Gordon wakes up in the middle of the night, unable to see out of his left eye. A trip the ER results in the diagnosis of a detached retina. Gordon is sent home with an appointment to see an ophthalmologist in the morning. Other than the eye issue, Gordon seems perfectly fine. But within minutes of returning home, Gordon collapses and is completely unresponsive.
The ambulance takes Gordon to a different hospital where it is discovered he is having a stroke. Jill and the children, Rachel and Tom, sit in the waiting room as doctors and nurses, each with their own expertise, come and go with information and forms.
Jill signs the form allowing the neurosurgeons to perform a clot retrieval procedure. A woman in a white lab coat tells Jill to be ready to make “the hard decisions” in case the surgery does not go well. She uses words like “non-functioning” and “vegetative state.”
Gordon survives the surgery and regains consciousness the next day. Jill, still unaware of the severity of the stroke, hopes for the best when Gordon’s eyes open. Gordon tries to speak and smile but he has lost his language and only the left side of his face responds. He doesn’t remember Jill or the children.
Gordon shows amazing recovery in the Neuro-ICU. Movement begins on his right side, a few words begin to form, and he is beginning to recall his family and his life. By the fourth day, he is moved to a regular hospital room and he has a short business conversation with a fellow consultant. Gordon and Jill are optimistic that he will have a speedy recovery and that he will be able to work again in six months.
Gordon is moved to a rehabilitation hospital for three weeks of intensive rehab where he is very excited to work hard and get back to his life. During the first two days, Gordon shows substantial progress, using both sides of his body, speaking in short sentences, and comprehending most of what is said.
Day 8 of stroke recovery begins the devastating backslide in Gordon’s recovery. During the night, Gordon experiences terrible pain in his head and by morning, all signs of recovery are gone. The right side of his body is completely paralyzed, he has lost all language but “yes” and “no,” and he remembers nothing. Gordon can hardly participate in rehab due to pain and fatigue.
Jill is desperate for hope, wisdom, and deliverance from this hell. Jill begins her journey to Surrender as she acknowledges her powerlessness to God and prays for deliverance. A steady stream of support pours in from friends and family as Gordon approaches his release date from the rehabilitation hospital. Jill contemplates her new life as caregiver to her husband who now relies on her for all his needs.
The long slog of recovery begins in earnest. There are no amazing, miraculous breakthroughs. Every improvement must be earned with slow, repetitive effort. Gordon imagines what movement on his right side would look like if he did it himself while Jill moves his body for him. They devise strategies for improving his ability to think and speak. Jill silently mourns the loss of her old life as she tries to hold herself, her marriage, and her kids together through this terrible time.
Jill looks back at the events in her life that prepared her for this moment in time. She reflects on her childhood on an Iowa farm, her challenges and strategies that brought her into adulthood, and her marriage to hardest working, most optimistic man she ever met.
Gordon goes through many childlike phases in his recovery. Jill tells about his lying phase, his cursing phase, his defiant phase, his gory movie phase, and other strange, scary behaviors that she was completely unprepared for.
Jill must balance her roles as both caregiver and wife to Gordon. Jill struggles with the responsibility of taking care of him and disciplining him when he acts like a child and her commitment to respect him as head of the house, husband, and father.
The children, Rachel (14) and Tom (12), are deeply affected by their father’s stroke and the changes in his personality. They deal with their changed lives in their own ways and the long-term effects are yet to be seen.
As their “New Normal” settles in, Jill consciously decides what her attitude is going to be regarding her marriage, other people, and the future. She embraces Surrender to God as a gift and freely admits her powerlessness and dependence on Jesus, the Savior. It is freeing.
Gordon wants to return to his pre-stroke life and be a consultant again. But who hires a consultant who cannot organize his thoughts or words? Jill does her best to support him and work with him as a teammate but eventually Gordon realizes his obstacles are too big. His consulting career is over.
Gordon wants to talk about the stroke and recovery experience so Jill begins writing a speech for him to read. Six months later, “My Brain Has A Hole In It” is finished and Gordon spends the next eight months practicing reading it.
Gordon finally delivers the speech to a gathering of friends who are moved and inspired by the message of hope. They encourage Gordon to speak to more audiences and he is delighted by the idea. His new career as a public speaker is born. As a team, Gordon and Jill interact with audiences, where they laugh, cry, and encourage each other.
Jill reflects on their commitment to their marriage, faith, and family. She discusses the decision to approach life with a “glass half full” attitude, even when she may not feel that way, and not waste time lamenting “Why me?”
Because we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, Jill contemplates God’s plan for her, her family, and the many people who have been touched by this experience. Ultimately, Jill accepts that she does not know The Plan and chooses to trust God and His wisdom. Peace and joy have come from acceptance.
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