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Twenty-three years ago, my wife and I were living the Life of Riley. Kids out of college, mortgage nearly paid off, no outstanding bills. Life was great. Then, literally overnight, our lives were unalterably changed forever.
We were returning from a visit to a friend's house late one Wednesday evening. I parked in our driveway, came around to help my wife out of the car, and she remarked she was dizzy and had trouble walking into the house. Naturally she was a bit frightened, but it was quite late so I told her we should go to bed. If things were no better when we got up in the morning, we would go to the hospital near our home and have things checked out.
When we got up Thursday morning, she was not really much better, so we had a little bite to eat, then got into the car and drove the three miles to the hospital. I parked in the emergency room parking area, and, as I had the night before, got out of the car and came around to get my wife out. We started to walk the 50 or so feet from the car to the ER entrance when she simply collapsed into my arms. I literally dragged her the remaining distance into the ER.
Everyone could see she was in bad shape, so they took her directly into the main ER treatment area while I filled out the forms, insurance and everything else. They Immediately began to test her to see if they could determine what was wrong, but nothing certain showed up on any of their tests. She was admitted into the hospital, and would undergo further testing.
A few days later, while we were visiting together in her hospital room, I noticed her right hand begin to curl into a fist, and her speech became slightly slurred. She was having a stroke. And over the course of the next few days, she would have several more strokes, 5 in all, involving the blockage of major arteries on both sides of her brain. It was rather "touch and go" for a few days, and survival rates for multiple strokes are gloomy. She was in such a bad way I stayed over at the hospital because, to tell the truth, I was not sure she would make it through some of those nights.
I recall once, when things were really going badly, I prayed my heart out. "Lord", I said, "if you let her live, I will see to it that she has everything she wants from here on, and I will do everything I can to make the rest of her life as peaceful, happy, content, and fulfilling as is humanly possible." The Lord was listening, and thankfully Nancy survived. So I set upon keeping my promise.
Given the choice of doing anything she wants to do, Nancy likes most to travel. And that is how it has come to pass since that time to this, we have traveled the world, been on all 7 continents, and in more countries than I can name without a World Atlas.
Before we could do any of that, however, there was much work to be done, as she was severely limited in all respects, and far from "normal".
What could I do to rehabilitate Nancy to the point where she could live a "normal" if obviously modified life. How could I rebuild her brain? She had been left with the thinking and reasoning ability of a three-year-old child, so we had to start from scratch. I took courses in how people learn and discovered each of us has a preferred way to have information input to our brain. Some people learn best by listening, for example. Nancy has always been a very visual person. She learns best by watching, so I decided using a computer would be the best way to rebuild her brain.
First, I had to determine what she still knew, and what she no longer knew. What were the gaps in her understanding? the idea struck me that the TV show Jeopardy tests a broad range of human knowledge. I went shopping through software catalogs and found a Jeopardy game to play on the computer. It had everything the TV show had except Alex Trebeck. Problem was that like it is on the TV show, there is a time limit allowed for answering. The time limit on the computer version was 15 seconds, far to little time for Nancy. She simply could not function at that speed.
I called up the GAMECO company, producers of the computer game, and explained my situation to whoever answered the phone. Then I asked to speak to the person who had programmed the software. They connected me with the programmer and I explained to him what I was trying to do. I told him Nancy could not process information at the speed he had set up. Was it possible, I wanted to know, to change the clock on the software so she could have unlimited time to respond? This was long before the days of current sophistication, and programs were non-existent or crude at best. "No", he responded, "the clock is an integral part of the program. But what I can do is send you a series of programs where the time clock is set for 30 seconds, 60 seconds, etc., and you can change programs as she gets faster at processing."
That solved the problem completely.
Perhaps 3 or 4 weeks after the programmer sent me the new software, the CEO of Gameco called me. He told me what I had suggested, using their Jeopardy program to rehabilitate injured or broken brains, opened all sorts of commercial possibilities for Gameco. "Would you sell us your idea, doctor"? "No", I told him, "but I will do this for you- if you are willing. The idea is yours for nothing. But if someone with an injured brain needs such a program but can't afford it, you'll give it to them for nothing." He agreed. We had a deal. With the reconfigured Jeopardy program, I was able to pinpoint specific areas of knowledge which had been deleted from Nancy's memory banks.
