulance and paramedics met up with my brother and Farmer Bill just south of Moulamein. He was given oxygen and transferred to the Barham Hospital where he was attended to by our very capable nursing staff and excellent local doctor, Michael Clarke, before being transferred by ambulance to Bendigo for further treatment.

In Farmer Bill’s case, his heart (for reasons best known to itself) went into atrial fibrillation (AF), where the heart’s normal rhythm becomes irregular. This caused a blood clot to form in the heart which then travelled to his brain. Although he was able to walk, lift both arms and speak without slurring, he spoke very quietly, was having trouble finding the right words to say and some of what he was saying wasn’t making sense. His left eye was slightly drooped but otherwise he just felt very tired.

My Dad has been extremely lucky and his sense of humour is intact. The stroke affected his speech and some of his memory. While he knows exactly what he wants to say, Dad has trouble finding the correct words. He has also found it harder to recognise casual acquaintances and remember in what context he knows them.

These symptoms are diminishing with his speech and memory now improving on a daily basis thanks to neuroplasticity; the human brain’s amazing ability to build new connections to compensate for injury or disease. With practice, patience and perseverance, Dad is hoping to make a full recovery.

Strokes can occur at any age, it is the second biggest killer of Australians and a major cause of disability; it is caused by one of two ways. The main cause of stroke is blood supply to the brain being interrupted either from a blood clot travelling to the brain or arteries to the brain becoming blocked. The other cause of stroke is bleeding within the brain from a burst blood vessel.

When it comes to strokes, time is critical. It is important that people learn how to recognise signs of stroke. The acronym is FAST.

FACE – has their mouth drooped?
ARMS – can they lift both arms?
SPEECH – is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
TIME – is critical. If you see any of these signs or in any way suspect a stroke call 000 immediately.

The signs of stroke may occur alone or in combination and can last a few seconds or up to 24 hours and then disappear. So remember the FAST Test and act when necessary, it can save a life.

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