“I never thought I was having a stroke”

Darlene Neal, RN

September 12, 2022, started like any other day for Darlene Neal, RN, Acute Care nurse with The Medical Center at Caverna in Horse Cave. But as the day went on, she started having trouble with her vision. The computer she was working on seemed fuzzy and she just felt off.

“I was born legally blind in one eye,” she said, “so I thought it was just strain for working on the computer for so long.” Even so, she said something to her manager about it and the nurses immediately checked her vital signs and blood sugar levels. Everything was normal, and she assumed she just needed a break from the computer. She went outside for a walk, seemed to feel better, and came back in to resume her work day. But while helping a patient, she started feeling odd again. Her head hurt and she felt hot all over. Her vital signs were checked again, and everything was normal. The symptoms went away and she finished her day at work.

After a doctor’s appointment the next day – where, again, all her vitals were fine — Darlene went to a nearby drugstore for a prescription, and from there everything went downhill. The symptoms returned, worse than ever. “My vision was like there was water running over my eyes – everything was blurry, and people seemed far away. For a moment, I didn’t know where I was. I left the drugstore and went out to my car. I knew I needed help.” When she got to the hospital, Darlene learned she was having a stroke. An MRI showed one spot of damage on her brain. A day later, she was transferred to The Medical Center at Bowling Green where another MRI showed she had three spots of damage from the stroke.

Before her stroke, Darlene lived a healthy lifestyle, but she was under a lot of stress while working as a nurse, raising her three granddaughters and helping with family members who were ill. Doctors are still unsure what caused her stroke, but believe stress was a major factor. Her symptoms were not typical. She didn’t lose strength in any of her limbs, her face didn’t droop on one side and her voice wasn’t slurred — but it was still a stroke.

“Common symptoms of stroke include facial drooping, arm or leg weakness, difficulty speaking, loss of balance and blurred vision,” says Melissa Simpson, APRN, with Primary Care Caverna. “These can happen suddenly, or like Darlene, be progressive. Uncommon symptoms can include gradual headache or loss of vision and feeling different than baseline. Darlene was aware of her symptoms and sought the medical attention needed. Her situation is an example of the importance of advocating for your own health.”

Darlene is fortunate that she did not develop long-term physical disabilities from her stroke. Her advice to others is to always pay attention to your body. “I tried to shrug this off, not thinking it could be a stroke. Now, I say never shrug it off when something feels wrong. See your doctor right away and ask questions. Be an advocate for your own health.”

If you think you are having a stroke, call 911 immediately. Treatment to protect your brain cells begins in the ambulance. When you’re having a stroke, time is critical – immediate medical care can mean the difference between life or death.

The Medical Center at Bowling Green is a Primary Stroke Center and The Medical Center at Franklin is an Acute Stroke Ready Hospital. All of the Med Center Health emergency department teams stand ready to provide the care you need in the event of a stroke. To learn about stroke care and preventive programs offered by Med Center Health, visit medcenterhealth.org/stroke.