I stared at the round objects I cradled in my hand. Now, what were they? Why was I holding them? They looked so familiar – but what was I to do with them?
Still in my pj’s, I wondered, maybe John would know. I’ll just ask him. I looked around for John, the still dashing Naval officer I had married 55 years ago. “John, can you come in here? I’m wondering….” He was suddenly before me, with a very strange look on his face. “Pat, what’s wrong? What are you trying to say?” I looked again at his face and saw something that didn’t look like John at all. He looked so afraid. I began to speak, “I was just wondering, what these are and why am I….”
John put his hands on my shoulders, “Pat! What are you saying?”
I realized something was different. I stopped, utterly confused. I tried to speak. But my words were not even like words. I saw panic in John’s eyes. Then I knew, something was terribly wrong. And I didn’t know what.
John was talking to me now, firmly, quietly, like he was trying to calm himself down. “…to the hospital…going to be all right…leaving now.”
He began leading me to the car. With the military precision of his Navy days, he buckled my seatbelt, adjusted his own, backed out of the driveway, all the while, talking.
What was he saying?
Where were we going?
I wasn’t dressed right. This seemed all wrong.
John kept talking while he drove: “Your doctor is there. Best place. They’ll know what to do.”
My mind was desperately trying to put the pieces together.
But someone had up-ended the puzzle box, and scattered the pieces all over the floor.
Suddenly, the car stopped. I was surrounded by people.
Asking me questions.
Asking John questions.
So many questions.
But where were the answers?
Doctors. Nurses. Machines. “Get her prepped for an MRI.”
I? Mr. I? Who am I?
My mind was a jumble. The questions kept coming, “What’s your name? What did you do this morning?”
I thought about the round things in my hand.
What happened to them?
Everyone seemed so upset. Did I do something wrong?
I’m so sorry.
I wanted to tell them I’m sorry.
But my words …where were my words?
They just wouldn’t work.
A man came in and talked to John. Did I know him? He looked worried.
“This shouldn’t have happened. It wasn’t supposed to happen. She was on all the right meds.”
Later, I was helped into a bed. But not my bed.
A nightgown. But not my nightgown.
John was there, holding my hand.
Talking on the phone.
I couldn’t seem to talk. Except to God.
Please, dear God.
Help me make sense of this.
Help me find my words.
Help me find my life.
I want to find my life.
That fateful morning two years ago, with all the confusing moments is still a blur. I know now I suffered a stroke, in the language center of my brain. This resulted in aphasia, a permanent condition which does not affect intelligence, but does impact communicating and processing language.
Those round objects in my hand included carefully prescribed pills. I had diligently followed all the instructions for taking my medications, they were prescribed to block such a stroke ever from happening. But still, it happened.
In the weeks following that fateful day, I fought my way through speech, occupational, and physical therapy, flash cards and memory games; all designed to help me regain what the stroke had quickly taken away. Whatever a stroke survivor regains in the first year is likely to be all they will “get back”.
I wanted to get it all back: every memory, every forgotten word, every nuance of speech. Everything.
I’m thankful for what I regained – but it’s still painfully obvious to anyone who talks with me that much has been lost. My speech falters and words struggle to come out. Sometimes, the words that do come are wrong or worse, inappropriate (bringing delight to my adult grandchildren). My daughter remembers a conversation when I declared that everything was really wrong, only I used a word she hadn’t imagined would be in my vocabulary. Yep. All lined up to say one very bad word. It was a raw expression from me that brought both laughter and understanding for both of us. I was not the same, and yet I was myself.
My life has changed since the stroke. But God, my rock and foundation for the past 50 years of my life, has not. Over the years, I have spent thousands of hours teaching women. My goal has always been to help women seek, find and trust their worth in the eyes of the Lord. I have watched women who felt unworthy, lost, forgotten and invisible become alive to themselves and to God, who loves them unconditionally.
But after the stroke, I wondered: “Now what, God? How will this work when my speech is garbled, and my thoughts get jumbled and stuck quicksand of my mind? How can I continue to encourage women to trust You for the broken places in their lives, when I’m obviously stuck in the broken place of my own?”
God’s voice has come quietly, calming, softly speaking:
“Use what you have.
My plan for you hasn’t been altered.
My best for you is still, and always, My best.
We will do this together.”
So I move forward, trusting Him, grateful to have each day.
I don’t teach roomfuls of women any more. Instead, we sit together, one-to-one. My words are sometimes slow, and sometimes may not come at all; so then we just sit together in His presence. I listen to her heart and assure her of His love and care for her.
And I pray my presence, in the midst of what feels broken inside of me, will offer space for us to believe together in what God is doing and will continue to do.
*Following her stroke putting words to paper is very difficult. Saying yes to writing for Red Tent Living comes with much support from her friends and family. Pat is deeply grateful for the assistance from her dear friend Robin Dias in writing this essay.
Pat Sloan was born and raised in Arizona where she still lives today with her husband of 56 years, John. Together they were on staff with The Navigators for 30 years. She is a bible teacher, mentor, disciple maker, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. In 2016 she survived a stroke and now holds even more deeply that every minute is a gift. She loves caramel lattes, finding the perfect gift for those she loves, and spending time with her husband, family and dear friends.