by Lisa Nelson
My life has been a journey. A wild ride comprised of highs and lows, twists and turns. I wish I could tell you how this journey ended, but I’m still traveling down the road. Along the way I’ve learned lessons that I’d like to share.
On a chilly day in December 2005, my journey abruptly changed. My husband, Jason, and I took our children, ages 6 and 3, to a Christmas potluck. The little country church was located less than a mile from our house. After visiting with kin and filling our stomachs with delicious home cooking, we packed up and headed home. I don’t recall it being especially cold for a December day, but I do remember we drove through drizzling rain.
The road leading home was narrow and curvy. As we approached a sharp curve, a small sedan came careening around the curve and hit us head on. Though it happened in the blink of an eye, thankfully Jason had time to slow down before the impact. The screams of my children could be heard over the awful sound of crushing metal and deploying airbags. Were they screaming because they were afraid or because they were injured?
Jason and I were able to exit the car on our own and displayed no signs of injuries. We were relived to find the children uninjured, though they were badly shaken. Someone called the police and Jason called his mother to come pick up me and the children and take us back to the house while he stayed with the car and talked to the police.
The drive of the other car was a boy – just nineteen years old. He wasn’t drunk or under the influence of illegal drugs, just a teenager who thought he was bulletproof, driving too fast on a wet, curvy road.
Jason eventually made his way back home. Thankful we had survived the collision without obvious injuries, we tried to relax. We decided against heading to the hospital since no one appeared hurt. We did, however, call a good friend, a resident at the local hospital, and asked if he’d stop by and check us out. He gave us a brief exam and declared no red flags. We thank God for protecting us.
The next morning, we got up as usual and got ready for church. Jason and I were sore from the impact and the deployment of the air bags, but we decided to stay anyway for the holiday potluck after the morning service. I don’t remember much about the rest of that Sunday, but I remember Monday morning being “business as usual.” We got Baleigh off to kindergarten and Carter to preschool. Afterwards, Jason and I headed to Walmart to do some Christmas shopping.
While in the store, I began feeling weird. I felt tingly and clammy, but only on my right side. Jason insisted that we go immediately to Urgent Care, so I could be checked out. Once I described my symptoms, the doctors sent me straight to the Emergency Room. The ER doctors examined me and gave me the stroke test. The test consists of checking the strength in your arms and legs as well as checking your facial muscles by asking you to smile and stick out your tongue. I passed all the tests and was diagnosed with an inner ear infection.
The medical staff wanted to perform a Cat Scan, but by that time I was too impatient to wait. It was time for Baleigh to get out of school and I wanted us to be there to pick her up. I insisted we leave without waiting for the scan. I felt okay except for some soreness. I didn’t want to sit for two or three more hours in the Emergency Room.
We picked up Baleigh, went home and began our evening routine as usual. Baleigh’s kindergarten class was scheduled to sing at the PTO meeting that night and I looked forward to going. But I didn’t make it. I had developed a terrible headache. I took some Tylenol hoping to ease the pain enough to go, but the pain worsened. Jason took Baleigh to the program while I stayed home. Jason’s mom had picked up Carter from school, so they met them at the program.
I went to bed while they were gone still trying to ease the pain in my head. When Jason arrived home with the kids, I was still in bed. The pain worsened by the hour. Jason took over the bedtime routine, bathing the children and putting them to bed.
Sometime later, I decided I needed something stronger for the pain. Relief flooded through me as I found the bottle of pain medicine in the top drawer of Jason’s chest-of-drawers. I opened the bottle, fumbled the lid and sent it tumbling to the floor. As I bent over to retrieve the lid, I collapsed.
The next thing I remember is Jason racing into the bedroom and finding me on the floor. He knelt on the floor, gathered me in his arms and reached for the phone to call 911. He just saying, “Don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me!” I could see the terror in his tear-filled eyes as he repeated it over and over.
I thought, why is he in such a panic? I’m not going anywhere, but he kept begging me to stay with him and not leave him. I have vague memories of the paramedics placing me on a gurney and discussing the best way to leave the house because there was ice on the steps. Jason’s mom saved the day again when she came over to stay with the children. Jason hopped in his car and followed the ambulance to the hospital.
I don’t remember much after I arrived at the hospital. I’m told the first doctor that talked to Jason told him to take me home, so I could die there instead of the hospital. Jason sought a second opinion. The prognosis wasn’t much better. The doctor suggested to Jason he should begin “planning for my long-term care,” meaning a nursing home. I am so thankful Jason didn’t listen to either doctor. In fact, he told the second doctor, “I don’t want to hear that. I want to hear what you’re going to do to help my wife get better.” Jason dismissed those two doctors and sought a doctor who believed I could get better.
He went home and explained the best he could, to our young children, what had happened to their mommy – that she had suffered a stroke from a blood clot that had lodged in the right side of her brain and that half of her body couldn’t walk. After taking them to school and explaining to their teachers what happened, he returned to the hospital and scrolled through my phone, calling everyone in my contact list. He also called our church.
As a result, he found the waiting room bursting at the seams with people who were there to love and support him and pray fervently for me. There were so many people the hospital staff said they’d never seen so many people gather on behalf of one patient and their family.
Meanwhile, I remained in ICU, where doctors tried to relieve the awful pain in my head. My mother was with me and I remember telling her if she’d let me get up and to the bathroom, I’d be fine. Because I was right-handed, I didn’t notice right away that I was completely paralyzed on my left side. I soon discovered my left leg had been tethered to the bed to prevent me from thrashing about – boy was I mad!
I spent a week in ICU, then I was moved to a room in the rehab hospital with the concern for the swelling in my brain had diminished. Over the next thirty-one days, I underwent a grueling physical therapy regimen. For at least four hours a day I was in the gym trying to regain my strength and relearn how to perform the basic tasks of daily living. When I was discharged on January 11, 2006, I could walk with the assistance of a walker, but needed help doing this. With the help of in-home care, by May, I was able to walk without assistance. People call me “heroic” or “inspiring.” I prefer stubborn, willful and hardheaded.
I think most of us have heard the phrase, “I know God won’t give me more than I can handle.” I’m guilty of saying it myself. I had said it literally just a few weeks before my accident. I’ve come to believe this statement is one that we as believers in Christ, toss around far too frequently and flippantly. Nowhere (that I can find) in Scripture are we taught we will never be given a load heavier than we can bear. Do you think the apostle Paul would tell you that he had never been given more then he could bear? I doubt it.
If that were true, why would we be urged to cast our cares on Christ (I Peter5:7)? If we were never given a heavier load than we could carry, what need would we have to depend on Him? I believe with all my heart there are times when we are allowed to have burdens placed on us that we could not carry alone, if only to teach us the necessity of depending on Him. I know for sure that my burden was (and is) way too heavy for me to bear, and I’m thankful every day that I’ve never had to bear it alone.
My life has changed dramatically. As I’ve gotten older I’ve had to resort to using a cane on occasion. I’m not where I want to be, but I’ve traveled miles from where I was. When others ask me how I’m doing, often my reply is, “I’m better than I was, but not as good as I want to be.” I have hope I’ll meet those goals this side of heaven, but even if I don’t, I still live with hope because I know that due to Jesus dying on the cross, one day I will be healed completely and forever. It is that hope that sustains me.
Bio: Lisa Nelson is a former high school history teacher and basketball coach turned full time “momager” to two busy teens. She is an Atlanta Braves fan who enjoys reading, musical theatre and watching her children perform on stage. She has been married to her awesome husband, Jason, for 22 years and resides in Silver Creek, in northwest Georgia.