It's easy to understand why this video of CBS reporter Serene Branson speaking gibberish during a live Grammys report has gone viral on the Web. It's the quintessential nightmare. You're speaking on live TV and suddenly your tongue — or your brain — is unable to produce a coherent sentence. I feel a cold sweat coming on just thinking about it.
But the video may also offer a good "teachable moment" about the warning signs of stroke, the brain clots or bleeds that kill more Americans every year than anything except cancer and heart disease. The American Stroke Association's warning signs are here, and they are:
I asked Dr. Randie M. Black-Schaffer, medical director of the stroke program at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, whether the video looked like a stroke in the making.
"Yes," she replied, "she is exhibiting a fluent aphasia, suggesting dysfunction in the posterior left side of her brain. This can be due to various problems, including but not limited to stroke or TIA." (TIA, or a Transient Ischemic Attack, is also known as a "mini-stroke" or "warning stroke," and can signal danger of a real stroke.)
"Seeking medical evaluation is definitely in order," Dr. Black-Schaffer said.
Dr. Lee Schwamm of Massachusetts General Hospital agreed: "This is a great teachable moment, and anyone no matter what their age who starts speaking like that is potentially having a stroke. 911 should have been called immediately, and i assume it was, and she should have been transported to the nearest stroke center in the area."
I've just posted a special report on stroke here. Here's its bottom line: Stroke treatment has advanced in recent years, but not as much as hoped, and the greatest advances by far are for stroke patients who seek treatment fast. If I had Serene Branson's symptom, I'd be calling 911 before the cameras stopped rolling.
By the way the Los Angeles Times reports here:
Medical experts appearing on TV news shows pointed to her slurred speech as evidence that she might indeed have suffered a mild brain attack. The CBS Los Angeles station for which Branson works, however, said that she now feels fine and has had a follow-up visit with her doctor for tests. It also has removed the video from its website.
This program aired on February 16, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.