It was a typical Monday morning in late summer. I had started the day with the barn chores and followed with a few hours in the recording studio. The lazy afternoon was so pleasant that I decided to give up the rest of the workday and fly one of my radio-controlled planes in the pasture.
I had enjoyed good health for all of my life, except for an occasional bout with a cold. After reaching 50, I was more vigilant, but there was never a need to see a doctor. My cholesterol and blood pressure were at modest levels, and I got plenty of exercise here at the farm. I thought I had nothing to worry about, but that was about to change.
I went to bed about ten-thirty, read a little bit and went shortly to sleep. From this point on, I remember little, which must have been God's mercy.
It was about 3:30 in the morning. I rose and headed for the bathroom. After splashing some water on my face, I then suddenly dropped to the floor. I didn't know it, but a massive blood clot had just entered my carotid artery, working it's way to my brain. After lying on the floor for a indeterminate amount of time, something awakened Vicci, my wife, who called 911 thinking perhaps this was a heart attack.
I have vague recollections of struggling unsuccessfully to get to my feet – and a strange bewilderment as to why my right side would not function. Soon the paramedics arrived to take me to the hospital, but I lost consciousness.
I was taken to the emergency room, and from there to surgery at seven o'clock. The surgeons strove to keep my arteries open, with some success. Two stents were placed in the blood vessel. Eventually I was to find out that, for a time, my life hung in the balance, but there on the operating table the balance swung in my favor.
Despite the successful surgery however, later tests showed that a second blood clot had again blocked the carotid artery. There was not an attempt to remove this one - there was just too much mass of coagulation. It remains blocked.
For the next three and a half days, I knew nothing. I was in a black vacuous void, lacking sound, sight and feeling.
I began waking up, as if in a fog. I could see shadowy figures moving. My right side was dead, and I couldn't speak. There had been dozens of friends and well-wishers in the emergency recovery room, but I hardly remember their presence. Many of my friends were there praying for me, and they had notified many others I'm not acquainted with, who joined them in prayer.
I still didn't know what had happened to me. Unfortunately, in the days to follow, it did begin to dawn on me. My wife had been with me throughout the ordeal, and she began trying to tell me what had happened to me. I had suffered a stroke, and a very serious one. Initially I couldn't move my arm or hand, but over the next several days I began to show some improvements such as wiggling my fingers and toes. My right leg was recovering more rapidly, and eventually I stood upright.
I don't know what the Doctors expected regarding recuperation, especially with that artery still blocked. I knew little of strokes - just what I had heard from friends and family. I knew they were serious, even life threatening. I suppose, giving the nature of strokes, that anything was possible. Some recovery could take place, or none at all, but that was now in God's hands.
Still, the improvements came. Though it was tremendously frustrating, I began to be able to say a few understandable words, and I could now, with assistance, stand and walk some cautious steps. Therapists were now visiting me regularly and helping with speech and physical therapy. My thought processes and memory were coming back. I remember so desperately wanting to get better, and be able to go home, but that was not yet to be.
After eleven days in the hospital, the decision was made to move me to a Rehab facility. Several different places were discussed, but it was decided that I would be moved to a very highly thought-of clinic in Lincoln, Nebraska.
I wanted to stay in Topeka, but I certainly was in no position to protest. Vicci wanted me to have the best care. After one more, and rather lengthy blood test, they loaded me in an ambulance and off I went. The scenery on the way up to Lincoln was very refreshing to me – the first I had seen in a long while.
The clinic was very nice. I arrived late in the afternoon and was checked into a very elegant room, right next to the dining room. At the call to dinner, I got up and walked to the table, though a nurse tried to assist me. The first thing I noticed was that I was the only one walking. The rest of the people were in wheelchairs. Most were considerably older than I, and many were obviously fellow stroke victims.
I remember thinking that most of these people were hurting much worse than I. There wasn't much conversation at the table, presumably because of their vocal problems, and mine. The meal was very good, but I noticed, really for the first time, that I had great difficulty holding the fork. (I had previously been fed.)
The therapists began early, with a series of tests. From morning til' late afternoon, this was to be my schedule for the next three weeks – speech, occupational, and physical therapies. The staff were all very nice. I even began to enjoy the therapy a little, as long as it got my mind off of the real implications of my situation. Everyone said I was making great progress.
After the first week, we drove home for my first brief visit home. My home seemed welcoming, but unfamiliar and strange in the way that places do when you've been gone. Still, I relished the time. When we returned to Nebraska, one of the more bizarre events of my ordeal took place. Since I was now on out-patient status, we were staying in a local hotel. I was about to go to sleep when suddenly I thought of the Bible. I realized that I could not think of a single verse. I could think of none of the names of the books, no names of Bible characters, none of the stories, nothing!
I was slowly panicking when I asked Vicci to grab the Gideon Bible and read me something – anything. With a puzzled look, she opened the Bible and began to read from John Chapter 6, the story of Jesus feeding the 5000. After thirty years of personal Bible study and teaching it, I was hearing it for the first time! It was such a strange sensation. There was a faint air of familiarity about it, and yet it was all new.
