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The Deficit that wasn’t

“I’m afraid Mr Calcott there will be a deficit”

That was an ugly phrase for me to hear. It is always a blow to hear that there will be a deficit in anything. A deficit means a lack, a shortfall. When the sums are done, something will be missing.

Your expectations, your goals; they will not be fulfilled. You will be in deficit. You will be deficient. As I said, ugly stuff.

In my case the deficit being referred to was with regards to how my body would work for the rest of my life. I was lying in a bed in Pretoria East hospital completely paralysed down my right side and, as my neurosurgeon explained, “Mr Calcott, strokes like yours to the brain stem are very rare – but

almost always fatal. You are very lucky to be alive. Regarding your recovery, well, if the lesion was in any other part of your brain, I would say you had a chance of a full recovery, but it’s in your Pons, one of the most delicate parts of your brain stem. There will be a deficit.” What sort of deficit? Would I be able to use my right hand to sign my name? – No, learn to use your left. Would I be able to play the guitar again? – No. Would I be able to run and play sports? No. Would I be able to drive a car? Well, a modified one, maybe. Deficit, deficit, deficit. Things didn’t look good. But God.

Amazingly, wonderfully, two months before my stroke God had spoken to me with beautiful clarity through Psalm 23. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want”. Want? That sounds rather like that deficit my doctors were banging on about doesn’t it? Could it be that God is saying that that deficiency that the doctors were proclaiming wasn’t my future? “He restoreth my soul” That sounds rather like the restoration my doctors were telling me not to expect. Who was right, God, or my doctors? I had a suspicion that the creator of the universe was the one more likely to be correct. So, in a very undramatic way, I decided to trust God, and so did my wonderful wife, and you, my dear friends and members of St John’s. I know many of you lifted me up in your prayers. I felt it. And every day I spoke Ps 23 out loud in the hospital ward multiple times. I claimed it like a feeble sheep speaking in trust to its wonderful loving and powerful shepherd. No doubt this added to the growing suspicion amongst the hospital staff that they had a serious nut job in bed number 3, but spiritually, I believe it was powerful. Time passed, and things still didn’t look good. As my doctors explained, over the first two weeks after the stroke the swelling created by the dead tissue in my brain would decrease. This would relieve the pressure on the surrounding parts of my brain that were not actually dead. I could expect some dramatic improvement in those first two weeks, but then a plateau. Any improvement after that would be slow, agonisingly slow. It would come from the brain cautiously reaching out and growing new neurons to bridge parts of the glaring gap in my Pons, and through other neurons being

repurposed to new functions. All of this would only happen if I was a good boy and did my exercises, and, I was told regularly, don’t expect daily changes, don’t expect dramatic weekly changes, but over months and years you should be able to make gradual progress. Though there will be a deficit, of course. I did experience some improvement during the first two weeks, but then, as promised, the plateau. After two months my medical aid ran out and I was sent home, but I was still a physical mess. I was majorly deficient. In particular, I couldn’t use my right hand, and my right arm was emaciated and dislocated from my shoulder. Pete got some bizarre satisfaction from poking his fingers into the gaping hole in my shoulder joint. Well, even if I was a cripple for life at least I could entertain the kids. But God.

On 11 th July, 2 years ago as I write this, and nearly four months after my stroke, The Lord spoke to Denise. He told her to go and pray for me. Denise placed her hand on my dysfunctional shoulder, and straight away I experienced a dramatic cold feeling flowing down my arm. And then, nothing. No change, no healing, my hand was still useless. Denise went home, and I think we were both more than a little disappointed. But God was not finished. I decided to take a half hour nap, as I usually did. Such a nap refreshed me, but it had one big downside, when I woke up everything was more stiff and more useless. It took time to get the limited movement out of my right arm after a nap. Not on 11th July 2019. I woke up and realised immediately that something was different. Oh the joy and surprise as I realised that the “different” was a good different. A really good different. I could use my

hand! Like, really use it. We have a video of supper that evening in which a wonderfully confused me eats supper with both hands like a normal person and continually blurts out to all who will listen, “I couldn’t do this before!” (My family were very patient with me for the next few days – the record got a bit stuck in my excitement).

It is now two years after 11 th July 2019. I sign papers with my right hand. In fact, Peter tells me my writing is actually more legible than before the stoke. Today I will be playing my guitar as I lead worship. On Saturdays I regularly play volleyball with Pete as badly as I used to, and I drive a car with the same level of competence (or lack thereof) as before my stroke.

Deficit where art thou? I see you not.

The medical profession all tell me that what I experienced just does not happen. It can’t happen. Four months after a stroke nothing changes rapidly. It just doesn’t. There is no physical way for it to do so. And yet the creator and sustainer of the universe had something else to say on the matter. Something not involving the word “deficit”. Something wonderful and gracious that I don’t claim to understand, but of which I am a grateful witness.

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