The long days spent in the hospital following the stroke were filled with uncertainty and confusion. A parade of nurses, doctors, and specialists came flooding through. There were regular neurological assessments to determine if the blocked artery was causing any further injury; round the clock vital checks to ensure that the damaged parts of my brain were not causing other functions to shut down; CT scans to check for ongoing bleeding; a series of cardiology tests to assess the cause of the stroke and quickly devise a plan to prevent a subsequent neurological event (which, as I read in the literature provided, would almost certainly result in death); speech pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and psychiatrists to evaluate my mood since, “80% of all stroke patients [with the degree of brain damage I incurred] become clinically depressed and require medication;” and a social worker to help me transition to the recommended inpatient rehab facility where I would spend weeks working to regain basic skills necessary for independent living.
Independent living? I needed more than just the abilities required to live on my own. I had eight kids anxiously waiting at home for their mom to return to them, the youngest just a newborn, and two adult children away at college, who while quite proficient at caring for their younger siblings, had lives of their own to lead and did not need to be suddenly burdened with a family to help raise.
Oh, how I missed them all! They had not been able to visit during the early days in the Neuro-ICU, and even once declared stable and moved to the stroke unit, I was afraid for them to come. My speech was slow and slurred, and although internally my mind was cognizant and relatively sharp, I was very aware that I had a lobotomized demeanor. I worried that a visit would frighten and discourage them.
Realizing through the many assessments I was undergoing just how far reaching my deficits actually were, I was concerned for the future and struggling to feel hopeful. Would I be able to care for my family as before? Running a family that size had already been physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing, to say the least. Now I could hardly finish a thought without forgetting what I wanted to say.
I could not focus on a task as simple as brushing my hair without getting distracted halfway through, usually dropping the brush and having no sense of where it could have gone once I finally realized the job was incomplete and in need of resolution. I had no sensation in the left side of my body and very limited use of my left arm or leg. I struggled to walk and suffered from what my neurologist termed “right neglect,” causing blind spots and distortions that left me running into walls and confused by much of what I was taking in visually. My mind could no longer comprehend the abstract, so shadows and reflections and anything pretend on television or social media (like a person in makeup or costume) were not only bewildering, they were downright terrifying, and I would react to them like a young child, covering my face. I was also aware that something was not right with my hearing. I was having to read lips to understand what anyone was saying, couldn’t hear certain sounds like water running (so I would always leave the sink on), and if two sounds occurred simultaneously, they were both cancelled out (a neurological condition called auditory agnosia), so I would often sit silently, observing, perplexed by my new, quiet reality.
Beyond caring for my own family, how was I possibly going to be useful to the Lord? I was sure of what he had spoken to me during the stroke, certain he had preserved my life in order that I might complete the good works he prepared in advance for me to do. But how, Lord, how?
Joshua 1:9 was the answer that came. In fact, this verse became the theme of those early days of recovery. Every time I was tempted with fear and despair would start to creep in, the Spirit would whisper over me, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
With such a charge, there was little room to grow disheartened. He would bring me through, and I would go forward in his power to accomplish all he laid out for me, according to his will. Every setback, each new challenge that presented itself became an opportunity to prove the Lord’s faithfulness. He was with me, and soon I would discover how the stroke and everything that came with it were all part of how, by his sovereign hand, he had uniquely equipped me for the work ahead. More on that later.
“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”2 Corinthians 9:8