What a peculiar thing, that a stroke can destroy a portion of the brain, and be that selective. I had panicked, because I instinctively knew how important it was. This Jesus I was hearing about was soothing, and I was able to go to sleep. (fortunately as of this writing, my Bible knowledge has returned).
I returned to the clinic for two more weeks, and continued to improve and grow stronger. One day I discovered that there was a piano in an open room on the second floor. I had not been thinking much about one of my greatest fears – not being able to make music. I sat down at the piano, my right arm in my lap, and played a few figures with my left hand. Then came the great test. I lifted my right arm and played a simple scale, although somewhat haltingly.
I was surprised that I was even able to press the keys. However the real surprise happened when I tried to play with both hands. I found that I could play with right or left hand independently, but not with both hands. I just could not do it. It was actually quite a peculiar sensation. Initially I felt tremendously frustrated, and then panic, but the Lord gave me a peace about it. I decided it would do no good to worry about it, and it would be best to leave my future in His hands. I did not visit that piano again.
After three weeks it was time to come home, and transfer to another Re-Hab Hospital in Topeka. I left Nebraska on a Friday, and was to enroll in the outpatient clinic in Topeka on the following Monday. I would be staying at home! The first night at home, I was awakened by a loud crashing, followed shortly by someone moaning. Startled awake, I lay there thinking I was dreaming. I got up and went to the bathroom, the same one in which I had the stroke, and I found Vicci lying in our sunken bathtub. I stared at her for a moment thinking “what are you doing?” before I managed, with some difficulty, to get her back to bed. I knew she was hurt, but I thought it was just bruises.
The morning told a different story. Vicci was completely unable to move, and in great pain. My daughter Kate, who was staying with us, called 911. Here was I, partially disabled and unable to drive, and now my wife was facing a trial. I began to feel a bit like Job. The ambulance took her to the same hospital that I had been taken to, where we found out it was not bruises, but a fractured spine. After a painful night, she was scheduled for surgery the next day – with the same doctor who had operated on me. Everyone was stunned that we were back in the hospital again, and this time with my wife. We sent out prayer requests – this time for Vicci.
They performed the surgery, a relatively new procedure using a balloon and a type of cement, to rebuild her vertebrae. There was no incision. After one more night, she was already home, and feeling nearly normal. I couldn't believe she was back home after breaking her back. The doctor said that were it not for this type of surgery, she would have been months recovering. I thanked him work his work on her, and myself. (I thanked the Lord too!) I felt that we had narrowly escaped a calamity.
Vicci's incident had fallen right on the day that I had an appointment to enroll in the Re-Hab program, so it was delayed, but I started it the following week. The clinic was similar to the one in Nebraska. They tested my hand for numbness, as well as a full battery of other tests.
The various therapies continued – as did the improvements. I was basically aware that I was slowly getting better, but I really didn't grasp how much I was improving. People that I spoke to on an occasional basis always remarked about how much better I was speaking. The change was so gradual, that I could scarcely notice it. Over time, the feeling was coming back to my hand. I finally sat down at my piano, and suddenly I could play with both hands. It was nowhere near my former ability, but now I had hope. As the days have passed, my playing improves slowly – I can even pick a few notes on the guitar.
I am now, as of this writing, four months from the date of my stroke. I still have some speech problems, and some trouble with my right arm. It has been a long and hard struggle, and there is still a ways to go. I did not know it at first, but this stroke was serious. I just now am finding out how serious. My Doctor, after conferring with several other physicians including a hematologist, told me that what had caused the stroke was a blood disorder called “antiphospholipid syndrome.” He said that it was unlikely that a physical exam would have revealed it. It is a type of auto-immune disorder, and he informed me that I must be on blood-thinner drugs, presumably for the rest of my life. I was not pleased about having to take Coumadin, but I left his office resolved.
More significant is what one of my other doctors told me. (a Neurologist) I went to see him just a few days ago. He had not see me in many weeks, in fact since the days in the emergency room in the Hospital. When he walked into the room, I jumped to my feet, held out my hand, and said “Hi, Doc!”. It would be hard to miss the look of astonishment on his face. He was clearly pleased with my progress, but then he told me “Mr. Livgren, you had as bad a stroke as a man can have.” He said “Once in a while, a Doctor gets to see someone like you.”
I had been getting comments like this all along, but I was just now starting to get it. Clearly, something was going on. I should, by all rights, be either deceased, or one of the people in a wheelchair, yet I am not disabled. The comment was made that I was “like Job”, yet Job received back all that he lost and more besides.
I have come to believe that my Father in Heaven has once again shown us His kind mercies. I have many times been the recipient of His mercies before, ( He saved Vicci from her head injury in 1998). Now, He has saved me yet again. He exists, and he hears the prayers of His people. I know I am nothing special. I know that sometimes there are good, prayerful people whose prayers are not answered, and I have no explanation. He is the Lord God and mercy is His to give, and He gave it.
Throughout this whole ordeal, I somehow knew that it was going to be alright. I felt a kind of calming presence, the presence of Christ, telling me that I need not fear. I pray that I be fully recovered but if not, then whatever the Lord gives me is enough.
Christmas Eve, 2009