Before reading any further, what was your first impression of Serene Branson’s performance? High on drugs? Intoxicated? Brain damage due to previous abuse of drugs? Being possessed? Having a stroke? How would you have reacted if you had been there in person?
I ask, because it’s something I encounter regularly in my everyday life. It happens to me. While, in the case of Serene and myself, it’s none of the above circumstances, the symptoms displayed could potentially be life threatening. Most people with any medical training will tell you the likelihood that the victim is having a stroke is high and no time should be wasted in getting the victim to an emergency medical facility.
So what happened to Serene? She was experiencing a migraine aura – in this case one that affected the area of the brain that controls speech. Auras typically occur shortly before the headache phase of a migraine attack. The most common forms of aura are related to vision – blind spots, zigzag patterns, flashing lights, vision loss, seeing things that aren’t really there, but all the senses can be affected. I frequently think I hear the telephone ring or my wife calling me.
I sometimes fail to accurately estimate distance and tend to crash into objects, or miss door openings, both of which can be very painful. My senses can become heightened so that light, sound, taste, smell and touch become unpleasant or even painful. My sense of balance can fail, giving me the appearance of being drunk, and the right side of my body becomes weak or partially paralysed. In the worst cases I loose all sense of self, and have no clue of where I am and no understanding of time.
Any symptom that can present during a stroke can also present during a migraine attack. I wear a MedicAlert bracelet 24/7, as during a severe attack I am unable to communicate at all. On my doctor’s advice it does not include any of the symptoms I might present except for that fact that I can become confused and disorientated during an attack. At first I was against this, as invariably I’d end up in the emergency department at a hospital if I happened to have an attack while away from family.
I can assure you that the noise, bustle and bright lights in the emergency section of a hospital make it the last place I want to be at such a time. My thinking was that if the symptoms were listed, then I’d more likely be delivered home where I can be left in peace and quiet to recover. However, as the doctor explained, the symptoms of a stroke and severe migraine are similar, so there’s always the chance that I might be sent home when in fact I’m having a stroke. And the odds of it being a stroke increase as I get older.
Unlike a migraine, where even the worst of the symptoms are transient, strokes tend to cause permanent damage, and the sooner one receives appropriate treatment, the better the chances of recovery. So if you happen to come across an elderly, bearded, grey haired gentleman, staggering about colliding with all and sundry, and uttering pure nonsense, don’t write him off as an intoxicated social outcast, It might be me in the throws of a migraine attack. But in the off chance of it being a stroke, I would appreciate some assistance in getting to the nearest medical emergency centre. Thank you.