A needle in time saves lives? Yes, if it is the correct needle, with the correct medicine.
This morning, while I am examining an elderly gentleman for his pneumonia, a gentleman pulled me aside and proceeded to ask me a question
“Dr, I have read somewhere that elderly people like me need to keep a needle in a wallet. It can save my life.”
Feeling amused, I asked him, “Why a needle?”
“You see Doctor, I have read that in an event of sudden stroke, the blood circulation is impaired and clotted, so with the needle I can poke my fingers and earlobe and let the blood flow out”.
Smiling gently to my patient, I say “ Mr M , I have heard this a lot of time from my patients.While the awareness to notice a stroke is good, I am afraid this method does not work.”
This urban myth of self-pricking with a needle during an acute stroke first surfaced around 2003. Since then, various versions had surfaced, some advocate pricking all ten fingers, some versions advocate pricking both the earlobes.
With the advent of social media such as WhatsApp and FaceBook, the circulation of this urban myth had intensified. It had been surfacing intermittently thorough out the period and was shared widely.
Fortunately, we do have definitive and effective treatment for acute ischaemic stroke since 2005. It is called thrombolysis therapy. This involves an intravenous injection of recombinant tissue plasminogen agent ( rTPA) within the “golden hour” of 4.5 hours from onset of stroke.
Our public health institute like PPUKM, PPUM and HKL in Klang Valley has started to offer this game changing therapy in acute stroke management since the past few years. In fact PPUKM is the first public institute to offer this treatment, round the clock, 24 hrs a day.
Patients who fulfill the criteria for acute thrombolysis within the golden hour of 4.5 hours, benefit tremendously. Most of them recover to some extent from what could be a devastating condition.
Actually, to paraphrase my patient, he is actually CORRECT that a needle in time save life, but ONLY the correct needle with the CORRECT medicine used.
Dr Tan is a clinical specialist in neurology and internal medicine at the Department of Neurology, Hospital Kuala Lumpur.