Surgical Reflections

So for the past month, I have been recovering from foot surgery, or perhaps more specifically, toe surgery. What’s wrong, you ask? A story is needed.

This past summer I attended World Youth Day in Poland. Rachael, one of my students, had a bad cold and was unable to sleep under the stars at the papal mass site. So I stayed behind with her (Keeping my record of not sleeping outside at World Youth Day in tact!) and we decided to walk by ourselves to the papal pilgrimage route. We thought we could take a bus to the route which by itself is only about 2 miles or so, but the buses were shut down because of the proximity of the papal motorcade–so we had to walk a much longer journey. About 10 miles in total. However, at one point we were stopped and this happened:

So cool.

We did eventually get to the mass and somehow found our group. After the mass we began to depart and once again the buses were a problem. Overcrowding, buses and streetcars were often at a standstill, or not showing up at all. In the midst of all this, there was a crazy rainstorm…and I do mean rain. This made the buses we saw even hotter than they usually were. One passenger wrote in the fogged up window the words “Help us”, which made us all giggle. So we made the collective decision that it was better to keep moving on foot than to be stuck on a steamy, smelly and stagnate bus or streetcar.

It was a wet but a good decision. We did make it back to our hotel well ahead of those vehicles. Rachel and I totaled 20 miles and over 50,000 steps on my fitbit for the day. Whew!

Now what does all this have to do with foot surgery? Well, a bunch of things. One is that I developed bad blisters on my heels and on the 4th toe of both feet, I had two really huge blisters. I also suffer from heel spurs and have for years. So for me, it was indeed the agony of de-feet.

I called my wife and asked her to make an appointment with my podiatrist for when I return. At that appointment he pointed out to me that while my feet hurt, that was a manageable problem with some good ibuprofen. Heel spurs are not something that you want to have to correct with surgery, Stretching is really the solution along with good shoes.

However, the blister on my 4th toe (on both feet) was so huge because those toes were both crooked. They were curling under the third toe and the friction was causing these huge blisters.

“Whenever you do a lot of walking, this is what you are going to face.” the doctor said. “What’s worse is that these toes are just going to get worse and that’s going to be a real problem.”

So some minor surgery was needed. He straightened the tendons and bone and then inserted a pin into each toe so it would heal properly and then stitched up the toe. Recovery time is 4-6 weeks. Limited walking and absolutely no driving.

So I have been sequestered in my home for this time with the exception of doctor’s appointments. Friends have been gracious with transporting me to the doctor and doing some shopping for us (My wife doesn’t drive). It’s also been an opportunity for me to reflect. I’ve thought a lot about how tough it must be for older people who aren’t as mobile, or for people who have limited mobility issues for longer periods of time. While my pain wasn’t awful, it was bad enough, especially the first two days. I began to pray in solidarity for people who suffer from chronic pain, with no relief.

I’ve also been unable to shower. So it’s been sponge baths for the past month. I’ve taken to sleeping on the couch as it’s easier to elevate my feet there without bothering Marion. A warm shower and my own bed will be things I treasure soon. I imagine there are many who wander the city streets who would relish these things as well.

My dearest wife has been a real trooper. She’s been waiting on me hand and foot and has cared for me so well. Haze the dog has never left my side, knowing of my need for comfort. He is a great, great pal.

I also found myself joyfully reflecting on many of the gifts of the past year. My trip with a bunch of glorious students to Poland this summer, was one of the real joys of my life. A mentorship relationship with one of my old students has also brought me a lot of joy. Two new colleagues at work have made life less stressful and fun to be at work. There are always fires to extinguish at work as the director, but these seem to have lessened.

The loss of a student is never easy and we faced that this semester, along with much end of the semester drama, that I won’t bore you with here. But we still stand committed to God in our work and hopefully will continue to lead others into a more deep relationship with God as well. I’m grateful for my colleagues in campus ministry and for those we work alongside in student affairs.

Today, I ask for prayers as the pins are removed from my toes. I will need to find out what’s next in recovery, but I hope for a return to work soon. Most of all, I am grateful for the gift of youth and mobility which I still have and I look forward to another 20 miles of walking somewhere, where God will accompany me, helping me to find more of what God hopes I can find.

Under the Knife

So I’m having surgery on my hand tomorrow.

It should be fine. It’s only a ten minute surgery on a tendon that is hooking on a bone and needs to be trimmed. A common ailment known as “trigger finger.”

Regardless, no fun. As you know I have been a chaplain for a medical school so I’ve seen tendons and the like up close. How doctors tell one from the other, I’ll never know. It confirmed my vocation as a minister when I watched them take their tests. I enjoyed being in the gross anatomy lab and wasn’t at all grossed out by the experience. It was a sacred place and I regard my doctors as sacred professionals who care not merely for bodies, but also for souls.

With my gross anatomy experience, I said to my friend Beth, a physical therapist,

“I really want to watch them work on me!”

Beth: “ARE YOU NUTS!?”

Mike: “What? I’m not gonna freak out! They can strap my hand down and give me a local.”

Beth: “Um, no! They knock you out not because they think you’ll freak out but rather because they KNOW you will flinch during the surgery.”

Mike: “Oh…yeah…didn’t think about that.”

Now you know why I didn’t go to medical school.

But regardless, I can’t say that I’m totally calm about this. After all I type and write often and the finger in question, the right index finger, is crucial to that process. One false move could be a bad situation.

But I trust my doctor and I’m sure this will be the right thing to do. I have to relinquish some freedom for a day or so and not drive and stay home. But that’s pretty much the worst of it. Hoping for no pain as I get pretty sick from strong pain killers.

And that kind of reminds me of a story.

My dad had hernia surgery and needed to get the staples removed on the same day that I had a tooth extracted. The doctor gave me Vicodin and said if I had pain to take one but only if the pain got pretty bad and to try some tylenol first.

So my jaw started to throb a few hours after the extraction and I took a tylenol. Nothing. Pain now radiating all over my jawline. So I took my first vicodin and then went with my father to his appointment to keep him company. He drove and was fine to do so.

I was fine in the car and went into the office and sat in the waiting room with my father and then the room suddenly started to spin.

And spin.

And I knew what was going to happen. So I said to my dad, “I will be right back, if they call you in just go and I’ll meet you in there.”

I just barely made it to the bathroom and lost my lunch….violently.

When I got back my dad was already in with the doctor. I went in, bad breath and all.

I’m sure the doctor thought I was drunk.

Since then, I refuse vicodin. So I’m hoping I’ll not need a strong painkiller as my body doesn’t always like them and the only thing I hate more than being in pain, is throwing up.

So for now, let’s pray a bit:

Lord, help me to be a good patient. Help me to be patient. To heal completely and to be patient with my recovery.

Help my doctor with his work. Guide his hands to do good work with my surgery and help him advise me well.

Bless those who help me in my need. My wife. My colleague, Joe, who will drive me to surgery and back home. Those who pray for me.

But most of all, Lord, I pray for those who don’t have it as great as I do. Who have no access to health care and no doctor to tend to their needs. I pray for those who are in pain and who refuse medical care out of stubbornness or fear.

Watch over us, Lord. And help us to know that no matter what happens tomorrow, your love and your grace are enough to redeem all that we suffer. Amen.