At the end of July, I received a call from my mother: “Your Aunt Ba had a stroke, it’s very critical”. She told me to “hurry home…”.
My mother and Aunt Ba are sisters, often meeting to talk about the past and present, especially as they are both approaching their seventies. My mother would be shocked if any bad news about her sister arrived.
I rushed back to my hometown. After a day at the provincial hospital in Quang Nam, my aunt was transferred to Da Nang. The largest multi-specialty hospital in the Central region suggested urgent surgery, otherwise, they could not save her life. Even with surgery, complications during the procedure could take my aunt away. In general, nothing was certain. My mother couldn’t keep calm, she sat down on a chair and burst into tears: “She was just fine and now this. Our grandmother had a harder life but still lived to 70…”.
At that time, my mother and I could only pray according to our family’s beliefs. After nearly four hours of anxious waiting, my aunt’s surgery finally ended – the doctor was able to remove the blood clot in her brain – but the risk was still very high. “If the patient doesn’t wake up in the next 48-72 hours, it’s serious,” the doctor warned.
More than a month later, my aunt is still in the hospital, transferred from Da Nang back to Quang Nam for convenience in care. And, the hospital in Da Nang needed space for more severe cases. She survived but has not fully regained consciousness yet, she can open her eyes but there is almost no sensation in her hands and feet. When relatives talk to her, she can show emotions – tears flow when she hears something familiar. However, according to the doctor’s diagnosis, recovery is difficult and slow.
During my stay, I visited my aunt many times. Sitting in the hallway, looking at the crowded Stroke Department on the third floor of the hospital at all times, I was haunted. This is one of the new departments; previously there was no specialized department for stroke. Demand creates supply; stroke treatment departments have been opened at many hospitals in localities, especially large hospitals.
At the “Vietnam Stroke Quality Management Seminar 2023” organized by Ho Chi Minh City Stroke Association on August 18th, Prof.Dr.Med Nguyen Huy Thang, Chairman of the Association said that stroke treatment in Vietnam has made many progresses but has not yet covered the increasing number of patients. The pre-hospital emergency process still has many limitations; people do not recognize stroke symptoms and still believe in folk methods, delaying golden treatment time.
Indeed so. My Aunt Ba had a headache and vomited for a week before but thought it was due to “vertigo”. Many people around thought it was chronic headaches; endure a few days and it will be over. Not only in my hometown but also in many other localities; online “doctors”, folk healers have gradually created a belief that when a family member has a stroke just need to use a needle to prick fingertips or earlobes then squeeze out blood. In addition, there are too many “stroke prevention drugs” lacking verification still being advertised and openly sold on the internet causing people to misunderstand leading to serious damage and loss.
Statistics from the above seminar show that in 2019 there were 63% of strokes occurring in young people; 89% of deaths and disabilities related to stroke occur in middle-low income countries including Vietnam. Death due to cardiovascular causes is still number one globally. However, in about 40% of countries, stroke is the leading cause higher than cardiovascular diseases including Vietnam and China.
Vietnam is among the countries with the highest risk of stroke in the world, yet there are too few treatment facilities. According to the Ho Chi Minh City Stroke Association, on average, a stroke facility in Vietnam treats over 2,000 patients each year, while in the US it’s only 300 patients. The ideal condition is about 500 patients.
The issue here is the need for more hospitals and stroke specialties. Treatment linkages need to be established, such as small provincial hospitals with specialty hospitals in large cities. The medical team at the lower level needs to be deeply trained in treatment, especially when patients have been rescued and then cared for locally.
People also need to improve their skills in identifying diseases to adjust their diet, activities, and lifestyle. Practicing healthy eating and having a gentle lifestyle, reducing stress and anxiety… is also a way to help reduce the risk of stroke and depression.
The health event that happened to my Aunt Ba also made me realize the need to disseminate knowledge and skills to care for family members when a relative has a stroke. Among them, the most important is to spread the “golden hour” message to be proactive in rescuing relatives, reducing the risk of death and disability.
Lưu Đình Long
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Saving a Stroke Victim