Before I had one, I couldn't have explained stroke. I would have described a couple of symptoms – slurred speech, impaired arm function. I would've said "It's sort of like a heart attack." I didn't understand it was brain damage. I didn't understand the possible long-term effects. I've since talked with an adult friend whose concept was just as fuzzy.
It might be that we were never interested enough to pay attention to the definition, or that we were confused by the statistics we heard lumping heart attack and stroke together as leading causes of death. Or it might be simply that it's complicated.
My sister recalls her attempt to explain stroke to her seven- and eight-year-old daughters: "I told them 'Auntie had a stroke' and explained what that was. They listened and nodded and then a minute went by and they said, 'Wait, what's a stroke again?' "
Earlier this week I was picking up my brother's son from preschool when a little girl rode alongside me on her tricycle and asked, "How did you hurt yourself?" I struggled for words. How do you explain stroke to a four-year-old?
My brother's six-year-old daughter – by my side and never wordless – came to my rescue. "She had a stroke," my niece said brightly. "That means your blood stops moving and your brain gets all kooky and your arm stops working and your leg stops working and – it's really bad."
Only a child could give a description so dire and make me laugh.