Editors' Note: Guest blogger Alleyne B Fraser, MD is a neurosurgeon in private practice in New York's Hudson River Valley.
A few weeks ago I was called to see a patient in the emergency department. Beth couldn't move her right side and couldn't speak. She understood everything going on around her, but she could not get very many words out. The few she did get out were wrong, and she knew it. You could see the frustration in her eyes. Equally upset was her partner, Luz, standing beside the stretcher. They were both scared.
Beth and Luz had been talking to each other on the phone when Beth suddenly felt a strange sensation in her head and neck. She described this to Luz, and then abruptly stopped speaking. On the other end of the conversation, Luz heard only grunts in response to her repeatedly questioning what was wrong. She knew Beth was at home, so she immediately put the call on hold and called 911, directing them to send an ambulance to their address. She sped home in time to find police and ambulance emergency responders at their house.
Fast forward, and the two were in the emergency department waiting for the neurosurgeon, me. They had been advised that Beth had bled into her brain.
That made the situation even scarier! She had bled into her brain? A stroke? And now she needed brain surgery?!?
During my nearly 20 years in practice I have treated many brain injuries and illnesses. Often, by the time I am summoned to the emergency room, the problem has been going on for a while, or at least the seeds of the problem were sown long before. Although I am a neurosurgeon and my job is to operate on the brain, I often wish I had seen patients like this long before meeting them in the emergency room.
Of all diseases those affecting the brain are the most dreaded and feared. We all want to keep our sense of self, our memory and our ability to connect with friends and family. Can we ensure that we live to old age healthy with sharp minds? While there are no guarantees, we can certainly make it more likely.
In the ER, Luz filled me in on Beth's medical history. Beth was in her mid 40s. and "a bit overweight". Her doctor told her on two separate occasions that she needed to lose 50 pounds, and that she needed to start taking medicine for high blood pressure. Beth felt fine so after being told the second time, she did not return. She smoked, and drank two or three drinks several times a week.
Luz asked me why this had happened. For them it was as though lightning had struck. This brain hemorrhage had come out of nowhere. What they didn't realize is that as many as 80% of strokes are preventable. Everyone and every body is different. Each set of circumstances is unique but there are certain factors that contributed to Beth's brain bleed. Significant overweight. High blood pressure. Too much alcohol. Smoking. Not following up with her doctor.
LGBT people are particularly at risk for brain disease. Lesbians are often overweight. LGBTs smoke at much higher rates than the population as a whole. We drink alcohol to be social, and we drink because we're alone. Too many LGBTs are estranged from their families, not out at work, and isolated in so many ways. These are risk factors that significantly increase the risk of stroke, Alzheimer's disease, and other brain diseases.
Caring for our bodies will make our brains function optimally. We can do that by eating the right foods, keeping our blood flowing and our lungs exchanging air. We can do it by being socially connected, by managing our health, and by avoiding unhealthy habits. Let LGBT Pride start with pride in, and the proper care of, our bodies and brains.