Howe awes medics — and keeps them smiling — in ‘astonishing’ recovery

Although these are better days than any could have expected not so long ago, no one can accurately predict what's ahead for Mr. Hockey.

Nine days after suffering a stroke that had his family rushing to his bedside in Texas, Mr. Hockey woke up hungry. And playful.

It took him about 30 seconds to polish off a huge chocolate-chip muffin. And he chased that with a healthy bowl of yogurt. Then Gordie Howe decided he wanted to sit up a bit and enjoy the visit with his family. As he began to move, his son Murray, the physician, tried to help give him a boost, and Gordie grabbed him with his big right hand to push himself upward.

The same right hand that was rendered immobile by paralysis when the stroke hit him. A recovery few expected was unfolding. When Gordie needed to move from his bed, he waived off the wheelchair and grabbed a walker. He braced it with both hands and made his way across the room.

It didn’t matter that anybody who happened to witness it couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing. Gordie Howe lent his life to extraordinary achievements that thrilled and astounded fans who filled arenas to watch him play hockey like no one before him — or since.

A medical attendant in the room — and there have been lots of them at daughter Cathy’s house in Lubbock these days — was stunned, according to a family member who briefed other family and friends about Mr. Hockey’s phenomenal comeback. "Based on the short time frame from his stroke," the attendant said, "I am absolutely astonished."

A short time later, while a nurse held a stethoscope near Gordie’s heart, he began tapping his fingers rapidly on his chest, making it sound to the nurse like a herd of horses was galloping across the room.

Gordie smiled, and that is when everyone knew how very far he has come in so short a time. At 86, he remains something of a physical wonder.

Either the stroke wasn’t quite as bad as physicians initially thought, or the guy it attacked was so robust that he’s been able to shake it off. Dr. John Finley, a former Red Wings physician who has looked after Howe and tended to his many serious injuries and illnesses for more than a half-century, suggests it’s a little of both.

"From a physical standpoint, he has the ability to have strength in his muscles that might be needed for this kind of recovery that the average person might not have," Finley said, adding that it appears the stroke was "on the smaller end" of the spectrum from what doctors first feared when they detected the paralysis.

"Every day he gains, it doesn’t allow things to happen that become harder and harder to overcome, from a physical standpoint," Finley said.

In other words, the longer Howe fights, the better his prognosis.

So while their father continues his impressive recovery, Murray, a radiologist, has returned to work in Toledo, and Mark flew off to scout other NHL teams for the Wings. Both will return frequently to spell Marty and Cathy.

Gordie is seen each day by a nurse. Twice a week, he spends time with a speech therapist, an occupational therapist and a physical therapist.

Meantime, hockey fans everywhere continue sending prayers. And mail. Bags full of prayers and well-wishes arrive daily — and Gordie listens to every one of them.

Someone sent him a hand-made Wings blanket. The Ilitch family sent a planter the size of Texas.

Although these are better days than any could have expected not so long ago, no one can accurately predict what’s ahead for Mr. Hockey.

Gordie Howe, as the sports medics are prone to tell us, is day to day.

Then again, aren’t we all?