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Keep Calm and Carry On: Treating Victims of a Stroke

Updated on April 26, 2012
janikon profile image

Stuart has spent three years trying to convince his boyfriend he is not hiding books under their bed and they are certainly not multiplying.


I am pretty sure nobody leaves their home in the morning praying to be the first responder in a crisis situation, but this does not mean you should not be prepared to handle it. Take it from someone who is more accident prone than Simone Smith is endearingly hilarious, you want to know a thing or two about first aid before venturing out into the world. So, whether you are treating a scraped knee or something a lot more serious, you want to remember one very important thing; to keep calm and carry on. The last thing you want to do is further upset the victim and appear unable to deal with the situation, at hand.

Some injuries are easier to spot, the treatment is apparent and easily implemented but other times the injuries are a little more insidious. There is nothing more insidious or dangerous than a stroke, especially when it has been projected to become the most common cause of death worldwide, in the coming years. With 90% of stroke sufferers being over the age of 65, would you know how to spot the signs of a stroke? Whether it were a complete stranger, your spouse or a member of your family, would you be able to assist the victim until emergency services arrived?

Keep calm and read on.

The Five Signs of a Stroke

  • Weakness - loss of strength in extremities or sudden numbness in face
  • Trouble Speaking - sudden confusion, trouble forming or understanding words
  • Vision Problems - blurred or shaky vision, even if temporary
  • Headache - sudden headache or severe localized pain in one, or both, temples
  • Dizziness - sudden loss of balance, especially when combined with any of above symptoms

Somethings You Should Know

I have gone through several first aid certification courses in my twenty-six years, my parents were both huge supporters of having as much information to deal with a crisis as humanly possible. So, when we both showed a natural talent for competitive swimming, the logical next step for them was to enroll me in lifeguard/instructor training. I am armed to the teeth with first aid certificates, while my head is packed full of hundreds of scenarios I could be called upon to use the information I have learned.

There are a few things you should know about a stroke (known also as cerebrovascular accident or CVA), so you have some understanding of what causes one. A stroke is classified as a condition which occurs when blood vessels delivering oxygen-rich blood to the brain rupture and part of the brain does not receive proper blood flow, it requires to continue functioning. Once the nerve cells are deprived of oxygen they die within minutes, often the reason the effects of a stroke are permanent; brain cells are not replaced.

Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms related to strokes:

  • One commonly experiences extreme weakness, numbness or paralysis in the face, arms or legs on one side of the body
  • One may express vision problems, such as blurred vision, decreased vision, especially in one eye
  • One may have trouble speaking or understanding simple questions or commands
  • One may express having a severe, sudden or unexplainable headache, one may also complain of a quick localized stabbing pain leaving them dizzy
  • If the brain is affected by lack of oxygen it may cause the sufferers eyes to deviate; the pupils will become unequal in size and be non-reactive to light

Now, there is only so much you can do for someone suffering from a stroke, you are not a medical professional and therefore will not be performing brain surgery at the local park. The first aid for someone suffering from a stroke is very limited and often times is supportive care until the emergency services arrives on scene. There are many people who believe this is not classified as first aid and therefore not as important- do not make this same mistake. Creating a calming presence while collecting crucial medical information to pass to the paramedics, upon their arrival, is extremely important.

Keeping Calm and Carrying On

No matter the emergent situation you happen to find yourself in, there are two very important first steps to remember. One, you should always remember to stay calm as to not further upset the victim (this may limit the chances of them going into shock) and two, you should always call 911, alerting emergency services. Please, do not be arrogant enough to believe you are solely able to handle the situation or you know what is best, a situation can progress quickly out of your control and you may not be given a second chance to right your prior misjudgement.

So, here are some things to remember if you find yourself in the situation where you are dealing with someone suffering from a stroke.

