“I woke up at 5:20 in the morning. I woke up and thought, ‘What the heck is going on? Something’s not right,’” recalls JoAnn Wickman of Cortland. “I had this weird sensation. It felt like the tip of my tongue was somehow connected to my right cheek, with a strand like what I assume a spiderweb would feel like. It was such a weird feeling. It was pitch black outside, and I just woke up out of a sound sleep.
“Eventually I got out of bed and walked to the bathroom just fine. Then I thought, ‘Something’s not right here.’ I still had this oddball sensation.
“My heart wasn’t beating fast. I wasn’t dizzy. I come from a long line of people who have died of heart attacks and strokes, so I’ve been pretty vigilant about paying attention. I’ve never had any heart issues. But my blood pressure had been spiking, and it was under a doctor’s care.
“I thought about how I would say, ‘Ken, wake up. Call 911. I think I’m having a stroke.’ That’s not a complicated thing to say, but my tongue wouldn’t work. I could only say ‘Ken.’”
Her husband called 911. As the ambulance took her to nearby Cortland Regional Medical Center, Wickman, who was 75 at the time, remembers that she felt fine, but her blood pressure was high. “267 over something,” she recalls. A blood pressure of 120/80 is considered normal.
“They did a CT scan, and the physician came in and said, ‘There’s something weird about this CT scan.’ So they did an MRI, and the physician came in and said, ‘I want you at a stroke center. Where do you want to go?’”
Wickman chose Upstate. “By noon, exactly at noon, I was in my room at the stroke center, where I stayed for five days. By this time, I’m chatting away and walking fine.
“They did what seemed like 10,000 tests. When they looked at the MRI, it was pretty subtle, but there were two spots where they found the stroke took place that made sense with my symptoms.
“The interesting thing about all of this is, nobody knows why I had the stroke.
“What was memorable to me is that the care at the stroke center was exemplary and respectful. I never felt anyone was talking down to me. All kinds of people came in and out. Most people said, ‘You are so fortunate you knew what to do, and that you did it.’
“I tell people to remember FAST. Most of the time if a person’s having a stroke, their face will look funny. Or their arm will be weak. The S stands for slurred speech (and the T stresses that time is of the essence). I say, ‘If something doesn’t seem right, it’s better to call.’”
Wickman, herself, did not exhibit the classic symptoms of stroke. “I just felt weird,” she says. “In retrospect, why did I think it was a stroke? I don’t know, exactly, except for that sensation of my tongue being connected to my cheek. I was very fortunate.”
This article appears in the fall 2018 issue of Upstate Health magazine.