Suddenly Spiritual . . . One Patient’s Experience 
By Joan McNeill, Ph.D., R.N.



 I was attending a seminar for CEU’s on critical care management of acute stroke. The content was rather clinical until after the break when the leader introduced a man named Roger who had suffered a severe stroke one-year prior.  I straightened myself in the seat to increase my attention; very seldom do we get to see patients after we have spent blood, sweat and tears trying to save their lives. 

Roger walked up to the stage on his own, with a cane for support.  He appeared to still have a residual deficit as evidenced by the limp, however he spoke clearly and thoughtfully.  Roger introduced himself and gave us a brief history: he was a police officer for more than two decades and by his own omission told us about his personality prior to the stroke. “I was a real controlling man, I was not a great listener and maybe quite stubborn.  In the past, I was not open to “how it is for you,” I was mostly involved with making sure you knew I was right.  I know how to fight and I fought brilliantly, I was self made and demanded respect.” 

The man before me did not appear to be any of those things. I was magnetized by his humility and wisdom as he continued to speak. He went on to tell us about waking up in the hospital and the huge impact this stroke had on his life, as he had been living it.  He spoke so honestly about the humiliation of not being able to move when his mind wanted to — my eyes filled with tears as my heart expanded with compassion.

 I pictured myself in his position experiencing this extreme loss of control, the inability to use the bathroom privately, now subject to diapers and a urinary catheter, having to wait for other hands to clean me.  Here was a man who was a sergeant, at the top of his game and invincible. To be struck down by such a severe affliction was devastating. What did all his co-workers do, how did he handle all the changes? 

Roger said just one year later, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.” He has chosen to use this seeming tragedy as an opportunity.  He believes he would not have gotten the “wake up call” if it had not stopped him from moving, literally.  He was too stubborn, he needed this forced life evaluation and forced period of mediation to reassess what was really important. As he continued, he spoke about all the people who got up every morning to come to work to assist him — nurses, doctors, counselors and physical therapists. Tears filled his eyes as he expounded about his medical team, “You guys live what I had to learn, you are the masters!  I have come to tell you that while you thought I was out of it, I was watching and taking mental notes. You taught me about compassion, about helping others and I desperately needed to learn this! Look at me . . . I am crying, I cry all the time now, I get choked up about love and service. I was not a man who cried before this.” 

He went on for more than an hour speaking about his slow recovery and how he gratefully lost the “egotistical, bully side” of himself.  Roger “did not do intimacy” in the past; he had multiple women but never married. He now says it was because of “fear” and the stroke has now made him “fearless.” He has taken this disease, resigned from the police department and created a foundation for “Stroke Survivors.”

The new work Roger is involved in now helps others who have survived a stroke to return to the highest functioning level possible in society. He has an office of workers who are also committed to service and he comments on “getting stronger and stronger” as he helps others heal. He also met a “staggeringly beautiful woman” who is also a stroke survivor and he courageously made the commitment to marry. They work together with a “divine purpose” and cultivating this intimacy is the glue that sustains them on a daily basis. 

When Roger finished, we all stood and applauded — he had changed us with his presence. We were lighter, grateful and more purposeful after our experience with him; we had proof that enlightened life is possible for us regular, cynical medical folk. I was joyous for I had witnessed him accessing his Higher Power, and his life was working better than ever, with deeper meaning and purpose.  What are the chances? 

Joan McNeill Ph.D., R.N. has practiced emergency/trauma medicine and has a private counseling practice that specializes in medical professional burnout. She is the author of several books including “Why Did I Become a Nurse Anyway?” due out in Spring 2002. For further information, please contact Joan at 

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