A Stroke of Divine Providence
Saturday, April 7th, 2018
I awoke to an energetic little person snuggling next to me in my bed. It was Levi, the youngest of my four children. It was about eight o’clock, and the early light spilled across my room from the window next to my bed. I groggily bid the day a good morning as I lay there, still struggling to gain a strand of coherent thought. Five minutes later, the area above my left eye, deep within my head, began to burst in pain. I got up to prepare my daily dose of caffeine and found that my balance was off-kilter: it felt like I ought to be perpetually falling to the left. I could compensate, of course, but not without occasionally bumping into walls as I made my way through the house.
Having four children at home, we had recently been subjected to some significant illness recently. While these issues on their own might have been concerning, my wife and I thought that the recent sickness in our home explained my current symptoms sufficiently so that we did not worry about them. As a result, my bride decided to go do a little grocery shopping while I stayed home with the children, all the while my major headache refused to be consoled.
About an hour later, at perhaps nine thirty, I was helping my second-born daughter work through one of her writing assignments, when I suddenly had difficulty speaking. I repeated several words multiple times, trying to say them correctly. My left hand began shaking until I lay down on it. I felt a bit ‘off’, but because illness can sometimes have a bit of a light-headed effect on me, I still didn’t consider the most negative possibilities for what might be happening. My eldest daughter asked me, “Dad, should I call Mom?” I told her not to worry about it and crawled to my bed, thinking that I merely needed to lie down.
Perhaps thirty minutes later, Melissa returned and came into our room. As soon as she started speaking to me, she could tell that something was wrong. She told me I ought to get some clothes on because we needed to go to the doctor. I stubbornly told her I didn’t need to go to the doctor in my ponderously slow, slurred speech. She called my mother, who was only 50 miles away from us (they live about 190 miles away but were in the area on a weekend away that they were taking for their anniversary). Mom led Melissa on doing a few tests on me. When she heard my speech, she directed Melissa to call 9-1-1 right away and then they immediately headed toward the hospital.
I was unaware of the emergency call, so I decided to wash my bed head hair so that I’d be presentable wherever we went. That’s where the paramedics found me, washing my hair in the sink. I’m sure that I looked mentally incompetent to them as I quickly finished up before working with them. One of them said, “This guy really felt the need to wash his hair.” It was true, but not from a state of mental incompetency. Or, at least, not one that didn’t exist prior to the events of that day. However, one of the paramedics indicated that they might be dealing with a brain bleed and that they “ought to hurry.”
We have some good friends in town that arrived about the same time as the ambulance, and so our children were well-watched-out for as I was taken to the hospital by the fastest route possible. While in transit, I considered my slowed speech and serious headache, and realized that we might be dealing with something either significantly permanent or, frankly, fatal. One of my friends from high school had died in college from a sudden aneurysm, so the I struggled with that realization for a few minutes, then looked around me for an opportunity to do something of lasting value before any potential end to my mortal life was upon me. I asked one of the paramedics in the ambulance if they knew Christ as Lord and Savior. He said he did not, so I shared part of the Gospel with him, though the speed of my speech inhibited much of the conversation. It is amazing, however, how much credence people give you when you’re speaking to them in words that might well be your last - it strikes me as darkly humorous. I mean, what’s the guy going to say, “No, dying person, you can’t tell me about Jesus.”? I suppose it’s a little unfair on my part, but I realized that if he met me on Judgment Day and I HADN’T said anything, I think our conversation might not be so pleasant, either. I have no idea what happened as a result of that conversation, but the ambulance driver was a Christian, so we can pray that they had further opportunities to help that man come to a full understanding of God’s great gift to him.
Once at the hospital, I was moved to an immediate open bed and a doctor and a few emergency staff talked to me briefly then, in my perception, they left to confer in hushed tones around the corner. Yeah, that’s ominous. Of course, it’s entirely possible that they were involved in other activities, but you’ll forgive a tad of paranoia in my processing at that moment, which wasn’t improved when over the PA system I heard, “Would the family members of Nathan King please report to security?” I later found out that my wife and parents had already arrived and had requested this page from hospital security, but at the time and given my circumstances I’m afraid it sounded like a death knell.
My parents and my bride soon came in to visit me (two at a time because of hospital protocol for those emergency receiving rooms). I’m afraid my manner and lack of speech ability got my mother to crying, but otherwise we received no news during that short stay.
