Real Time Reflections from Five Years Ago #15

ImageKarla: “You can try to imagine how you would feel walking into a room and finding your husband unable to talk or walk or move on one side, but until you have lived it you can’t get it.”

This is the 15th in a series of blog posts we are doing in real time plus five years during our extreme adventures at Mayo where I spent 46 days in the hospital and rehab following brain surgery and all the massive complications that followed. Keep in mind that the brain surgery was on Feb. 12, 2009.

Karla’s take on March 11th-13th, 2009

As I think back to March 11-13, 2009, again, it is all still very fresh.  Getting back to Mayo after being gone for a few days allowed me to really see the improvements that Mike had made.  Looking back at the rehabilitation process, I am reminded of how painfully slow the progress seemed, and how we rejoiced at even the slightest movement of a finger or toe.  The reality of what rehab is like is impossibly hard to convey to anyone who has not observed it.  You can try to imagine how you would feel walking into a room and finding your husband unable to talk or walk or move on one side, but until you have lived it you can’t get it.  I can’t imagine how Mike felt being the one unable to do any of those things. After being home for a few days it was much easier to see what progress had been made.  Dr. Meyer had told us that it was easier for him to see progress when he came in if he only came every few days, and he was right.

While I was at home on this visit, I had talked with a builder in town about putting on an addition to the house so that we could have a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor.  Our 1894 house was not built with recovering from brain surgery in mind!  By the time I went home the second time, We were not thinking any major changes would need to be made.  That is how quickly everything can change in rehab.  It is truly amazing!

What stood out to me looking back at the post from March 13 was that it was on that day that we first met Dr. Bergquist.  Prior to this Mike had gone to a group therapy session that was terrible.  He was not at all excited to meet with a psychologist one-on-one.  It turned out that Dr. Bergquist is a Christian, a homeschool dad, and even attends an Evangelical Free Church in Rochester.  How good of God to orchestrate events such that Dr. Bergquist would be Mike’s assigned psychologist!  We had no idea at the time how important he would become to us.  Over the past 16 months, Dr. Bergquist has been a great encourager to us.  He has sacrificed of his personal after hours time to have phone conferences with us.  He has been encouraging to Mike in that he understands ministry and brain injuries.  It seems highly unlikely to me that there would be another psychologist in the country that would so perfectly understand our situation and be able to help us even five years after brain surgery.

This is the last thing I wrote on the 13th:

“I don’t understand God’s purposes, but I do trust Him.  When I came to Christ, it was not until after I realized that I am not as smart as I thought and I do not have all the answers.  I am always aware of this, but the past five weeks have certainly been a reminder that I don’t know everything, and neither does anyone else.  God is showing Himself powerful and in control and faithful.  That’s what this is all about.”

After five years I still don’t understand God’s purposes, but I also still do trust him.  The events of the past 16 months have been the hardest of my life to understand.  As one who always wants to understand, I have greatly struggled with this.  But I think I am getting better at not understanding.  I’m okay with it now, but can’t say that I like it.  I do know that God has always shown himself to be faithful and trust that He will continue to do so.

Mike’s take on March 11-13th, 2009

Karla went home with the kids on Saturday afternoon March 7 and returned to Rochester with Benj on Wednesday the 11th.  It was tough having Karla away for those days but I knew that she needed to at least make an appearance at home for the kids’ sake. Rochester was four hours away from Earlham. Still is. I say it was tough not having Karla around for those days, but honestly I don’t recall missing her that much for those days. However, she insists that I told her that it had been difficult not having her around. So when my recollections are cloudy I almost always defer to my wife’s account of things.

I remember working as though my life depended on it in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. I was also highly motivated to work hard in order to show off my newly acquired skillz, however lame they might seem now looking back! As Karla mentioned it is truly amazing what occurs in physical therapy as individual fingers and toes began coming back to life however slow and frustrating that progress may have been.

I include this post from Karla on the 11th and two comments posted to the blog during these days by two pastor friends of mine who came to visit me (though I still have no recollection at all of Randy Anderson ever coming to visit me…).

I share these now so that perhaps you can begin to understand how much things can change in a few days of highly concentrated effort. And let me tell you these hours were grueling, leaving me utterly exhausted at the end of each day.

(Karla, March 11th, 2009)

“…Benj and I arrived here at 1:30 today and I couldn’t wait to see Mike! He was gone when we got here, and we tracked him down in a hallway.  He was just finishing up walking up and down a ramp.  He is now able to move from the wheelchair to wherever he needs to be with just a little assistance from a nurse.  That is a big improvement!

Mike has also obviously been eating!  He is still skinny but his face looks much better.  I really did not like the gaunt look.  I think Gabbie will be much happier with the way he looks, too.  Our friends from Luther have taken it upon themselves to help fatten him up.  They stopped by briefly when they were in town, and brought a large bowl of Coldstone ice cream.  There is more than enough for after dinner!

