Real Time Reflections from Five Years Ago #1


As many of you know five years ago at this exact time our family was enduring the greatest trial of our collective lives. The idea came to me yesterday to write of the memories and experiences that I had during those days over these next 6 plus weeks (corresponding to the number of days we spent in Rochester) in real time plus five years.

Karla suggested that I write blog posts that correspond to these days as well. I thought that was a splendid idea and so over these next weeks I plan to write regularly on my blog. I plan to use some of the text from these real time updates in the book I am currently writing. This does not mean that I will necessarily be blogging every day but I will be writing every day and I will pass some of that along to all of you, if you are interested.  This self challenge, call it a gimmick if you will, provides me with great motivation to write as I relive each of the days anyway.

Each blog entry may include two or more days of actual time. If you’re not interested then I guess you can always do something else. It is a free world.

If you would like to receive these updates directly please subscribe to my blog following the simple  instructions on the home page of the blog and they will be sent directly to your email account.

I have asked Karla to write some of these blog postings as she was the one who wrote many of the updates in those early days after brain surgery and the massive complications that would follow. It was her attention to detail that enables me to tell the story with detail.

During those days I was conscious the memories I have are vivid and fresh. Here is my first entry that I wrote yesterday and today days one and two out from brain surgery.

February 13, 2014 (2009)

Reading Karla’s blog entry from this day I found out that during the evening (surgery was finished at 8:00 p.m. on the 12th) I was intubated (on the ventilator) but was occasionally brought out of the anesthesia for brief neurological checks.

I specifically recall the time where they brought me out of anesthesia for the neurological check when Karla was in the room. It was 8:00 a.m. (or so Karla tells me) twelve hours after the surgery. I remember briefly coming out of the fog for a few minutes. Karla was there in the room and I remember that being so very comforting for me. Having the person who loved me more than any other human being…and knew me better than anyone else was extraordinarily comforting. I remember well seeing her standing beside me, dressed nicely with a confidence exuding from her that gave a tremendous boost to my mood.

I held on to Karla’s hand for a couple of minutes with my left hand and squeezed it three times and she reciprocated, our private sign for 23 years that we love each other. The neurological checks showed that my right side was completely out and yet there was pain when they squeezed my toes and fingernails. And yet I couldn’t move at all. Nothing. The ventilator was still in so the anesthetist let me slip away again into unconsciousness. The doctors slowly weaned me off the ventilator and by 10:00 a.m. I was taken off the ventilator and breathing on my own.

Having been a biology major in college I understood the way the parasympathetic nervous system worked…in theory. The parasympathetic nervous system controls all of the involuntary actions necessary for life, like breathing and having one’s heart beat, along with other complex organ functioning without which properly functioning life would not be possible (e.g. kidneys, liver, digestive system, and all functions of the brain.

The sympathetic nervous system controls the voluntary actions like squeezing another’s hand for example, or speaking, or throwing a javelin. It was one thing to process these things in biology 21 at Luther College (Decorah, Iowa) in 1983 but it’s quite another to process something of this magnitude from the costly seat of a bed after just having had brain surgery.

In biology labs in college we pithed the brains of frogs, which meant that we stuck a probe into a frog’s head and moved it all around. Then we observed what they could and could not do. I have likened myself to a pithed frog more than once over these past five years.

I know that Dr. Meyer as the Head of the neurosurgery department at Mayo Clinic thought of his skills more highly than that. He had been able to use his brand new million dollar microscope during my surgery for the first time.

I remember being calm but somewhat fearful of what the future would hold even then. I also distinctly remember thinking to myself “What have I just done in allowing a man I barely know render me unable to move my right side or speak a single word. I was angry at Dr. Meyer for my current state, which was the worst case scenario he had painted for us.

Even worse,we were given no guarantees that either word return, and if either did return to what degree. We had been told that there might be some right side immobilization and also that speech might be affected. And so to come out of surgery with this worst case scenario upon us was but a gentle precursor of the things to come.

That first day after the surgery I was completely clear minded, with not so much as a headache. I processed all that was occurring around me and began to contemplate things that I, and so many of us take for granted. Namely, how is it that human speech occurs? How does one talk? How are words formed? I remember trying to speak but the words just wouldn’t and couldn’t come out.

I also thought to myself how is it that a person can even move? Prior to this precise moment I had lived my 44 years of life without fully appreciating the gift of being able to move at will. I think a partial paralysis without even the certainty that movement will return is to fully appreciate the gift of movement. Day one post surgery. No movement at all. And no speech.

From Karla’s blog entry that day: “I went i n periodically throughout the day, but had to leave if his blood pressure went too high. For some reason, it seemed to soar when I was in there. [editorial note: it still does (:]Shortly after noon they got him up in a chair…He smiles when he sees us and answers questions by squeezing my hand, so in spite of all the medication we are certainly seeing his personality. One of the nurses said to me, “He has a good sense of humor, doesn’t he?” So, he is obviously communicating with us. He is quite frustrated about the lack of movement and speech.”

Even then I began to think about the future. Would I be able to accept my life as it was, even if I never regained right side movement or speech? I couldn’t imagine my life without those things but I just tried to relax and rest and trust.

February 14, 2014 (2009)

This was the day that I spoke for the first time following the surgery. It was simultaneously fascinating and infuriating…frustrating beyond words that I could not speak.  In my mind I was saying words and talking with those who were around the bed, but all I could do was make motions with exactly one half of my body and become frustrated when they couldn’t understand my eloquent motions.

From Karla’s blog posting on Feb. 14, 2009 “We have just spent the day taking turns visiting with Mike today.  My parents brought the kids up yesterday and they all went in to see him today.  It was pretty emotional for him.  The girls were excited to give him the Valentine’s Day cards that they had made.

Probably the most frustrating thing for Mike is not being able to communicate.  It took us fifteen minutes to figure out what he was trying to say at one point.

A friend whose family is in the middle of a health crisis sent this verse to me and I shared it with Mike.  It really says exactly what I think Mike needs to do:  stand still and let the Lord fight for him.  “Moses said to the people: Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you and you shall hold your peace.”
Exodus 14:13-14

Later that day Karla posted the second most popular post on the blog as I spoke my first words. Her title was “PRAISE THE LORD! HE TALKED!”

“Yes, I know that all caps means I’m yelling, but that is pretty much what we were doing in the neuro ICU at Mayo Clinic at about 7:30 tonight. be honest, I was quite discouraged today.  Not because anything bad happened, but because it was so frustrating to not even be able to communicate.  When the neurosurgical resident stopped by late afternoon, Mike had said “one” and “two,” although not in a natural voice.

As my sister and brother-in-law were getting ready to leave, several of us were in the room.  Mike had been trying to do things like push the boots that prevent blood clots off of his right leg with his left leg.  My mom said, “If you are bored, did you ever consider watching T.V.?”  Mike then said, “Not really.”  It was hard to refrain from hootin’ and hollerin’ right there in ICU!”

[Mike’s note: I had been communicating and speaking in my mind all along as if I were a winsome and vital part of the conversations going on all around me. So it must have been that as I was relaxed and carrying on with those around me in my mind that those first words came out. The brain is amazing!]

“He then proceeded to say “international” as we were for some unknown reason discussing airports.  When I went in to tell him goodnight, I prayed with him.  At the end he held his arm up to indicate he was praising God.  I said, “Yes, praise the Lord,” to which he replied, “Praise the Lord.”  Enough said.”

Well that’s pretty much it for the first two days after surgery. Stay tuned for more posts. It gets way more exciting!



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