Dressed in full-body sterile protection affectionately called a “bunny suit,” pharmacy technician Cotton Tucker, 59, was busy at work at Roane Medical Center in late July 2017.
One of Tucker’s duties is to fill and deliver the prescription medicine carts that the physicians need during surgery, and she carefully put everything in its place. “You take your [prescription medicine] fill to each room. Anesthesia has six carts and I did the first one; I remember that. But that’s all I remember,” she said.
Suddenly, Tucker started swaying. Nurse anesthetist Richard Deindoerfer was standing nearby and asked her a few questions. “He noticed I was confused, and I couldn’t answer his questions. And then he said I started sliding down the wall, and he caught me. Of course, I don’t remember that,” Tucker said.
At that moment, Tucker having a stroke. She could not lift her left leg or left arm, and at one point, she couldn’t speak. Fortunately, she was in just the right place. Covenant Health’s member hospitals are part of a stroke hospital network that focuses on fast diagnosis and treatment of stroke.
Co-workers put Tucker on a gurney and took her to the emergency room, where they checked her blood pressure, sugar levels, heart rate and gave her a brain CT scan. She was given a blood clot-busting infusion of medication called Activase (alteplase), which is effective in treating strokes if the drug is administered within three hours of the onset of symptoms.
“It’s like liquid drain cleaner for the blood,” joked Tucker’s coworker, Tina Shannon. “Throughout it all, Cotton kept asking about other patients, making sure they were taken care of. That’s the kind of person she is.”
Tucker praises the quick work of her coworkers at Roane Medical Center.
“My daughter said later that the way they all worked at Roane Medical was like a NASCAR pit crew. Everybody knows their job, and they come in and do it — everything is so synchronized. They didn’t stand around and wait!”
Tucker was transferred by ambulance to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, which has advanced accreditation as a Comprehensive Stroke Center and is the hub of Covenant Health’s stroke hospital network. She was there three days. “The doctor at Fort Sanders told me they did all the right things at Roane Medical Center,” she said. “He said they saved my life.”
When Tucker went home she began physical therapy near her home in Morgan County to regain strength, motor skills and dexterity on her left side.
“Things you take for granted, like putting your shoes on and getting out of bed, are difficult if you have one side of your body that doesn’t cooperate,” she said. “There are things you don’t remember, like you have bills to be paid, and you don’t remember how to buy groceries. I learned something new every day. I still learn things.”
Tucker started driving again in late September and was back to work in the pharmacy at Roane Medical Center on Oct. 1. She has been a Roane Medical employee since 2001, and said she loves her job.
“The people here are a hoot. It’s like family – I got cards, letters, emails from them. These people are praying for you, taking care of you, keeping an eye on you. Even now if I’m gone too long from the pharmacy, they’ll call me on the cell phone.
“I want to thank everybody for that. You don’t see that everywhere you go. And I know these patients that come through, they’re taking care of them just like they did me,” she said.
“God is good, he is merciful and good,” she said. “If I ever get sick again I want ‘the pit crew’ to take care of me! The staff at Roane Medical was amazing. They still are.”
Tucker said she tries to walk every day and takes her blood pressure medication faithfully. In October she and several co-workers staffed the stroke awareness booth sponsored by Roane Medical Center at the October Sky Festival in Oliver Springs.
“I told people, ‘Don’t disregard the little things you think are happening to your body,’” she said. “I’m stubborn; I don’t like going to the doctor or taking medication. But I got a second chance, and I’m thankful.”
Tucker especially thanks her friends and family at Roane Medical Center for their continued prayers, concern and support. “The staff at Roane truly lives Covenant Health’s Pledge of Excellence,” she said. “My co-workers perform excellence every day and they were certainly excellent in my treatment.”