How would it feel if you woke up one day not suffering from pain anymore when you’ve had pain everyday for a good two thirds of your life?
How would you feel if you’re now able to make use of both of your hands from simple personal tasks like eating or showering to more complex activities including assisting for your disabled mum, rather than the one being cared for?
How would you feel if you’re suddenly able to speak your thoughts after 44 years of silence or not being understood by other people?
For most of us who are fortunate enough to have our senses intact and properly functioning, it would be difficult to imagine how you could go through one full day without using your hand to attend to your daily needs or without being able to speak and communicate with people around us. But, for some people who have suffered a stroke, especially if it affected the “dominant side” (which in most right-handed people is the left hemisphere of the brain), this is a daily challenge that they must face. I know this as I have been in working in the field of Rehabilitation Medicine for nearly 20 years now.
It is fairly common to be asked by patients who had a stroke if they could ever walk again, and when? Would they ever be able to use their hand again? When will my ‘feeling’ come back, or my ‘numbness’ disappear? Will the sensation of ‘pins and needles’ ever improve? Would she or he be able to talk again?
These are just some of the difficult questions I get asked every time I see a patient who had a stroke. Although some ‘lucky’ patients recover their hand or leg movements again, or even their speech after hours from a stroke (as in the case with TIAs or transient ischemic attacks), most will have a long and very difficult journey that can take a few months to a few years and still the recovery in most instances will not be to the extent that they were initially hoping for. And sadly, it often affects not just the person who had the stroke at a personal level, but as importantly it will also affect his/her family and friends and social role to varying degrees.
Unfortunately no one, and that include doctors, can accurately predict on which patient afflicted by stroke will recover and to what degree. To this day, science and medical knowledge remains very limited in this regard.
However, after attending for the first time Father Fernando Suarez’s “healing ministry” in Sydney last year and witnessing the numerous people getting better either physically or emotionally, and also having experienced personal ‘healing’ myself, I have come to expect the unexpected whenever Fr Fernando is around.
On the 27th of October 2009, both local parishioners and attendees from neighboring and distant suburbs filled the Mary Mother of the Church at Macquarie Fields again. Father Javy Javines ably assisted Father Fernando this time around. It was a refreshing site to see that all of the attendees were ‘actively’ participating during the whole mass. Everyone had an eager ear during the homily, which to me is the best part of the healing service. The words and message that Father so eloquently delivers combined with his amusing and funny stories that everyone can relate to, put simply is the best experience. (The person who thought of the saying “laughter is the best medicine,” must have had visions of Father Fernando saying one of his homilies, when he/she coined that famous term.)
I once again volunteered as a ‘catcher’ to catch people being ‘slained with the Holy Spirit' after being ‘touched’ by Father Fernando.
One particular incident that caught my attention was that of Joan’s. I did not know her story then. I only noticed her when she was already standing in front of me, quietly waiting for her turn to be ‘touched.’
Joan patiently waited for her turn and after being ‘touched’ by Father Fernando and not falling (when both of the persons who stood on each of her side “fell’), I politely told her that she is done and that she can go now. She turned her body slightly to me and shook her head as if saying, “No, not yet.” Father came back the second time to touch her and this time he asked her, “ What is wrong with you?” She did not reply, but as Father Fernando touched her forehead, she fell backwards like a log. I assisted her gently to the floor and noticed at once that her neck was very stiff. In fact, as I removed my hands from the back of her head, her neck remained bent forward and her head stayed off the floor. She was in this uncomfortable-looking position, but her face looked peaceful and calm. She lay quietly there for about five minutes before I started to notice her having right-sided facial twitching. Seizure-like movements followed with her right hand. A couple of other catchers close by milled around and looked very worried. One usher, who knew that I was a doctor, asked me “Doc, is she still okay?” I nodded to reassure him, but inside me I was also starting to get a bit concerned as her right arm movements persisted and she started to groan gently. (I was already imagining on what the local news would say- “Lady rushed to Campbelltown Emergency Department whilst attending healing service... rehab doctor stood by and did nothing.”) Then the arm movements changed to a slow writhing motion. I wasn’t sure what to do- react like a doctor and start assessing her vital signs and neurological status, or remain calm and have faith that she is just “resting in the spirit.” I chose the latter and started praying the Our Father silently. (Although I kept one finger on her pulse just to make sure that it remains strong and regular.) After a while, she started to open her eyes- whew, what a relief! I and two other catchers assisted her to her feet just in time that Father Fernando was standing in front of her again. He asked her a few questions, which I did not really hear, and this time the woman started speaking but in a very slurred speech. She continued her conversation with Father Fernando and I notice that her speech was getting clearer. Father then asked her what she wishes to say, and she replied, “Thank you very much.”
It was only later on that I came to know that this 67 year-old lady has been afflicted by stroke since 44 years ago. As a result, she was unable to speak well. She had “no feeling” but instead had constant pain on her weak right arm. She claims that after being blessed and touched by Father Fernando, that she can now speak clearly and that she can now move her right arm. She also attests that she has also regained feeling and that the pain is “no more.”
Joan was so happy with her improvement that she came back the following day to give thanks again for the healing that she experienced after being touched by Father Fernando and ‘resting’ with the Holy Spirit. Her faith was so much that she also brought her 85-year-old mother who was in a wheelchair and who is being cared for in a local nursing home.
Again, perhaps being a doctor and stroke being one of the common conditions that I manage and treat, I still have doubts about what I’ve just witnessed. My small brain most likely cannot find any logical explanation as to how after more than four decades of suffering a stroke, that this lady now is claiming sudden improvement with her speech and right-sided movements. Except that maybe she did not have a stroke, or that her deficits are not as marked as she claimed, or maybe that she ‘merely’ was suffering from a psychological or conversion disorder masquerading as a stroke.
She left her contact details and so I called her up to check on how she is now exactly a week after claiming to be ‘healed.’ She answered the phone and after I introduced myself, she told me her full name and that “yes, (she) is feeling a lot better, marvelous, and happy.” I even managed to speak to her ‘carer,’ Rose, who was instrumental in taking her and her mom to the healing services. Rose confirmed to me that she has been Joan’s carer for over two years now. Joan has been diagnosed to have had a stroke when she was in her twenty’s and that before the ‘healing’ she was unable to speak clearly, that she was unable to move her right arm, that she was always complaining of pain and numbness on the involved arm, and that her walking was fairly limited. Rose continues to see a marked change in Joan- “she is now able to speak clearly,” “the pain on the right arm is gone,” “she is now able to move her right arm,” and is even “walking better.”
Rose has a very kind heart and her only wish is that Father Fernando continues to pray for Joan and her mother Kathleen so that they would continue getting better. She is also hoping that Joan be re-considered for further physiotherapy now that she is showing much improvements, which I assured her that I will pursue.
May God continue to pour his blessings to Father Fernando Suarez and to all of the people who have dedicated their lives to his Healing Ministry and the Mary Mother of the Poor Foundation.