In a couple of months, I will celebrate the second anniversary of my total hip replacement surgery. In February of 2007, the hip that had been causing almost constant pain in my leg and, at times, my back, was replaced. After a time of recovery, I realized that the replacement was one of the best things I had ever done. A few months after the surgery, I wrote an article for Associated Content giving details about my process of recovery.
As I look back over these two years, several things occur to me about what I have learned about life from my surgery.
First, a good recovery involves pain. Actually, I learned this lesson years ago through another surgery. If I was going to get back to normal, I was going to have to experience some pain. If I waited until the pain was gone before I began exercising, I would run the danger of having the surgery area “set,” thereby making it more difficult to get things back into a normal condition. In 1987, I had gall bladder surgery and, because I began walking as soon as I could, the nurses called me a “miracle” patient. There was no miracle involved; I simply knew what I had to do and I did it.
Second, going through surgery (or other tough experience) gives you a point of contact with other people who have gone through the same experience. As a pastor, part of my ministry was and is calling on patients in the hospital. It wasn’t until I had had surgery and was a patient myself that I realized what patients experienced. One day, while I was hospitalized, another pastor came in and proceeded to talk to me, “preach” what seemed like a 20-minute devotion, and prayed. It took only a few minutes for me to wish that he would finish up and get out. That changed my approach to hospital calling! A man in my congregation at the time learned to be more sensitive to people in danger of losing their loved ones. His wife had had surgery and the surgeon had accidentally nicked her intestine without knowing it. She developed a severe infection and almost died. Because of that experience, the man in my congregation developed a little ministry toward others who had the possibility of loved ones dying.
Third, going through surgery gives you the background to encourage others who are going through the same surgery. A couple of weeks ago, a woman in our church had hip replacement surgery. She was nervous as she looked ahead to it. I phoned her before her surgery and talked a bit about my experience. After her surgery, I again contacted her to see how she was doing. She was experiencing quite a bit of pain and some stiffness. My own experiences gave me credibility as I encouraged her in her recovery. One of the greatest gifts we can give to other people is the gift of hope as they face painful events in their lives. When we give hope based on our personal triumphs, it can be powerful.
Fourth, and finally, we can redeem our experiences by learning to be patient. We live in an instant-gratification culture. Whatever we want, we want it now. Young couples want to have at the start of their marriage the things that their parents worked a lifetime to attain. Credit card debt problems can often be traced to a desire to have things now. When you have major surgery you learn to take a longer view of life and when your desires will be fulfilled. It took me about eight weeks to move to a point of relatively full recovery. My friend from church was told by her doctor to plan to use a walker for the first four weeks before moving on to another walking aid. Patience is a virtue in short supply today. Anything that can help us be more patient is a plus.
Surgery-even when necessary-is rarely a pleasant experience. It can, however, be turned to good, if you will see it that way and act accordingly. Life is filled with a rich buffet table of opportunities to reach out and make a difference in the lives of others. Let’s not leave the table with empty plates; rather, let us be ready to feed the hungry around us.