On Wednesday before Easter, I had total joint replacement — radical surgery on both my knees. Although the process and recovery were explained to me in great detail, not only by my doctors, but by friends who are veterans of this procedure, I don’t think I was anywhere near prepared for the experience.
I have never spent a night in a hospital nor have I ever had any major surgery. “Activity” has always been my middle name. Laying strapped down on my back with pain — nearly immovable, wiggling around in the core of my being, makes me want to bellow out at the restriction. Pain meds, yes. But it has seemed as successful as blocking the light from your window with a postage stamp. I was told the pain from the surgery, and the swelling, would increase and not subside for at least 6 to 7 days.
This whole experience has taught me a few things while laying in bed despairing of ever seeing the end of this. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but laying in bed with throbbing knees in the dark and knowing you’re not gonna sleep for the next six hours is very disheartening.
What I am sharing now will not be some profound theological treatise; rather these are some simple thoughts and reflections on the 6th day after the surgery.
First, there is really no way you can prepare for something like this psychologically or physically. Exercise and good nutrition, following the rules, taking counsel — all of these are good and necessary. But when they actually put you under, cut both knees open, pull the bones out, cut the bones, attach titanium and plastic parts, rearrange the muscles, ligaments, nerves and kneecap and then sew you back up — there’s just no way to physically or psychologically be prepared for that.
I know you can watch movies on YouTube of this whole procedure but I opted out for now. There is no way that it would help me recover physically and psychologically now. My son-in-law is a doctor who has worked on knee replacement surgeries and his only comment was, “It is brutal.” One big comfort was that my knee doctor Creg Carpenter is renowned as one of the best. He exudes confidence, and I felt confident the moment I was in his presence. He talked about what he would do, agreed to do both at the same time, and I made my final decision.
Second, should you do one knee at a time or both together? That was a big question constantly asked. It was never really an issue for me since I limited time between scheduled pilgrimages. I wanted to get it done and over with. I knew it would be debilitating and it has been. But the thought of going back in and doing this again on a second knee would be unbearable. The doctor said it was a good idea, the nurses said it was a good idea and the physical therapist said I made the right choice. I was a good candidate they said because I was light-weighted, youngish (68), healthy and determined.
I would do both knees again because it’s such an awful experience I wouldn’t want to experience it twice.
Third, l learned a good bit more about intimacy with God. I am no mystic or contemplative, but this crisis puts you in touch with him if you are open to his intimacy. It was interesting that my operation was on Wednesday and the next day was Holy Thursday when the Passion began. I felt like I was in the middle of it.
My wonderful wife, Janet has made this much more bearable. She is the best wife, friend and nurse ever! If you someday go through an experience like this, make sure you have someone with you 24 hours a day and hopefully someone who loves you. But even with all the love and attention she’s giving me, I know she cannot experience what I am experiencing. Only God can do that. That puts me at a level of intimacy with him that I haven’t sensed before.
One example, is when the nerve blockers ran out on the fourth day. Even with that nerve blocker, it was still excruciating to move. I could only anticipate what could happen when they pulled those tubes out. I said, “Please Lord!” I wore my fingers out crossing myself that morning. The tubes were pulled out, and I waited. But there was no drastic change. I felt the Lord has blessed me in a special way that day.
Fourth, I’ve never considered myself to be especially empathetic. I think I’m always quick to help people and feel sorry for them, but not true empathy. Empathy means “the identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, etc., of another.” It is a “feeling with” — sharing the experience of another. How can I do that if I haven’t experienced something similar myself?
Laying in bed here I thought of friends and family who have gone through serious operations, car, accidents, or other devastating, physical calamities. I realize now I never really entered into their suffering or understood it. I think that will change now. With God we can always bring some good out suffering. Even Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb 5:8).
Fifth, we often hear Catholics say “Offer it up!” This was always a strange thing for me having come from a Protestant background. It was foreign territory. I learned to understood it in theory, and I know that Saint Paul said that he offered up his sufferings to fill her that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.
Col 1:24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”
It seems he is trying to teach us something here. Our sufferings can be redemptive. It is not that the work of Christ was incomplete or insufficient, but rather, Christ invites us to join with him in the work of redemption. I can join my sufferings to his, and I think I learned a bit more about that during this Passion Week.
So I picked people that I was going to offer my sufferings up for. One is for a friend, which I will not discuss here in case he reads this, and the other is for my grandson Damian, who is having serious eye problems. Whenever my pain would increase, I would mention their two names. I think I’ve learned a bit more about this aspect of Catholic teaching through this bout of my own suffering.
Sixth, today is the first time I sense there is light at the end of the tunnel. We are on Day 6. My wife says I am improving a little bit each day. The physical therapist said he was proud of me and that I am doing good.
Several positive things I look forward to. Implementing the things that I have learned in my daily life when this is over. Being able to walk, go up and down stairs, and move about freely without pain and holding onto things for my balance. I’m anxious to get back in the air for giving live conferences and leading pilgrimages. That was a huge incentive for doing this now that it would not hinder us leading groups through all the biblical lands for the next 20 years or so, as God wills.
And lastly, a little bit on the humorous side, the doctor said I could possibly increase my height by an inch and a half. This is because my legs were very bowed since the cartilage was gone on the inside of the knees. The knees pushed outward. My wife laughed yesterday, “Steve, your legs are straight again!” Straightening out gains me at least half an inch and is easier on hips and ankles. Plus Dr. Carpenter inserted new 1 inch plastic cartilages in each knee.
Thank you Lord for your sustaining blessings! Thanks Janet for your unflagging support. Thanks to hundreds of family and friends for your prayers and moral support.