Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Other Side of the Hospital Bed

I recently underwent major surgery. This was a first for me. (I did have my tonsils removed when I was seven. I think everyone my age did – a whole generation of tonsil-less people. I stayed overnight and my parents gave me a stuffed dolphin, which I still have.) This was the real deal - a surgery followed by a three day stay and a multiple week recovery period. Fact is I shouldn’t be writing this now. If my wife finds out I’ve sneaked in to the office to pen this article, she will be most displeased.

For nearly twenty years, I’ve been on the other side of the hospital bed. Two decades ago I was an orderly at E.W. Sparrow Hospital near the college I was attending. I worked all over the hospital - mostly caring for cancer patients. After graduation, I became a pastor. I still found myself at the hospital quite often, having exchanged the bedpan for a Bible.

But never have I been the one wearing the hospital gown. I had never been the one who sat waiting for the surgeon to come by just before they took me away to the operating room. I’ve never been the one poked and probed and perturbed. May I share with you some first-hand insights?

First, surgery is scary business. The weeks that it take for the pre-operative testing lured me into a sense that I’d be "eased into it" come the day of surgery. Not so. From the moment I put on the hospital gown and white stockings, life shifted into road gear. No wheelchair or gurney, I walked to the operating room. Once there, I crawled up onto the altar – I mean, table. The table looked like something right out of a lethal injection chamber with extensions on which I laid my arms jutting out from the sides. I felt like Isaac looking at Abraham looming overhead with upraised knife. It was a frightening few moments waiting to go to sleep. I never knew that surgery could cause that much anxiety. From now on, I’ll better understand why folks want to pray with someone before they "go under the knife." I’ll take that prayer more seriously.

I also learned that it takes a while to recover. I still don’t have all my energy back. Although the pain is gone, I am learning that, at least for now, I need to rely on others more than usual. The next time I talk with someone expecting surgery, I need to make specific offers of help. I’ve often made general offers like "let me know if there is anything you need." Politeness has kept me from asking - as I suspect it does most people. Next time I’m talking with one convalescing from surgery I’ll be more specific: "Can I mow your lawn?" "Can I run your kids?" "Can I clean your house?" That sort of thing.

I’m also learning that God is good. He watched over me through my operation. I was unconscious, but He was not. I was at the mercy of my physicians and nurses, but Christ was in the O.R. watching over me. He remains my companion in my recovery. God is good.
I’m doing well now, thank you. My procedure appears to be (so far at least) a success. But it has been helpful in more ways than just delivering the desired outcome. It taught me a thing or two, and that makes it doubly worth it.

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