I hate having surgery. I'm not a terribly good patient. I have things to do, and recovery doesn't fit well into my schedule. I prefer to be the care giver, not care receiver. I'm not a rookie when it comes to surgery, so it's not an irrational dislike. In my lifetime I have had 10 necessary surgeries. This is the third surgery on my left foot, although this one is far more serious than the other two. I've had two surgeries related to female reproductive issues; one to remove a cyst on my wrist that destroyed a tendon; back surgery to remove a rupture that put so much pressure on the spinal cord I was slowly leaking spinal fluid, sinus surgery, surgery to remove impacted wisdom teeth and who can forget the very first surgical experience - a tonsillectomy when I was 13. So when I say I hate having surgery, I know what I am speaking of.
I don't like anesthesia for starters. It works REALLY well for me. While I'm thankful that I'm not awake through a procedure, the waking up is hard for me. I'll never forget having two nurses standing over my bed in the recovery room shouting my name in my face. It was terrifying. I had been sleeping comfortably for more than a couple hours when I should have been waking up at least an hour before. The nurses were becoming concerned, by the time they were shouting they had been trying to wake me for a while. I was someplace else. When I am out, my mind goes to a place that is dark, as in black, and I dream about things that don't make sense and I have to travel a long, dark tunnel like path to come back. It doesn't help that I did a lot of research on near death experiences once and what I experience sounds a lot like what people describe in their near death experiences. I am thankful that while this place where my mind goes is very black, I am deeply aware of God's love and care for me. God is present in that darkness. But it is a fight to wake up, it is hard to breathe and I feel rather sick when waking up. Not to mention it tastes bad and makes me feel weak for a day or two.
Then there are all the drugs involved with recovery; antibiotics, and pain medication. They don't like me. I have a list of allergies to antibiotics that make medical professionals cringe. So for me, it's a matter of choosing one that's not on the list and hoping it works without needing steroid and antihistamine shots. Even so, I am likely to experience side effects. That's just the way it is with antibiotics. And narcotics are a trip, but not in a good way. I can't imagine why people would choose a drug that makes you light headed, nauseated, break into hot and cold sweats, dream wild dreams, and short of breath. Pain killers are serious business and should be respected. I didn't used to have a reaction to Vicodin, but now I do. So check that off my list. When my brother asked how I was doing I asked him to imagine what it is like to feel like you are about pass out, with nausea and diarrhea brewing inside, trying to get to the toilet hopping on one foot while trying to get a walker through the narrow doorway. That's how I've been doing. I believe I have legitimate reasons for hating surgery.
When it comes to talking with people about a surgery, illness or other physical situation there seem to be a predictable variety of responses. There are those who aren't interested, don't want to listen, and if you're lucky will politely offer to pray for you as they walk out the door. There are those who are are sympathetic and listen with compassion even if they don't understand exactly what you're going through and offer support. They are God's blessing. Another blessing is the person who has had a similar experience and can offer understanding and support without assuming their experience was exactly the same. Then there are those who assume that because they have had a similar surgery, their experience is exactly like yours. "Oh, I had that done. It was a piece of cake. You'll be just fine." or "I'm so sorry, when I had that done it was awful." or "I know just what you're going through." My least favorite is the "mine is worse than yours" person. They are the person who says, "Well, you could be having (insert whatever surgery they've had), or "Wait until your my age and have to have surgery", or "It could be worse, it could be life threatening." These responses negate the experience of the one facing surgery and make them feel foolish for being afraid, or dreading the experience. They should just not speak.
As someone who offers pastoral care to others, I realize how important it is to respond to people in helpful ways. It is not helpful to assume that you know exactly what someone is experiencing because you don't. Everyone's experience is different. It is not helpful to offer empty encouragement. For example, I knew going into this surgery that my recovery will take about 6 months. I also knew that I will have to be off my feet, with foot iced and elevated for at least 2 weeks and perhaps a month or more. Why? Because this surgery involved completely detaching the tendon from the bone, removing damage and reattaching the tendon. This kind of healing takes time, there's no sense praying for a speedy recovery. What I need are prayers for patience and strength to allow myself time to heal properly. It also helps to know people who have gone through the surgery and are doing well. It helps to know others have gone through this and are better for it. "My brother had that surgery and is so glad he did." Finally, it doesn't feel better to be told it could be worse. Of course it could, I could be fighting a terminal illness. In my experience the surgery that actually removed life threatening tissue was the easiest recovery of all; thankfully, no follow up treatment was necessary. The fact remains that what I am experiencing now is still painful, and a long process, knowing it could be worse doesn't erase my reality.
Surgery is never fun. It always comes with risks. Death is surely a higher risk for someone having open heart surgery, but I also knew a man who died on the table while having what was supposed to be a routine hip replacement. The possibility of unforeseen complications and side effects always exists. Recovery is often painful and long. No one likes it, but everyone appreciates the person who offers a kind word of support. "I'm sorry you have to go through this, I will pray that it goes well for you. I will pray that you will know God's love and support through this journey. If you need a friend to talk to, just call." Healing needs people like my pillows, surrounding the wounded one with support, comfort, and being there to walk the journey, a journey that will not be like anyone else's, and in this case, a journey that isn't going to be easy - even if it is only a foot.
Being a friend means giving unconditional love. That means showing the same love and care for others whatever their circumstance in life. I can love the person about to have open heart surgery as much as the person having a wisdom tooth removed. Unconditional love asks, "What can I do for you during this recovery? What would you like me to pray for? How can I support and comfort you? How can I be a blessing to you?" Words have so much power, I hope my words will help you become someone's blessing on their journey.
As I wrote this today I was thinking and praying for a dear friend who was undergoing surgery today, the family who lost a husband and father due to a stroke this week, the couple who struggle from one physical challenge and surgery to another; those who are struggling through long term illnesses for which there is no cure; and all who are in pain. Right now, all I can share are words of comfort and words of prayer. May my words be a blessing.