Fascinating conversation with a lady in my gym class last week. She learned I am a stroke survivor and I learned she is a caregiver for her husband who stroked less than a year before I did. We even were in the same hospital, one after the other.
It sounds like he is still mostly bed bound, unable to care for most personal needs. I would guess she's a good 20 or more years older than I am, so I would imagine he is too. We were talking about stroke deficits and recovery and she kept looking at me funny, shaking her head and interrupting me with, "But you don't understand. His was a MASSIVE stroke!"
My heart goes out to both of them. It truly does! But I left the conversation with the profound feeling that she was the one that didn't understand my story, what God has done, the living miracle illustrated in my very existence.
It doesn't get much more massive than not being expected to make it to the hospital alive, "multiple catastrophic strokes," "not a candidate for rehabilitation," never come home, live out her life in a nursing home, two emergency surgeries on Thanksgiving day, never walk again...
Would He be any less good, less in control, if all those medical predictions about my life had come true, as some of them have become this man's reality? No.
Still, where I am today fails to negate the massive level of injury where I started, the journey we have endured. It blows my mind that where I am today is so far removed from where I was that a caregiver cannot even comprehend the transformation! I feel I had 4 advantages:
- Location of Injury. Every stroke is different. Every stroke is bad, but the exact constellation of deficits that an individual experiences is going to be unique to their exact brain and what clusters of cells got killed off. There are a lot of issues that can be rather universal. I frequently find others who could not walk, speech was impact, or sight, or hearing... Once brain cells stroke, they die and don't come back. The individual brain is responsible for what skills it will rewire to take over substitute areas of life skills. I likely will never drive again. Homeschool teaching is in my past, but not present, nor likely future. Kendra can do both of these things again but is still in a wheelchair, while I have been walking for a few years now. We both are set off by loud noise, but I have significant hearing loss as well, while her hearing was hardly impacted by she has had far more serious dental complications than I have. We both had brain stem strokes (among other areas of brain death). What made Mr. Pool Man's massive stroke deficits so long lasting might be where in his brain he was injured.
- Age. In brain health, each day, each week, each month, each year, not to mention decade, matters. Identical injuries in brains two decades apart, heal completely differently! There's a term in rehab called "plasticity of the brain," your brain's ability to rewire and make new connections. In a very real sense, it is biologically much much harder to "teach an old dog new tricks" simply because this mechanism that God designed to work so rapidly in as an infant unlocks the big world around himself, steadily declines with age. At 39, as I kept breaking medical prediction after prediction, I was told that if I had come in a few years later my brain would have been too set it its ways to grasp my new skills, that, amazing as my progress was, they attributed it to my youth, that by 50 I wouldn't have been capable of a comeback.
I have to think part of this explanation was based on those who do not believe in God, trying to provide themselves with a "logical" answer to a miracle they were witnessing. However, there truly is a benefit to youth when faced with brain injury!
- Determination. I don't quite know how to describe this factor without sounding like I'm patting myself on the back. And I DO want to stress that this is only one factor and can only take a person so far. (I remember laying in bed many months after the strokes, needing to go use the restroom and dreading the process that would be required to have my husband assist me to get there, and crying, "If sheer will were the determining factor, I would absolutely be walking by now!") However, I know of stroke survivors both younger and less debilitated than I was, who stroked even before I did, who don't have a fighting spirit, who gave up trying to wring every ounce of gain out of recovery, who are still dependant on others for basic hygiene and care.
When a therapist sees a large supportive family surround a survivor, they have been known to say, "I'm sorry." Support like this can be a double edged sword, because there is great emotional benefit, but can lead to physical stagnation as the survivor has so much done for her that she never pushes herself to conquer more. Recovery is hard work, but however hard, I often push myself even harder than I should. At least two outpatient therapists actually got frustrated with me for pushing myself too long and hard.
God - Yes, He is good, no matter what outcome He had chosen for me. For reasons beyond my understanding, His plan has been more recovery than any medical professional ever dared dream for me. I am thankful. However, I feel humbled, nearly apologetic even, when talking to someone like this lady in the pool, that is living with my "shoulds" and I know my recovery to have extraordinary, supernatural elements. I kind of feel that I've "cheated" a bit, that comparing an average recovery with a God-aided one isn't fair.
Changing gears a bit, I would like to introduce you to one more friends who had a massive brain stem (worst kind) stroke. Katherine Wolf (video and several pictures above) of Hope Heals (ministry) was only 23-years-old, had a 6-month-old baby, when her stroke required a 16-hour brain surgery and 40-day ICU stay! This was nearly 8 years ago. She and her husband, Jay, have written about there story, both the physical and the spiritual odyssey, in a book also called Hope Heals. I am excited to be expecting a pre-release copy in my mailbox this week. I expect to be sharing more amazing parts of their story in days to come.