We were soon moved up to tower ten on the seventh floor, room 10720. A quick CAT scan relieved any fears of an immanent brain bleed (the likes of which certainly would have propelled me into an immediate operating room). However, our doctor was able to procure an unusually quick appointment with the MRI machine. The appointment was to take place after such a short wait, in fact, that we heard incredulous comments on it from hospital staff. I heard some feedback from our physician and some of the other staff and I was told about the barrage of tests that he would recommend. I began to try to practice my verbalizations to offset the damage that we’d seen to my speech, hoping to begin the process of recovery ASAP. We later found out that the entire men’s ministry at our church had immediately heard of the situation and was praying for me, as were a host of other people. So many, in fact, that my wife commented that “North America is pretty much praying for you.” One of the church staff came by that evening. Mom and Dad went back to relieve our neighbor’s childcare efforts and Melissa stayed with me in the hospital room. We thought that I’d receive a CT-Angiogram test (to get a true mapping of my neural vascular situation) that evening, but it would not be until the next day. Our first night in the hospital thus passed without further incident.
The next morning was Sunday, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that my speech had improved from the day before. That day I was given my CT-Angiogram (to see my vertebral arteries) and a carotid artery sonogram as well as a "bubble" test where I was monitored by a sonogram while they pumped me with microbubbles so they could see the internal integrity of my heart (to ensure that it had no holes). That’s a freaky test - especially when you feel a bunch of bubbles go up through your neck and into your head. Our physician went over the results of everything with us while multiple guests were in the room, including Janet from work, our friends Phil and Talena, and one of our senseis and his wife, Phil and Lindsey. The working theory for why my stroke occurred has to do with some damage I’d sustained during a sparring fight in karate a couple months before. The offending strike to the back of my head had likely dissected my left vertebral artery, meaning that the the internal ‘sheath’ separated from the outer one. Such a separating (whether from the scarring process for healing or because the dissection caused part of the sheath to ‘flap’ a little inside the artery) resulted in a loss of blood flow to my cerebellum. The loss caused several small strokes and one decent-sized one, being about a half-inch wide by an eighth inch at its widest points, all in the cerebellum. The only other possibility for the stroke was a clot from my heart, so my physician did decide to order an internal heart monitor installed in my chest. I’m afraid I’m now a cyborg. At any rate, all of the other tests came back with such good results that my physician felt that what had been done was sufficient, and agreed with me to cancel a much more invasive test they had originally planned on. I would only have to keep my heart monitor in, just in case the cause turned out to be clot and heart-related. Some tests looking at my eyesight and speech were less conclusive at first, but would be completely resolved by Monday morning.
April 25th, 2018
It is a few weeks since the incident, and I am utterly amazed. Right after we’d returned home, I came down with a significant illness. While this is somewhat negative, I see this as the hand of God. I think, given my personality, that without the illness (perhaps the flu?) I would have returned to work immediately, giving my body little time to recover. My follow-up doctor appointment indicated that I had no activity limitations whatsoever, and he only decided to keep me on a low level anti-cholesterol (my cholesterol is overly high - 206) and an anti-clotting medication that will eventually go away. I have 100% of my ability to speak and move back.
During my return and (rapid) recovery, we were overwhelmed by the help given to us by so many friends and church family members. We have been inundated by meals, cards, and even financial gifts to help us with the costs associated with the experience, and we are incredibly grateful! God has absolutely shown us that He is providing for us through the loving embrace of friends and fellow believers. As a result, Melissa and I have both noted a marked increase in our compassion for others in similar circumstances.
Another man in our church (the same age as I am, 39) had an eerily similar experience just a week or two after mine. He’d also had a massive headache behind his right eye and difficulty speaking, but instead of balance issues, he’d had a hard time moving his leg and arm. Interestingly, he seemed to have taken longer to get to the hospital, so his CAT scan showed nothing. As a result, they could not rule his episode as a stroke, but it has been a blessing to have someone in so similar a circumstance nearby.
Many people would see our initial circumstances as quite dire (and we wouldn’t disagree!). However, the incredible way that God has increased our faith, our thanksgiving to Him, and grown our gratitude for the many people that have loved us through this time encourages us that this was something very different. We see the whole experience as a stroke of Divine Providence.