When it comes to treating victims of a stroke, there’s a new sheriff in town. Statewide policy now encourages Emergency Medical Technicians to decide where to bring a stroke victim for treatment.
Local hospitals are well prepared to treat stroke, but severe stroke (blockage of a major blood vessel in the brain) may require specialized therapy offered only in select centers. EMTs are prepared to make this call from the condition of the patient.
The decision can save precious minutes with astonishing benefits by getting severe-stroke victims directly to the most appropriate life-saving treatment center.
On Friday, May 19, I was helping my wife set up for her annual sale of plants and other “good stuff,” held at the entrance to our property next to the Charlestown Town Hall. I was using a tractor to set up pallets to display her goods, when she noticed that I was responding vaguely to her comments, becoming incoherent in speech, and then struggling to mount the tractor.
As I slid to the ground, she called 911. Two town highway workers saw our predicament, and helped keep things calm while we waited for the ambulance. One of the town workers observed I was paralyzed along my entire right side.
What follows is an EMT’s moment of decision that got me back home, fully recovered from a major stroke, within 30 hours.
Although it is the usual practice to deliver a rescue patient to the nearest hospital, statewide protocol in Rhode Island urges EMTs to deliver the stroke victim wherever symptoms deem most appropriate. A quick examination of my condition indicated to the EMT that I had suffered from obstruction of a major blood vessel in the brain. Aware that the team at Rhode Island Hospital’s Comprehensive Stroke Center is uniquely qualified to mechanically extract such a clot from the brain (you don’t want to know how, and I don’t remember), the EMT ordered the driver to head directly there.
The whole time I was in transit, vital information was being transmitted from the ambulance to the hospital. The time saved by this decision was critical to my survival and recovery.
Upon arrival, a team of 30 medical staff was waiting, well informed and fully prepared for immediate action. In about half an hour the clot was out, I had regained full feeling on the right side of my body, and my speech was coherent. If it weren’t for all the follow-up testing to confirm results, I could have gone home. As it was, I was discharged about 30 hours after admission, from a crisis that generally kills or permanently disables 75 percent of its victims. A follow-up MRI showed only minor loss of brain tissue, which I will find useful in explaining away neglected duties in the future.
I write this to get the message out. A stroke need not be permanently debilitating. Act fast, give a shout to your EMTs for acting smart, and to the medical community for giving the EMTs that discretion.
George Tremblay Charlestown