I was running through the mountain trails where we live one day- thinking about Nancy lying in bed, asleep, at home. I realized it was time to pray again. "Lord, I'm in over my head and could sure use some guidance. Where should I turn next to help her"? Are you familiar with the words from the Sermon on the Mount, "Seek and ye shall find. Ask and ye shall receive. Knock and it shall be opened unto you"?
Gold Buddha, Doi Suthep, Thailand
I don't think it matters what name you call your G_d, but I think it matters a great deal that you come to realize there is a Force greater than yourself in the Universe. A Force you can trust to come up with solutions when you have exhausted every avenue, every path you can think of- yet are still unable to solve your problems. I placed myself into the hands of a Force greater than myself to find answers when I had none.
This may sound hockey, but the best way to describe what happened next is simply to say I got a flash of inspiration. While I was running and praying for help, this thought came to me "out of the blue:" The inspiration, the flash, was that "the basis for all learning is analogous thinking." Hot is to cold- as cold is to hot. Short is to tall- as tall is to ??? Those are known as Opposites (Antonym) Analogies.
I called a company named Hartley Courseware, a leading producer of educational software, and ordered the Beginners and Advanced Analogies programs. For the next 8 months or so we worked on the first Beginners' analogy over and over. Hot is to cold- as cold is to ??? You know the answer is HOT, but Nancy just didn't get it. She couldn't put together what it was I was seeking. I was getting discouraged.
One morning we were up in our A frame having breakfast. I was in a terrible mood because I was facing defeat for perhaps the first time in my life. "One more time", I thought to myself. "One more, and if she doesn't get it then, she isn't going to. Nancy, tell me. Hot is to cold- as cold is to ???". She said, "HOT"! I nearly stopped breathing. I asked her again. Hot is to cold- as cold is to ??? She said HOT again. I started jumping up and down, running around screaming at the top of my lungs. Nancy started to cry. I was crying, too.
After a few minutes of unimaginable bliss, we settled down. For some strange reason, I asked her, "Nancy, if hot is to cold- as cold is to hot, then short is to tall- as tall is to ???" She starred at me blankly. She hadn't a clue. And then I realized she didn't understand the concept at all. She had simply memorized the answer, having heard me say it so many times in the months before.
I went from the peaks of Mt. Everest to the deepest part of the ocean in the twinkling of an eye. I was totally and utterly crushed. My soul was bleeding to death. And then I remembered the refrain from a song that has become my guiding beacon. It is from Kenny Roger's "The Gambler".
"...Every hand's a winner, and every hand's a loser..." (You'll learn more about thin in the chapter Attitude). I threw myself back into the battle with renewed energy and resolve. We worked on that one analogy for another 6 months. Over and over, trying every possible way to phrase it so she could understand. I mean, how many different sentences can you make out of 9 words?
Finally, one morning we were up in our A frame having breakfast. I was in a terrible mood because I was facing defeat for perhaps the second time in my life. "One more time", I thought to myself. "Once more, and if she doesn't get it then, she isn't going to." "Nancy, tell me. Hot is to cold- as cold is to ???" She said, "HOT"! "Don't get excited," I warned myself. "Chill out. You've been here before." I asked her again. "Hot is to cold- as cold is to ???" She said HOT again. Don't start celebrating yet. Very quietly and very gently, I asked, "Nancy, if hot is to cold- as cold is to hot, then short is to tall- as tall is to ???" She said, "Short". Ny heart nearly stopped, I asked again, "Short is to tall- as tall is to ???" She said SHORT again. It was now or never. Tell me, Nancy, "Fat is to skinny as rich is to ???" She said, "POOR". Can you imagine what I was feeling? SHE FINALLY GOT IT!
But no celebration. No whooping and hollering. We got up and went back to the computer. I started the analogies program, and she said through the entire disk of Beginning Analogies. Months and months of work. All our hopes riding on one shot, And she came through! It was just like learning to ride a bicycle. In an instant, you go from zero- can't do it; don't know how, to 100% I can do it YES, I CAN!
Unbelievable. You want miracles? You just learned of one.
I modified some of the few educational software programs available at the time, and little by little got her back to where she can function in most areas as well as any of us, just a little slower. But I don't forget we started by re-learning 1 + 1= 2, the alphabet, and CAT = cat.