That evening, October 22, we heard the diagnosis confirmed. Michael had suffered a stroke on both sides of the thalmus. What the doctors knew so far was that he had lost the ability to stay awake and alert. So now, we knew the reason he had been asleep for nearly a week! Hearing this news was still like a hammer shattering the walls of my heart, but by now I’d had a day to take it in.
In the meanwhile, Michael was talking a blue streak in his new surroundings – the stroke unit of the university hospital. I hardly understood anything he said, so I asked him, “Are you trying to tell me the story of what happened?” He said yes.
Chris mentioned to him, “Oh, Papa, I can hardly imagine what you’ve been through in the past week.”
Michael answered, “You have no idea,” waving his hand in the air for emphasis. But he also told us something that we found very encouraging. “I managed through the whole of last week, and I will manage the rest.” This was very different from the Michael I was used to dealing with, fearful of so many things I couldn’t count them. His blood pressure would shoot to the stars every time it was measured by a doctor, simply because he was afraid of the results. And now he’s saying, “I’ll manage the rest?!” Incredible. God must have been speaking to him during that week.
It was a huge relief to be able to talk to Michael, even if we couldn’t understand most of what he said. The following day we witnessed him talking to one of the nurses, who was from Portugal. “Hola!” he said to him, when Michael learned that the nurse was Portuguese. Michael can speak nine languages fluently, and a smattering of a few others. Portuguese is one of those with a smattering.
By that Saturday, October 26, Michael was talking a lot more clearly, but was telling the speech therapist things that were patently untrue, such as that he had lived in England for three years, and that was why his English was so good. Michael has never lived in an English-speaking country.
He was also trying to pull out the catheter, and joking about it. “Yes, I know, the cat,” he said. Apparently “cat” is an abbreviation Germans use for “catheter”, which is pronounced without the “h” – “cat’EH-ter”. He tried to operate the remote control, used to turn the light on or off, or call the nurse. He was having difficulty pushing the right buttons. “I’m stupid!” he complained. Michael is possibly the most intelligent person I have ever met. It was upsetting to hear him say this.
By now, realizing that we were in for a long haul of recovery and therapy, I tried to mobilize my resources. I had started writing emails to all my family and friends, even before he went into the hospital for surgery, asking them to pray for Michael. I’m not nearly as eager to communicate in languages other than English as Michael, but I decided I’d have to grin and bear all the mistakes I’d make writing in German. I started an email prayer list in German as well as in English.
Before long, I was receiving all sorts of offers for help, something Chris and I truly needed. I had told the language schools where I was teaching English what had happened, and they found substitute teachers for me, which was a relief, but I was in no position to cook. I was far too upset. People started bringing food over. One friend gave me a massage.
“We’ll get through this,” Chris and I told each other. But on Sunday he had to fly back to Korea, where he was finishing a master’s degree. I would miss his presence and support. Now I would be on my own, dealing with the aftermath of Michael’s stroke.
We went to church on Sunday. It was so good to be among the support of fellow Christians! They crowded around us and offered support and prayers. Then we went on to the hospital, so Chris could say good-bye to his dad before leaving for the airport.
We had difficulty finding him at first. “Oh, we’ve moved him!” said a nurse. “He was doing so much better, so we moved him off the stroke unit into a regular unit.” As soon as we entered the room, we saw something was very wrong with Michael, and he wasn’t hooked up to any monitors. No one was witniessing what was happening to my husband. He was gone to the world, in a deep sleep or some sort of unconscious state, and his right shoulder and head were in constant tremors. This was the state Chris had to leave his papa in.
After Chris had left, I went back to the hospital that evening. Michael was still unconscious, and still having tremors. “Is this epilepsy?” I asked the doctor.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said. “I think it’s just his high fever.”
I went home to bed, lonely and scared, praying like I never had before, but less sure than ever that the God I was praying to heard my prayers.
This blog series is about the process I have been going through in my thinking, my emotions, and especially how my relationship with God is changing, so I don’t want to give it all away. I want to share the process with you. But I do want to share a bit of today with you.
A lot of what I’ve been going through has been challenges. I am confronted with what I see every day, and also the question: Where is God in all of this? Is God there? Am I going to trust God anyway? So, I often make flat decisions to trust, no matter what I see or feel. I read my Bible every day, I pray almost automatically, without ceasing, bringing it all to God, even if I feel horrible, I meditate, waiting for God to speak to me, even though I am often left without an answer I am aware of. There must be at least a thousand people praying for Michael and me – I have asked everyone I know to pray, and they have asked people I don’t know. I meet regularly with some friends in a prayer/support group, where we pray regularly for each other. And I go to church every Sunday.
Tomorrow I’m going to give a testimony in church about how going to church has helped me. Today I read in Hebrews 10:24-25 – “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.”
This church supported Michael and me all during our separation. I never told the members exactly why we had separated because Michael didn’t feel ready to talk about his issues with them. But they supported each of us, just the same, never criticizing or judging us. After Michael suffered the stroke, they would come up to me each week and ask how I was doing, how Michael is doing. They pray regularly for him, and also for me.
I have been a Christian for so many years, and I am a critical listener. Usually, the sermons don’t touch me that much, but I am learning to listen to the heart of the speaker, and this is helping my critical mind to be more open. So I am changing, even in this respect. Sometimes the sermons even touch my heart!
The sermons may or may not reach me, but the worhsip never fails to touch me. Every Sunday there is some song we sing that stays with me, speaking to me all week. I often find that even by Wednesday or Thursday after Sunday, that song is still ministering to my heart, building my faith.
Years ago, I felt obligated to go to church every Sunday. Michael had decided to be a pastor, and so I had no choice but to join him, I thought. He said that God had called him into the ministry. I couldn’t see it, though, and I resented the feeling of being expected to minister to others, whether I liked it or not. On warm summer Sunday mornings, I would see couples out for a stroll, people out walking the dog, families gliding past our car on bikes. I wished I could join them. I felt roped into going to church.
Now I wouldn’t miss it! Both Michael and I have a lot more support than anyone else I’ve encountered outside the Church. And every Sunday, I am ministered to, as well as sharing in the ministry myself.
This Community that Jesus dreamed of, when it is drawing from Christ, is a beautiful, wonderful life-giving thing, a living, breathing organism, and I am now so thankful to be part of this body of Christ.