Waking Up and Finding a Sledgehammer in my Neck

This is the final installment (I think?) of my mini-series from the past.  While recuperating from my hip replacement surgery, I am re-reading my previous ponderings on the miracle of healing when I had neck surgery in 1995.  Here is part three.   Blessings!

When I was finally able to wake up (control people hate to be put to sleep), I was immediately conscious of two things:  while I felt stiff, I didn’t feel a lot of pain including the right arm which had been throbbing and numb for weeks.  I delayed my excitement because I was still drugged.  Within 24 hours, I would realize that 85% of the previous right arm pain was gone.

 The nurses attended to my every care … and some I didn’t even know I had.  They woke me up every hour on the hour to shine a flashlight in my eyes.  It was something about this being “brain” surgery.  I had never, fortunately, thought of it that way.  I found myself serendipitously energized by my post-surgery, mostly pain-free experience.  It was then and there I decided … continued health and God willing, I would write about this mind-boggling, body-altering experience. 

The day after surgery … I found a sledgehammer in my neck disguised as 10 metal staples.  The stiffness in my neck was inconceivable and gave record to the journey of the past 24 hours. 

 The official stapler arrived with an air of quiet confidence.  He asked how I was doing and I related the odd excitement of my mostly sleepless night.  He smiled and said the surgery had gone extremely well, but cautioned me about returning “residual” right arm pain and I hated that he was right. 

He also mentioned two souvenirs from our journey into the world of “necks and nerves.”  One he thought would be temporary, the other more permanent.  The first referenced a conversation in his office when he mentioned some “post-surgery neck pain.”  He warned of my Frankenstein-like neck mobility while the staples were present. It gave a new and improved understanding of the phrase “a pain in the neck!” 

 The second and more long-term souvenir from the surgery, the doctor identified as a numb place along the inside of my thumb and index finger.  Running his finger along this area of his concern, he said, “A loss of feeling here is sometimes a result of this kind of surgery.”  I felt slightly challenged by the comment and tucked it away in the back of my mind.

I was then given a surprising peek behind the wizard’s curtain.  My surgeon, professional and reserved, leaned back and listened as I expressed appreciation for my anesthesiologist, who I lovingly named “Dr. Poke.”  After listening intently, he smiled and said, “He is a good man.  I have known him for a long time.  Matter of fact, I had the terrible task of telling him his 10 year old child was brain dead from a car accident a few years ago.” 

Stunned by both the story and the storyteller, I re-connected the pieces of my pre-surgery puzzle with Dr. Poke and how he shattered my prejudice toward “pain numbers.”  His view from behind the surgery room mask was not one etched by med school tests and laboratory experiments.  No, his tender presence and soft touch was born of an agony and pain of the unforgettable kind.  The awful and awkward truth about the death of his child had moved him to understand—healers heal best when they are wounded healers!

Pain can be the great paralyzer or the great paraphraser.  It can steal us of all our words and leave us for dead or it can translate our stone cold silence into words that bring life.  And the best part of this is we have a small, but significant part in what our pain accomplishes in our life.  Thanks be to God!

Going to See the Wizard!

If you read these articles with the same fervor that I write them, then you will not be surprised to know that being both relevant and personal “each week” is a delicate dilemma.  For the past few weeks, while recuperating from my hip replacement surgery, I have been doing some comparison reading.  Reflecting on my previous neck surgery of over almost 20 years ago, I have sought parallels in the healing process. 


This week as I prepared to move from past reflections to present realities, well, reality got too real.  My youngest sister, Chandra, passed away in her sleep Monday night and while I will need to write about this experience (it is part of my grieving), frankly, right now it is too fresh.  So, I offer another peek into my past healing.

After a week at home, filled with daily doses of progress called pain, I found myself giddy about seeing the wizard (my surgeon).  Like a well-studied student going to the class of his favorite teacher, I wanted to impress the wizard with my post-surgery education.  While not anywhere near graduation, I was doing the work and, at least as far as I could see, making the grades.  But it was time for a new word from the wizard!

