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The Blessing of Having a Stroke

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On Thursday, October 21, 2021—just four months ago—I walked into my bathroom at 7:00 am to get ready for the day. My wife, Valerie, was already downstairs cooking breakfast for the troops. I had slept in an extra hour past my usual time. I almost unthinkingly turned on the faucet like any other day to throw some water on my face and—it is hard to explain this in words—all of the sudden it felt like someone hit me in the head with a pipe. But not on the outside of my head. On the inside. My whole body convulsed. To say I then “fell” to the floor would not quite get at what happened here. It was as though I was driven to the floor by an unseen hand whose owner had bad intentions. And it was as though my head was nailed to the floor.

When my head hit the floor, immediately the whole world started spinning out of control and it felt like a train was running inside my head. All I could do was groan. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t cry out for help. I could only grimace, brace myself, and attempt to weather the storm of what I thought was just an intense case of vertigo. I can’t really remember how long the spinning went on, but it seemed like an eternity. Then it subsided somewhat. And I found myself gasping for breath like I would after three minutes punching a heavy bag in the gym. I was sweating profusely. But I was shivering cold at the same time. I guess this is what they mean by a “cold sweat.”

“What is happening to me?” I thought.

After a relatively brief respite from the “vertigo,” it hit once again. The world started spinning out of control and it felt like I was bench-pressing four hundred pounds just to lift myself up onto all fours in order to make it to our near-by trash can to vomit. After vomiting, that same “unseen hand” drove me to the floor once more where the cycle would begin again. And this would go on for hours, folks.

Because I couldn’t call out, I would remain on that cold floor for over 30 minutes before Val came up to tell me my breakfast was getting cold, and she discovered me lying on the floor. Val immediately thought to call 911, but by that time I was able to speak and tell her not to worry about that. “This is just vertigo, honey. It will pass.”

Val called a nurse friend of hers who advised her to go get some motion sickness pills from the local CVS and so she did. But upon her arrival back at the house, and after I took the pills and promptly vomited both the pills and the water I had taken them with—and over my continued and irrational objections—Val called 911. And thank God she did. I would find out later that the sooner you get to the hospital in these cases the better.

Thank you, Valerie!

When the EMT’s came to the house, they couldn’t seem to figure out what was wrong with me. I did not have the usual symptoms of a stroke—weakness on the left side, slurred speech, inability to answer simple questions, etc. My strength was normal. My speech and cognitive abilities intact. And when they got me to the ER it was more of the same. The ER doctors couldn’t figure it out either. 

And so I would spend the rest of that day/night enduring every medical test you could imagine. From EEG, EKG, to Cat Scan, MRI, MRA, and more. And it would be the next morning when my neurologist gave me the news that I had had what they used to call a “major” stroke. Today, they just call it a “stroke.” I was not a complete stranger to strokes as I had two “minor” strokes four years earlier (back in 2017). They call them “TIA’s” today (transient ischemic attacks). 

This stroke made those earlier “mini” strokes seem like a day at the beach.

So When Did the “Blessing” Start?

When I first fell to the floor the first thoughts that came to my mind were: “God help me! God help me! God help me!” But immediately thereafter, I began to thank the Lord. I knew immediately two things: 1. This is a blessing from God sent to humble me and in reparation for my abundant sins. “Thank you, Jesus!” I thought. 2. I was blessed to be able to sense God’s presence on that bathroom floor. God was with me! And there was and is nothing that God and I cannot handle this side of the veil. I cannot tell you how much of a blessing this was and continues to be! 3. I knew God had me right where he wanted me. And I don’t mean laying on the floor—although that is certainly part of the picture—I mean he had me in that wonderful place where I realized not just in abstract theological terms, but most concretely, my absolute dependence upon him! And that is the most blessed state to be in in this life!

And the blessings would continue to come!

