A Stroke Survivor's Miracle
by Pauline Mock
About 10 years ago I was pushed into the black hole of depression by a major family upheaval. No matterhow hard I tried, I could not climb out of the hole. I was unable to find help from other people or from God, though I knew God to be loving and merciful. Because of feelings of guilt and shame, I was not able to seek God’s help. Antidepressants helped me to work in the daytime and sleep at night. I threw myself into my work as a counseling intern and began a doctoral psychology program at night. This heavy schedule left me little time to contemplate my own misfortunes. I planned to finish my internship, get my counseling license, and complete a doctoral degree in psychology in about three years. With these plans in place, I felt comforted knowing I was not useless and would soon be able to stand again. That was the end of the year 2000.
Major Life Changes
My plans seemed so perfect, but early in 2001, with no sign or warning, I suffered a serious stroke. The stroke did not affect sensation or movement, but it erased all my short-term memory.
My sister told me later that I was admitted to the hospital twice, seven to ten days at a time, but I had no recollection of this. People visited me in the hospital, and I had no memory of their presence, even right after they left. My sister held a birthday party for me, but looking at the pictures afterwards, I had no memory of the party. If I could call people by name, they were my old time friends, but I was incapable of remembering the names of new acquaintances. Because of the loss of short-term memory, it was impossible for me to accomplish activities of daily living, including cooking and other housework.
The stroke not only erased my short term memory, it also took away my sense of direction. Before I got sick, I had an excellent sense of direction. As long as I could look at the sun and had a map in my hand, I could brave any unfamiliar place. I once drove across the country from the East Coast back to California in 3 days and 2 nights. But after the stroke, if I walked out the front door, I couldn’t find my way back half a minute later—I was worse than most Alzheimer’s patients! As a result, my neurologist declared that I would never be able to drive again. So I gave my car to a good friend who needed one.
The stroke also greatly affected me emotionally. I felt insecure and often even paranoid because of uncontrollable fears and anxiety. At night I would check my closet repeatedly to make sure there was nothing inside and leave the light on to feel safe. In the evenings, I would experience an unexplainable feeling— the setting of the sun reminded me of the end of life, and I would sigh repeatedly. My sister lovingly showed patience with me during this time, though she admitted later that she felt uneasy around me. She understood my behavior was a symptom of my illness.
The Care of Family
The neurologist told my sister that there was no chance of a full recovery with the kind of stroke I had. He said a 30% to 70% recovery is the norm, and if I should fall in the low range, I would need a caregiver for the rest of my life. Thus he suggested that my family send me to a mental rehabilitation center where professionals could care for me. Thank God, my family objected to his suggestion and insisted on taking care of me. Once, as a psychology student, I had worked as an intern at a schizophrenic center, and I recall the helpless stares and strange behavior the patients displayed. Even today, the thought that I was almost sent to such a place causes a chill to come down my spine.
Acting on her faith, my sister took me into her home. She cared for me like a child, keeping me by her side because I was afraid to be alone. I became like a fool, good for nothing, only pitying myself. I thought of suicide, but the Bible clearly states that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and should be cared for and not destroyed. If not suicide, what could I do? I began to pray that God would let me die, lest burden others and torture myself. However, God had a better plan for me.
Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares theLord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”
An Impossible Idea!
I attended a small Mandarin & English speaking church nearby, and Pastor Joseph Wong showed sympathy for me. He arranged for a family to pick me up every Sunday to take me to church. He also encouraged me with the Word of God and prayed with me. Unconsciously, I began to grow closer to God, as I learned to lean on Him and pray. Who would think a sick and helpless person could experience God more than when she was healthy? Gradually, the thought of death disappeared, and I began to taste the joy of fellowship with God which I had not even experienced when I was healthy and busy doing my own things. A verse in Matthew 12:20 spoke to me, “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out ...” Oh, how good it was to realize that the Lord loved even me, a lowly and useless sick person— and He was showing mercy on me!
Over the next two years my memory and sense of direction gradually returned and the fears subsided. Not only was I able to drive again, but I also helped transport children from different schools to the church’s Chinese language school. After another year and half one of my former professors suggested that I start school again. This idea seemed impossible to me. How could a person who had lost all short-term memory including knowledge from prior studies, go back to school? It would be like trying to build a house on a broken foundation. But this professor was very wise. He said something I will never forget, “Let me tell you the truth; if someone finishes a class and retains 10% of what he has learned, he is doing well. As for you, you forgot everything, so you are 10% behind—not a big loss!” His words greatly impacted me. I discussed the idea of going back to school with Pastor Wong and he encouraged me to try. My neurologist also, seeing that my improvement had exceeded hisexpectations, answered me positively. Having gotten this confirmation, I fearfully applied to return to school. The school dean and my counselors put me on probation for 18 units. They arranged my schedule so I would take one course at a time.
When I began the first course, it felt like my head was full of rocks. I hardly knew what was going on, and participation in class discussions was out of the question. But God was good to me. The professor who taught this course knew me well, and he allowed me to sit quietly without answering any questions. By God’s sheer grace and my professor’s mercy I ended up with a passing grade in this course. Had any other professor taught this course, I would have failed. The second course seemed much easier, and like the slow turtle, I finished my courses one by one. Within four years I had finished everything including my dissertation.
All along the way God provided the help I needed to accomplish this undertaking. Because I had gone through depression myself, I chose to write my dissertation on this topic. Drawing from my personal experience, I was able to organize my thoughts and my writings. My daughter, a medical doctor familiar with the dissertation content and vocabulary, offered to correct my paper since English is my second language and without help my writing would not reach a professional standard. She also took me to her school library and helped me find information. In short, God supplied the ideal resource to assist me through my writing, surpassing all I could have imagined.
My dissertation committee chairman was also a God-send. He was an experienced and respected professor, but I had never taken a class under him. Yet he agreed to act as chair without an interview. Each time we met, he always encouraged me with positive feedback, which helped to build up my confidence. At first I wondered if this professor was merely an easy professor, but I later earned that he had failed some other students’ dissertations. After I finished my dissertation, he encouraged me to publish my work as a pilot study, because the topic had not been well researched previously. These words from him surprised me, because I knew that I was no better than other students. How did he come to regard my work so highly? Surely God was helping me. How true the word of God is: “With God, all things are possible!”
The Way of Suffering
Life, at times, can be described by the four tastes—sweet, sour, bitter and spicy. Over the past 10 to 12 years, I tasted very little sweetness, and much of the other three. But if someone were to ask me whether I regret those years, I would say No! The negative experiences I have had taught me about life and helped me understand the suffering of others. When counselees share their troubles with me, I can identify with their experiences. Today counseling others is my ministry. When people hear how God has helped me, they gain hope. Some accept the Lord, and some decide to go back to church. I tell my clients that the help I provide is limited, but God’s help is immeasurable because He is the Almighty God. Though I have studied psychology, my head knowledge does not help people as effectively as sharing my own painful experiences.
Today counseling others is my ministry. When people hear how God has helped me, they gain hope. Some accept the Lord, and some decide to go back to church. I tell my clients that the help I provide is limited, but God’s help is immeasurable because He is the Almighty God. Though I have studied psychology, my head knowledge does not help people as effectively as sharing my own painful experiences.
When I came to my end, God opened a new way for me. A familiar Chinese saying puts it this way: “The mountains and waters ahead seem to block all my ways, yet among the trees and flowers there hides a beautiful village.” As the olive has to be pressed before its oil comes out, and grapes have to be put in vats before wine flows out, likewise, suffering is God’s grace—a prelude to blessings.