This trip to the waiting room was different.  While I was looking and listening the first time, this time I found myself scanning and planning.  I was scanning the room for rookies and planning my “post-op” answers to their “pre-op” questions.  Fortunately for all involved, my waiting time was brief and my story of the “yellow brick road” delayed.  My name called, I entered the wizard’s world. 

He entered with a smile, immediately reaching for that now sacred place on the back of my neck.  Pulling the bandage off, he remarked not only about the healing progress of the wound, but also about the length of the scar.  It was small, straight and hardly noticeable.  He asked if I would like to get the staples out and I almost hugged him. 

Then I blurted it all out!  I spoke as a man who had been saving his words.  Pain management will do that to a person.  It drains you and fills you all at the same time.  You look closely for healing and relief and while both came early and often for me, I was a “trader man” bartering my old pain for a newer version.  The old pain was debilitating and demeaning.  The new pain was heavy but strengthening. 

With all the fervor of a stray dog finding food and safety, I feasted on the opportunity to ask questions and offer my now experienced view of the way home.  The wizard enjoyed hearing about life on the other side of the scalpel. 

What I learned is simple and true.  Healing begins with a journey of trust and ends with a declaration of hope.  Healing starts by trusting the healer and concludes with an understanding of pain.  Healing happens when minds are submitted to knowledge and practice and hearts are surrendered to hope and wholeness.  Healing happens.  Yes it does!



Passion, Perseverance and Predictions

It happens every year when the light of February overtakes the shadows of January.  Punxsutawny Phil, the world’s most famous groundhog, and the Super Bowl, the world’s most famous football game, make their grand arrival and at the root of all their fanfare is the issue of predictions. 

The groundhog, which now has a Facebook page, Twitter account and satellite feed, reenacts the legend that says if the critter sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.  If not, spring is supposedly around the corner.  According to GameBookers.com, the odds are stacked for Phil to see his shadow tomorrow (February 2). 

The Super Bowl is predicted to be a close game, the New England Patriots a 3.5 point favorite to beat the New York Giants despite the fact the Giants won an earlier regular season game as well as the last time they played in the Super Bowl.  My money, figuratively speaking, is on the Giants.

Each year we calculate new goals and end up spending serious time on life planning or predictions about how “perseverance and passion” will lead us into our preferred future.  While I will never doubt the power of perseverance and passion, I do find myself wondering if we beat the drum of these two “no-brainers” without listening to the steadying music of “discernment.” 

A tragic story I read brought this to sheering clarity.  It is the story of Nathan Stiles.  Straight-A student, homecoming king and football team star running back who also played varsity basketball and loved to sing at church.  After sitting out three games for persistent headaches, his second game back and last game of his senior year turned out to be the final game of his life.  Nathan died of second-impact syndrome caused when a player is hit before the brain is healed from an initial concussion.

While nothing in the story indicates a negligence by either the doctors or the parents, I could not shake the underlying theme … why was no one able to “discern” that Nathan’s perseverance and passion would cause him to be involved in an activity that took his life?

Discernment is the ability to detect, to recognize and to perceive what is going on around you.  It is insight beyond the obvious and outside the realm of facts.  Discerning people have more than knowledge.  They have understanding and perspective.  Discerning people move beyond their wants to their needs.  Discerning people make the right choices amid the tough circumstances.

Spiritually speaking, discernment enters into the realm of wisdom. 

·      King Solomon prayed for such wisdom:  “So give Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people to discern between good and evil … (I Kings 3:9).” 

·      The Apostle Paul said, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment (Philippians 1:9).”

Let me offer a prediction.  Perseverance and passion, without the incredible power of discernment, can, not only take a life, they can derail yours and mine!   

Look around.  Where do you need the passion to step it up?  Where do you need the perseverance to keep it going?  And most of all, where do you need to stop and pray and think and discern your next step?  It can be the difference between life and death.