Thursday, April 21, 2011

Strokes of genius

I have visited with countless patients who have suffered a stroke. Some were completely immobilized, some seemed still completely normal and able, and many were in between having lost some sort of mobility or means of communication.

Strokes are pretty horrible, generally speaking. A blood clot forms and get lodged somewhere in the brain cutting blood flow to our body's super-computer. Very often, results of strokes are loss or lessened use of the left side of the body, arm, leg, face. As I've said, I've ministered to countless stroke patients, but never have really understood what it is like to be a stroke victim.

Recently, I had the opportunity to learn just a little bit more as a stroke patient recounted his experience just after the stroke happened, and it was scary. We'll call him, Bob, and he lives alone.

Bob was sitting in his favorite chair one evening, resting before bed. Not unusually, he fell asleep. Eventually, Bob woke up and felt strange. Like he could see, but couldn't see right. He looked around the room, and though it was familiar, something was funny, off, different.

Not knowing really what was going on or what had happened, he thought it best to go to bed and sleep it off. He tried to get out of his chair, and all his body did was tremble a bit. He moved, but didn't move. Something was definitely wrong. Trying some more he discovered that he couldn't use his left arm or leg, and his right side was weak. He needed help.

But, how could he get it? No one could hear if he yelled. He thought of how else to get help. A phone! He looked around and spotted his cordless house phone in it's usual spot on the reciever atop the refrigerator. "Only a few steps away," he said to me, "It might as well have been miles away. I've never felt so lonely in my life."

What is normally a simple task of standing up, taking a few steps and picking up the phone whenever it rings was now a monumental, seemingly impossible task. He told me about sitting in isolation, trying, struggling, tearing at himself for what to do, "I must have sat there near an hour trying to figure this out." That may well have been the longest our of his life.

Finally, some determination welled up in him. He used his "good" arm (the weakened right one) and strained as hard as he could, "It's never been so hard to get out of a chair. It was like having to move dead weight, except you are the dead weight." Prying himself from his favorite chair, Bob tumbled onto the floor. Military style, as if with a wounded arm, he painstaking slow pulled himself with his right arm across the smooth luckily linoleum floor toward the refrigerator.

But how would he possibly get up high enough to get that phone. He recounted, "I probably laid there in the floor ten minutes before it hit me." Reaching his arm into the crack between the refrigerator and wall he grabbed and pulled on the cord to the receiver, and the phone came falling to the floor -- plumb out of reach, bouncing over underneath the dining table.

It's a wonder the phone didn't bust into pieces falling from that high, but luckily this one was made sturdy. Bob told me that he didn't have anymore energy to pull himself over the phone. He was able to roll himself to where he could grab a nearby chair leg. And using that chair leg like he was fishing, he tried to bump and knock the phone toward him with the chair leg diagonal from the one he was grasping. Like trying to play golf using the wrong end of the golf club, he was able to nudge that phone of salvation within reach of his exhausted, weakened but usable hand.

This story is like fighting on the battlefield, only the field is your own home. I'm terrified to think of ever having to be in a position like that. Especially, when I heard from Bob's own mouth just how alone he felt when he realized he couldn't move, and no one knew he needed help.

Though he'd had a stroke, I think is was quite a stroke of genius the way he was able to retrieve the phone. Pulling on the cord, using a chair like a fishing pole, the courage it took to drag himself out of his chair an over the floor is something I hope I have inside me if ever presented with such a simple yet daunting task as getting the phone.


Erin Miller said...

I love that his isolation was lessened by sharing this story with you. Great!

Just finished my 3rd half marathon! Literally finished it 7 hours ago. Am in Lincoln, NE with brother Ben and family and my mom. Home tomorrow, and then hope to send you and Heather that thing that I don't think you guys can live without!

Thanks for your sweet blog comments. I miss you guys!!!

Vicki Hesse said...

Nice reflection... love this wording "he was able to nudge that phone of salvation " and in true CPE style I have to ask... how is paralysis showing up in your life these days?

the description of his stroke also reminded me of a book on my book list called "My Stroke of Insight" about a neuro-surgeon who has a stroke herself and what happens to her spirituality as a result. I can't wait to read it...

hope you are well, hugs