Bill York is a Gwinnett County retiree with a life most seniors would envy. At 86, he was still living a full life of sports, writing and travel. It almost came to an end Jan. 4, when he suffered a stroke. He was talking to his wife one moment; the next, gibberish came out of his mouth as he tried to finish his thought.
“It’s a scary experience,” York said.
With his baseline of great health, determination and exercise, his doctors tell him he should recover almost completely. He is nearly there now, speaking clearly except for the occasional lisp or slip of the tongue. He wanted to share his story to help spread the news about the dangers of stroke.
This is how it happened to him.
In the blink of an eye, things were different.
If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.
Eighty-six years old (now 87), muscular, healthy, retired from a 50-year career in the fur industry and doing what I had always wanted to do, write books and freelance for a newspaper, win medals in the Gwinnett Senior Games in golf, archery, table tennis, tennis singles, doubles, mixed doubles. I made some wilderness documentaries for Georgia Public TV, canoeing on rogue rivers and fishing for freshwater trophies in Canada.
Even with a titanium shoulder, I still played a credible game of tennis and even better ping pong, thrashing two grandsons home from college who thought an old man was incapable of hard forehands and trick serves. They learned.
I could go where I pleased, when I pleased, and do what I pleased, and I did. My wife has many friends, and we have differing interests, which enhances our compatibility. I know it is unbelievable, but a 40-year marriage without a disagreement: Impossible, but true.
I had begun to think I was indestructible. Bob Hope and George Burns lived to be 100. Why not me? World War II veterans are dying at the rate of 700 each week. Perhaps, if I took care of myself, watched my diet, maybe I would be the last one.
After moving to Atlanta in 1963, I visited Callaway Gardens and thought the place was incredibly beautiful. I decided to replicate those colors in my half-acre yard — camellias, rhododendron, roses, azaleas, hibiscus, mountain laurel … and a bunch of annuals. Vivid colors every month of the year.
And then it happened. I was digging up small boulders that outlined a flower bed. I wanted to use them to build beds for new tulips and four o’clock flowers. After a couple of hours, I tired and went inside and sat facing my wife, Dot.
I knew what I wanted to say. “Old age makes digging rocks much harder.”
It came out, ‘Aaaag obba,” with spittle on my chin. She said to stop kidding.
I couldn’t tell her I wasn’t kidding.
I attempted again, “Aggg aaggga.”
Bear in mind those were the mumbled words of someone who does public speaking. I could not talk. It was scary. I am the guy who can recite the prologue to Canterbury Tales in archaic English, who can say thank you in 35 languages and keeps his brain active. Why me?
My wife said she’d call 911. I shook my head. She suggested the fire station.
Good call: The firemen recognized my symptoms. My blood pressure was 214 over 114. It is usually normal. I felt anxious and confused. They prepped for for the hospital.
Horns, sirens. Eastside Hospital staff hustled, CAT scan, MRI, test, blood clot. Stroke. No paralysis, no headache. I just could not talk.
It was like a fouled spark plug or a circuit breaker malfunctioning. No one knew why. Maybe aging. If it had zapped me in another area in my brain, I could have become a memory. The staff was efficient. The second day I could detect a little improvement. By slowing my words and enunciating clearly, I have begun to recover.
My daughter-in-law is a nurse anesthetist. From studying the medical notations, she said the blockage occurred where emotions are controlled. That proved to be true when I erupted in violent sobbing on occasion. Worry? Trauma? Fright? No one could say. But I am fortunate.
So don’t flaunt your possessions, because in the blink of an eye you might not know who you are.
I have always felt confident. The experience has humbled me.
I will nurture my flowers, broil my venison, watch sunsets, keep in close contact with my family and hug my angel frequently. Everything else has become meaningless.
Stroke by the numbers*
Strokes kill almost 130,000 Americans each year. That is one in every 19 deaths.
On average, one American dies from stroke every 4 minutes.
The country’s highest death rate due to stroke is in the Southeast.
Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke. About 610,000 of these are first or new strokes. One in four are recurrent strokes.
The risk varies with race. African-Americans’ risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice that of whites. Hispanic Americans’ risk falls between that of whites and African-Americans. Moreover, African-Americans are more likely to die after a stroke than are whites.
Ischemic strokes (about 87 percent of all strokes) happen when blood clots block the blood vessels to the brain.
Stroke costs the United States an estimated $38.6 billion yearly in health care, medications and missed work.
Patients who arrive at the emergency room within three hours of their first symptoms tend to be healthier three months after a stroke than those whose care was delayed.
In a 2005 survey, most respondents — 93% — recognized sudden numbness on one side as a symptom of stroke. Only 38% were aware of all major symptoms and knew to call 911 when someone was having a stroke.
Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg—especially on one side of the body.
Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
*source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention