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by Nina Valdes
Photos: R. Maramba unless stated otherwise


The brain suffers from lack of blood supply, making it lose its function rapidly. This results in the inability to move limb, understand or formulate speech, impaired vision. . . It’s either a case of ischemia which is lack of blood flow due to thrombosis or arterial embolism, or it’s a case of hemorrhage. Either way it’s a medical emergency. It’s a stroke.


Dark cloudy Jardines SabatiniOne blustery October afternoon, I was on my computer putting the finishing touches on an upcoming project when the phone rang. The caller was one of my best friends. She’s vibrant, witty, fun-loving, energetic middle-aged woman who possesses a dry sense of humor and has never missed a day of work due to illness. We gossipped and small-talked, and she proceeded to relay details of a recent incident that had upset her greatly.

This incident wasn’t directly related to her but to her closest friend and business partner of many years. It appears that he had been excluded from an important discussion involving the promotion of a junior executive in the company. She felt that he should have had some input specially since he was one of the company’s founders and is a member of the Board. Instead, the promotion was presented to him as  fait accompli, which he accepted in a gracious manner.

She, however, was incensed by the surreptitious way in which they performed the task. As she continued to speak  I realized that she was becoming more emotional and I tried to lighten the atmosphere with a bit of humor and explained to her that in the corporate world this was business as usual. I advised her to let it go.

She didn’t respond with a “Yes, you’re right, I should let it pass” as I hoped she would. Instead she answered me in some alien language that I couldn’t fathom. Several times I called her name. And each time I get this garbled language from her which made absolutely no sense. I began to panic.

Then it hit me. My God, she was having a stroke! I asked her to calm down, take a seat, and hang up the phone.

I promised I’d call right back and get someone else to answer.

I rang the number many times and I couldn’t understand why no one answered. I was beside myself. Although it was after five I knew that she was rarely in the office alone. But I felt totally helpless. I imagined her passed out on the floor and unable to speak. I wasn’t sure if a colleauge would, by chance, find her, or what. I was reluctant to call Emergency Service because I didn’t know how they’d gain access to her securely-locked office in a building with no porter after office hours. I didn’t know who had a set of keys.

I felt my only weapon was the telephone which I used continually for several hours.

By the grace of God it appears that one of her colleagues had left some reading material on the desk and went back to retrieve it. She found my friend just regaining consciousness and was sufficiently concerned that she immediately took her to the hospital where they remained for hours. The doctor treated her, prescribed appropriate medication and scheduled her for a battery of tests. Her condition was diagnosed as ischemic mild stroke but it could have been infinitely worse. Her colleague’s quick thinking and concern possibly saved my friend’s life.

Generic aspirin distributed by Target Corp. Photo ceded under GNU Free Documentation and Creative Commons Attribution-SA 3.0 licenses, by Ragesoss.

For the past half-century oral anticoagulants such as aspirin are the mainstay for preventing stroke. (Photo: Generic aspirin distributed by Target Corp, by Ragesoss, Creative Commons Attribution-SA 3.0 licenses.)

Thankfully she’s on the mend, with no permanent damage. Although she’s been plagued with dizziness and nausea for the past months she’s dutifully taking her meds and attempting to regain her strength through regimented exercise.

However, this incident prompted me to review some of the information I had learned and forgotten from my days as a nursing student many years ago. I remember how to properly bandage a wound, the correct procedure for administering CPR, the application of pressure to prevent excessive blood loss, and varios other medical techniques but little about the care of a possible stroke victim. Would you know what signs to look for? And if it were occurring in front of you, what should you do?

I was prompted to do some research, a refresher course so to speak . Allow me to share some information with you. Keep these points in mind and you’re likely to spare yourself a scary medical experience.


Stroke Warning Signs

Sometimes symptoms of stroke develop gradually. But if you are having a stroke you are more likely  to have one or more sudden warning signs like these:

  • Numbness or weakness in your face, arm or leg, specially on one side
  • Confusion or trouble understanding other people
  • Trouble seeing with one or both eyes
  • Trouble walking or staying balanced or coordinated
  • Dizziness
  • Severe headache that comes on for no known reason

What to Do If You Have Stroke Symptoms

Don’t ignore stroke warning signs even if you have just one or if symptoms are mild or go away. Call 112 if you’re in Madrid if you have one or more symptoms for more than a few minutes. The emergency number has operators who speak English and French.

Time is of the Essence

 Initial treatment for a stroke happens in the hospital. Your treatment will depend on whether the stroke is caused by a blood clot (ischemic) or by bleeding in the brain (hemorrhagic). Treatment focuses on restoring blood flow or controlling bleeding.

          The sooner you get treatment the better. The worse damage from a stroke often occurs within the first few hours. The faster you receive treatment the less damage will occur.

What Color Food Groups Reduce Your Stroke Risk

  • GREEN, including dark leafy vegetables, cabbage and lettuces
  • ORANGE/YELLOW, which are mostly citrus fruits

Stroke repellants

  • RED/PURPLE, which are mostly red vegetables
  • WHITE, of which 55% are apples and pears


What Foods to Avoid

  • TRANS FATS, SMOKED AND PROCESSED MEATS. . .  Limit the amount of saturated fat you consume to help control cholesterol levels. Stop eating fatty meats, fast foods and high fat dairy products. Stop adding salt to foods while you are cooking or eating, and learn to  read labels to detect foods with high sodium content before you buy them.
  • DIET SODA, REFINED SUGAR, etc.  It turns out that diet soda is likely a major bad guy when it comes to stroke. Reduce the amount of refined sugar you eat. Limit sodas in general, cakes, candy, ice cream and other junk foods that will wreak havoc with your insulin levels. Additionally, nutritionists state that canned soup is the worst offender.
  • TOO MUCH ALCOHOL   Drinking too much can raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels, cause arrhytmias and even heart failure. But a moderate amount of alcohol (an average of one drink daily for women, two for men) may actually lower the risk of heart disease. Madrileños, take heed!

Midway through writing this article I remembered that years ago, at a relatively young age, I had suffered a mild stroke. I had filed a sexual harrassment lawsuit against a Fortune 100 company for whom I worked. The case, which had to be tried in Federal Court, lasted almost two years. But within that time frame the company, with its vast resources, used every method possible in an attempt to destroy my character, break me down emotionally, and intimidate my attorney. The psychological pain was overwhelming, yet I refused to drop the lawsuit.

Drink but don't go overboard

Drink but don’t go overboard

When my attorney called me one morning to inform me that I had won I not only developed a severe headache but realized that I wasn’t able to read the newspaper because the printed words were unrecognizable. These frightening symptoms lasted for more than a day and I was compelled to see a doctor. He told me that I had actually suffered a stroke.

That was my wake-up call.

What valuable lessons did I learn from the experience? First, this beautiful old prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  Second: Live, love, and be happy.  Third: Even nutritionists recommend a daily glass of red wine! Cheers!