  1. Call 911, or, if you are unable to, have a bystander call for you
  2. If you have been trained in CPR, check and monitor the sufferers airway, breathing and circulation. The breathing should remain even and methodical whereas the skin should remain pinky, and be quick to recover the colour after depression.
  3. Lay the person down with their head or shoulder slightly elevated; this will reduce blood pressure to the brain. The key is to make them more comfortable, so try using something soft to lay their head on, i.e. an article of clothing or emptied purse.
  4. If the person becomes unresponsive but remain breathing, roll them on their left side with their chin slightly extended. This will keep the persons airway open and allow vomit to drain from their mouth, freely.
  5. You must never give someone suffering from a stroke something to eat or drink! You have no way of knowing if their throat muscles have been affected by the stroke and has impeded their ability to swallow.
  6. Try to engage the person in a conversation, remembering to reassure them help is on the way. You should use this time to collect medical and personal information on them, such as 'has this happened before' 'is there someone I should call' 'are you on any medication' etc


I was a lifeguard and swimming instructor for nearly ten years and have been first responder to several emergent situations, both in and out of the pool environment. The most important part of being a first responder is your ability to remain calm (at least outwardly) and remaining even-toned while you are tending to your victim. Whether they are a small child or an elderly person or any person of any age between, chances are they are scared enough without the added help, from a nervous and overreactive rescuer.

Remember to speak with a clear and even-tone. Learn their name and consistently refer to them by it, especially if you are speaking to someone around them. Keep them informed of what you are doing, whether it be laying them on their side or checking their pulse; you must never lay your hands on someone without their permission. Cover them with something to keep them warm, the effects of shock will often drop their body temperature causing them to shiver uncontrollably.

But, in any case, when dealing with emergency situation or simply removing a splinter from a tearful child, all you need to remember is to 'keep calm and carry on'.


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    • janikon profile image

      Stuart A Jeffery 5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

      Very true! That should be kept in mind and communicated to emergency responders, thanks for the advice!

    • TDAPharm profile image

      TDAPharm 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      One thing to keep in mind is the time of the onset of stroke symptoms. This is key for deciding further treatment if a patient is admitted. The reason is that some therapies are only utilized within a certain time frame and not recommended past so many hours of stroke onset. This can be communicated to a first responder or medical team.

    • CASE1WORKER profile image

      CASE1WORKER 5 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      This is so right- even if it looks like a really bad situation the best thing to do is to reassure the patient, call for qualified help and hope it comes soon.

      Interesting hub, voted up

    • hisandhers profile image

      hisandhers 5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

      Incredibly useful! Thanks for sharing- I enjoyed seeing this new side of you!

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 5 years ago from Northern California, USA

      I learned quite a few things about strokes by reading your very informative hub. For instance, I knew that strokes were an attack on the brain, but I didn't know until I read it here that nerve cells die within minutes and that brain cells are not replaced. No wonder time is of the essence.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Such good advice! I've been through basic first aid training a bunch of times, but nobody ever really gave advice on what to do with someone who was suffering from a stroke. I mean, there isn't really all that much one CAN do, but now I know that there isn't any special step I could be missing.

      Thanks so much for sharing the advice!

    • mcsorley profile image

      mcsorley 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I agree, remaining calm is key in this situation, and every other medical emergency. If you get excited, the victim gets excited. Excitement can cause a raise in blood pressure of your victim, causing more bleeding, and/or more blockages in the brain.

    • janikon profile image

      Stuart A Jeffery 5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

      @ tirelesstraveler thanks, it's the best advice I think anyone can give someone, no matter the situation.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

      Remaining calm in a crisis situation is excellent advice.

      Nice hub.

    • janikon profile image

      Stuart A Jeffery 5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

      @Marigeo Thanks SO much, I was worried because this is my first attempt at writing something in the sphere of first aid training. You have made my day. Thanks!

    • Marigeo profile image

      Marigeo 5 years ago

      Not only did I enjoy reading this but you have a way of writing that makes someone want to read on. These things can happen to anyone and we should all be prepared to give a helping hand. I'd like to see more of these from you. Thanks for the lesson!