My wife, Valerie, is a saint! She has been beyond words. When we found out I had a stroke and were told that the healing process was going to be six months to a year, that was scary. But then there was Valerie! To say she “stepped up to the plate,” as the saying goes, is a gross understatement. This health crisis brought us closer together than ever! It was as though I was forced—or let’s say, moved by grace—to realize in an even deeper way the blessing I have in my wife. I became absolutely dependent upon her! I will never be able to put to paper all that Val has been through and all she has done during these four months. Heaven alone will reveal the supernatural power that has been manifested in that little 5’1” 100-pound spiritual dynamo!

A blessing? You better believe it!

I was also blessed to become dependent upon my children. And the older ones especially, but all of them have been wonderful. Yes, this has been a tremendous blessing! Just the other day, I was exhausted from the rigors of the day and I put my head in my hands at the dinner table. My eleven year-old daughter, Catherine, said, “Daddy, are you all right? Can I get you something?” I can’t tell you how many times my thirteen year-old, Rose, has gone out of her way to help. And the same can be said for Hannah (9), Luke (almost 16), and “the littles” Anthony (7) and Mary (5). Even our autistic son, Timmy (18), expressed concern for his dad when the ambulance had to come and take him away. “Where did he go?” Timmy said. It’s an event in the Staples’ house when we can get Timmy to engage in conversation!

Moreover, we had to cancel numerous conferences (about 8 or so), which represents a devastating loss for me because apart from doing the radio broadcast, conferences are my favorite part of my vocation. In fact, I think I give the edge to the conferences. And this is not to mention that financially, we would probably not be able to make ends meet without these conferences. 

So how would I sum up the blessing this stroke has been for me and my family? If the words of “Clarence Oddbody, AS2 (Angel Second Class),” written to George Bailey in Frank Capra’s masterpiece It’s a Wonderful Life are true—and they are—no man is a failure who has friends—I guess I am not a complete failure. The leadership at Catholic Answers—our President, Chris Check, COO Jon Sorenson et al.—and the entire Catholic Answers family have been incredible. We have had friends and family help us financially, with meals, and much more. Once again, I must repeat the refrain: there is no way I can put to paper what our friends have meant to us during this time of crisis.

But let me give you just one more example of what I am talking about here. This time on the financial front. Valerie found a doctor who specializes in “functional medicine,” a, sort of, wholistic approach to health. He is a naturopath. But the price tag was way too high. We would have to go outside of our HMO. I said no way. Well, just as we were discussing this and in my mind I had dismissed it. We couldn’t afford it. My Uncle Jon and Aunt Carolyn and my mom sent a couple checks our way that added up—almost to the dollar—the price tag of this doctor. And neither of them had any idea we were even pondering this move. In fact, Val and I were the only ones who knew. My mom and my uncle just wanted to help us out in our time of trouble. 

They had no idea!

I am now seeing the doctor and am well into treatment. 

That is the definition of a blessing from God!

As we continue to traverse what is a difficult pathway still. I and we have a long way to go in this process. I am excited and absolutely convinced that the best is yet to come and not just in the next life—please God, let it be so—but this side of the veil as well.

And, in the end, it really is all because of friendship. The friendship I have with my best friend outside of the Godhead in my incredible wife, Valerie. The friendship I have with my kids, mine and Val’s families, the Catholic Answers family, and so many friends that I cannot name here. Now, I know some are saying I’m not supposed to say I have a “friendship” with my kids. And I get it. I’m dad. But the kind of friendship I am speaking of here has its source in my best friend of all and the source of all true and eternal friendship, Jesus Christ:

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay his life down for his friends. And you are my friends…


SPECIAL NOTE FROM TIM’S TEAM

Tim is currently seeing a Doctor of Functional Medicine so as to find what he can do to prevent having a recurrent stroke. Valerie and Tim both agree that they do not want to see Tim dependent on pharmaceuticals which can have long lasting negative effects so they decided to seek assistance outside of the HMO. The services this doctor has been rendering, which have already helped Tim a great deal, are not payed for by insurance at all. The Staples want to continue seeking natural alternatives to help stave off inflammation that may have caused Tim’s two T.I.A.’s (ministrokes) back in 2017 and his cerebellar stroke he suffered in October of last year. If you would like to contribute to a fund to ensure that Tim can continue seeking assistance of this kind please donate below.

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