Two Strangers and the News

Having recently had my hip replaced, I found myself reflecting on my preparation for another surgery … on my neck.  This was my experience with a strange test.

I was scheduled for what was called a myelogram.  I quickly discovered it is a medical test of the invasive kind.  It might well be called a “test with a lube.”  Why “lube” you ask? 

Well, as the two pages of instructions tell you—after receiving a local anesthetic, a standard lumbar puncture, better known as a “spinal tap,” is performed and contrast fluid or x-ray dye fills the area around the nerves of the lower back.  It sounds like what my brother used call a “lube job” he needed for his car.  They lubricate, luminate and laminate pictures of your spinal cord hoping to discover any foreign shapes or substances in that ever-so-tender nerve center of your body’s mainframe.

Neva, my wife, and I arrived at 6:35 a.m. and the receptionist greeted us with a “You must be Mr. Francis.”  I was quickly processed and fitted with my testing apparel—a bare-back, pokey-dot hospital gown and light blue pair of surgery-room pants accented with my basic black, dress socks.

Not surprisingly, all the technicians and nurses did their preparation succinctly and professionally.  There I lay on the concrete-like table, preliminary x-rays done, lower back shaved, cleaned and angled just right for the doctor.  Upon arrival, he quickly told me his name and rattled off a brief explanation of his part in the testing procedure, which was basically, short and oddly painful.  Short, in that he was only in the room for about 5 minutes and oddly painful, in that he seemed to be sticking my lower back with sharp knives and needles. 

With doctor finished and out of the room almost unnoticed, we began a “Chinese-fire-drill”-like flurry of activity of x-rays from every conceivable angle.  Working like a duo of trained Navy seals in combat frenzy, the two technicians chanted their commands with careful yet caring clarity.  “Hold your breath,” “now breathe” was the chorus of the song they sang for the next few minutes as they hurriedly leaned, lowered and generally hung me from my toes to get not only the “fluid flowing,” but the timely picture of my now pressurized and illuminated spinal cord.

This part of the test ended with my body leaning head-first in a downward angle on the table, arms stretched forward and shoulders braced, chin resting on a folded cloth, looking straight ahead.  That is when I was quickly transported back from patient to person.  Looking ahead, braced solidly against the shoulder restraints and vulnerability of the last few moments, suddenly with chin on table, the Oriental technician (I honestly think his name was Larry or Harry) suddenly and softly began talking to me.  His tone was careful and complete as he comforted me with a face-to-face encounter of the encouraging kind.  From that moment on, even with the pressure of the fluid floating ominously around my central nervous system, I was confident we had made our way to the other side of worry.  

From there we did the final stage of the procedure, a cat scan of the area in question.  Uneventful compared to the previous encounter, I quickly found myself back in my corner of the processing room where I started.  As my friend Larry elevated my legs and covered me with a blanket, I noticed a man sitting on a gurney across from me.  Two things struck me about him:  first, he was sitting up instead of lying down and second, he appeared apprehensive.  I nodded as our eyes met and once alone he asked me if I had just had a myelogram.  As I said, “Yes,” his demeanor changed from fearful to hopeful.  He wanted to know what I had to say.  Why?  He wanted and needed to hear what I had to say not because he needed “advice,” but because he needed “news.” 

Simply put, I had news.  I had the truth about his soon-to-be experience.  It was an experience sure to bring news—“good” news or “bad” news.  And he needed to hear a word of news from someone who had not only been where he was going, but had survived to tell about it. He needed more than pat-on-the-back encouragement.  He needed down-in-the-heart hope.  So, there we were, two strangers resting on rolling beds pausing long enough to tell and hear—the news! 

If we are followers of Christ, we have news.  Not only do you have news, we have good news.  So tell me, why is it that we are so reluctant to tell it? 

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!