Benj and I went to speech therapy with Mike.  He is very frustrated with the speed with which his speech is improving.  The speech therapist today was very encouraging.  She asked him questions about his beliefs and he was able to articulate what he wanted to, albeit slowly.  She made a point of saying that for the time being it is best to try to say things simply, even though he normally wouldn’t do that.  That is very difficult for him.  She mentioned that other clients she has seen who are intelligent are also frustrated with the simplicity and speed.  I personally thought it was a good conversation!

I drove the car up instead of the van, so I switched CDs, although I still listened to just Sovereign Grace CDs!  I was listening to The Valley of Vision CD.  It reminded me of when Mike asked someone who was visiting to read the 23rd Psalm.  The person asked why, to which he said, “I’ve been to the valley of the shadow of death and I’m still here.”  It’s a hard place to be, thankful for being alive but not progressing as fast as he wants.  We are all working hard to keep the right perspective!”

(From Randy Anderson, a fellow pastor)

Dear Mike and Karla,
I was so encouraged to hear your voice the other day — you sounded like yourself; compared to my earlier glimpse into your world this was HUGELY encouraging.  I have just finished my 6th day with Inluenza A — I am not a big fan. However as I begin day 7 at 85-90% my normal self and think of what you have been through and what you must still accomplish recovery-wise — I am moved to pray for you.

O how I take my relatively good health for granted!! I ought to be filled with thanksgiving for health every single day that I have it — radiant with praise for it — that ought to be my daily attitude. But alas I get lost in my daily blessings and fail to see them at all.

You mention Psalm 23 in your latest — I would remind you of the hopeful situation within which we live according to the close of the Psalm — we live sandwiched between these two things —

Behind us it is certain that goodness and mercy are following us all the days of our lives. And so goodness and mercy are following you into therapy today, and not just any goodness and mercy but God’s goodness and God’s mercy. And then the even more hopeful thought — we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever — that is what is out ahead — that is what is certainly out there. We are live between ‘goodness and mercy’ and ‘the house of the Lord forever.’ Some day Mike we will take a walk in the Bighorns in the New Heaven and the New Earth — in my glorified state I won’t be as cranky as J. Mochel either.

Praying for you both,

Randy Anderson

Tim Trudeau, a fellow pastor who had come to visit me on Sunday the 8th left this comment which may give you a better appreciation for what occurs in physical therapy. I clearly remember Tim’s visit because it was so timely. Karla had left for home Saturday and this was Sunday, a nothing day in rehab. So it was a great delight for Tim to come and visit and wheel me up to the beautiful chapel area to talk. I think this was one of the first times I had left the rehab floor. Freedom!

Dear Mike,

After watching you pull your seemingly lifeless leg up by grabbing your pants, and kick at your right foot with your left to get it to move, watching you walk down the hallway yesterday was like watching something out of the Bible, after Jesus said, “Get up and walk.” Your life is now the stuff of legend; the kind of thing people write books about.

We all know life is a gift, but we forget; your life is a reminder. Persevere in therapy, knowing that your every gain in mobility and memory is our joy as well as yours, and you are writing a chapter in the story of your life that cries out, “Glory!” in a way most of us will never experience.

I was glad to hear that though some words escape you, your grammar is still impeccable. If you weren’t such a good pastor, I’d say you should be teaching English!

Tim Trudeau

Ha ha Tim, this comment makes me chuckle! But sometimes you just need to take the bull by the horns, or the leg by the pants if the leg won’t move, and deal with it till it does work. By this time I had no worries about the leg movement coming back because I had some minor movement in my big toe and was able to straighten out my leg when it was propped up at an angle. No worries. It was now just a matter of time and effort and getting the systems working again.

Karla also mentioned Dr. Bergquist, a Christian man, a psychologist who was a very unique gift from God to us at just the right time, and with whom we have remained in contact. He not only is an excellent psychologist who understands brain trauma, but he also understands ministry.

I too have found the past 16 months and losing my job as the pastor of Crossroad Church after nearly eighteen years, to have been harder even than what we have been trying to explain in these last 15 Reflections in Real Time from five years ago. Yes that is correct. There is physical pain and then there is emotional, spiritual, and psychological pain that occurs in churches and relationships that in many ways is even more painful and confusing than anything else.

The final words that Karla wrote on March 13, 2009 were as follows:

“I don’t understand God’s purposes, but I do trust Him.  When I came to Christ, it was not until after I realized that I am not as smart as I thought and I do not have all the answers.  I am always aware of this, but the past five weeks have certainly been a reminder that I don’t know everything, and neither does anyone else.  God is showing Himself powerful and in control and faithful.  That’s what this is all about.”



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