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Stroke – be aware, not ignorant


Stroke – be aware, not ignorant

Not all strokes are linked to unhealthy lifestyles, as Peter Kelly explains…


Saturday, October 29, was World Stroke Day. It is a day, according to the website, to raise awareness of the high rates of stroke. It is also a chance for people to lobby decision makers for policy changes that could help to improve stroke prevention, and enable access to acute treatment and support for survivors and caregivers.

Where was I on World Stroke Day? I happened to be on a farm outside Leeds performing comedy, at a comedy night appropriately called ‘Comedy on the Farm’. If you have never been to a comedy gig on a farm, you should go, it is great fun!

On the bill with me that night was the wonderful comedian, Markus Birdman. This was an interesting coincidence as Markus has had a stroke. On that day Markus had launched a video on social media talking to teenagers about stroke awareness and the significance of the FAST acronym in relation to strokes.

So, let’s look at some facts. There are 1.3 million stroke survivors in the UK, and 100,000 people have strokes a year. Stroke strikes every five minutes. Stroke is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the UK.

Which brings us to the ‘Act FAST’ campaign that encourages members of the public to call 999 immediately if they notice even one of the signs of stroke in themselves or in others: Face - has their face fallen on one side? Can they smile? Arms - can they raise both their arms and keep them there? Speech - is their speech slurred? Time - to call 999.

FAST is an acronym we all think we know but we have to keep constantly broadcasting it because it really can save lives and prevent disability. Most of the teenagers Markus spoke to on the street did not know the FAST acronym. One teenager, amusingly, wondered if it was a sexually transmitted disease.

As healthy living pharmacies we are obliged to put up displays for various health campaigns. It can feel tedious and annoying having to make time for putting these displays up when you feel you and your team are already drowning in work.

But having talked to Markus and watched the video he made talking to teenagers about strokes, has given me a much clearer understanding of why these campaigns are so important and why these simple messages need to be constantly pushed into the public consciousness.

Markus had a stroke when he was 40. He said he went to bed one night and woke up the next day and could not see properly. Then he went for a brain scan and it turned out he had suffered a stroke.

Markus has had a hole in his heart from birth and doctors believed that perhaps this had caused a blood clot that went into his brain. Markus lost half his eyesight in both eyes. He admits he was very lucky his speech was not affected given his job as a stand-up comedian.

One of the things I found interesting when talking to Markus is he does not look in any way disabled but he has lost half his sight in both eyes. He has a wonderful routine in his comedy about how he does not look disabled.

Markus told me the lack of sight makes him apprehensive of being in a crowded area on his own. If he is with someone, he likes to position them on his blind side to help keep him from bumping into people.

Markus wrote an Edinburgh show about having a stroke which I saw. I can highly recommend seeing it if he brings it back to Edinburgh. He told me that when he started thinking about jokes and ways of being funny while talking about this serious condition, he really became aware of how the public at large jokes very freely about stroke. If someone mumbles their words, people may quip: ‘Oh look, they are having a stroke.’

We don’t really joke about other disabilities in that way, and I think if we were more aware of how prevalent and devastating stroke can be we would not be so glib with our references to it.

Not all strokes are linked to unhealthy lifestyles as was probably the case with Markus and the more than 400 children who have strokes every year. Some are though, and you can reduce your risk of stroke by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking or drinking to excess.

From speaking to Markus and researching this article I have learned that I need to be mindful of the things I joke about and be more enthusiastic about promoting health campaigns in the pharmacy.


Peter Kelly is a pharmacist based in London and occasional stand-up comedian.



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