Reflections on Recovering From Surgery

At 6AM Tuesday morning I showed up @ Saint Luke’s OR, getting ready for a 2 to 3-hr out-patient procedure to repair multiple fractures to my right cheekbone, which was smashed in from a line-drive hit in a game of softball. I was playing first. And while I did OK after the initial trauma – the surgery was, as I was warned, going to be like getting hit in the face again. And boy were they right.

So as I was carted away from my wife to the OR, I was quite calm, not overwhelmingly nervous, ready to get it through with. I had some pleasant conversations with the docs beforehand, and felt the splash of anesthesia go up my arm. This was it, I was ready. I closed my eyes as the room began to spin ever so mildly, and that was it. SIX HOURS LATER I woke up, feeling much worse than I thought I would, groggy, unable to move much, exhausted. I had a catheter inserted in my body as the surgery was longer than anticipated. A breathing tube was inserted in my throat as well. I had oxygen flowing into my nose. Whatever happened to the 3-hr outpatient procedure? Instead, it was 6 hrs and now I was staying in the hospital for a few nights for sure.

My poor wife, bless her soul, came in to see me, and I remember her saying “I feel nauseous.” About this time my operating doc came over (Chief of Plastic Surgery) and reassured us that EVERYTHING WENT WELL. Turns out there was more extensive damage to my sinus and cheekbone (zygoma) than thought; certain areas the bone had become ground to powder from the initial impact and they had to remove that, as well as reconstruct some areas using pieces of bone fragments and titanium plating. So although I was under for a long time, the good news is that everything is back where it originally was, everything is reconstructed. So by all rights and means the surgery was a great success. Now is the hard work of recovery, and to this I turn the bulk of my thoughts to.

Today is Day 5 of recovery. And truth be told the first day or two were tough. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak much, I couldn’t even piss. I wasn’t miserable; I was just… incapacitated. So I closed my eye (the other was sewn shut and still is, to some extent… it’s beginning to re-open which just thrills me) and meditated on some verse, song, psalm, or thought. It was a great way to bide the time. Now during those dark, blind hours, two things came to me that infused profound meaning to my current circumstance; the first is people. Yes, people. People literally came to me. I cannot say enough about the role of community in recovery. A wiped brow, a cup of cold water, a simple encouraging remark – all of these literally lift someone out of their sickbed. My wife told me today I look great – and this has a way of not only making me feel better, but really, get better, I think. The thing is, sadly, some people have no one to visit them. As I mulled this over, a deeper theology of pastoral care began to gestate in me – this notion that my people were doing a damn fine job doing my job. They were wiping away tears mixed with blood that inadvertently flowed from bruised tear ducts, reading the Psalms to a mind being soothed by the rhythm of the words, assisting with a warm broth right when jello was becoming downright disgusting. They watched my kids at home. They relieved my champion wife and stayed up with me. They waited for me patiently outside as I tried to expunge my sleepy, bloated bladder into the bedpan. They took it from me. They emptied it. They stuffed a pillow down my naked back for comfort. They beheld me bodily and physically vulnerable, and they did my job like pros. Who taught them that? How did they become so bold? What made them so undaunted in front of my bruised visage, my vulnerability, even my nakedness? And that’s where the second thought came to me. Call it more of an image, than a thought:

Now I know this appears morbid.

But it is not the morbidity of it that I am focused on, rather it is the bodiliness, the physicality of it. It is a painting by Andrea Mantegna that I studied back in college, and for some reason it kept appearing in my mind, behind shut eyes. Titled, The Lamentation of Christ, it is a powerful, atypical piece for the 1400’s. Atypical because it is not static, and 2-dimensional as paintings of the period tend to be (for iconic purposes). Rather it strives to communicate the physicality of the dead Christ – really, a cadaver on a metal table. It helps that Mantegna painted like a sculptor, because what I see is not an outlined 2-D portrayal of an iconicized Christ, but rather a hunk of flesh, exposed, naked. A hunk of flesh on a metal table. Surrounded by caring women and men, who in usual conventions of this type of painting, are anointing – treating the body for burial. That somehow explains how I felt.

Now you tell me: how are you supposed to care for that? Let alone that this is a badly bruised and beaten-up human being, this is a divine man, a prophet, a man of God, verily God himself. How does a caring person tend to the body of a prophet? And for some reason that thought, accompanied with this image came to me again and again as the women and men of the church tended to me in my nakedness, vulnerability, immobility, and badly beaten-up condition post-surgery.

I’m not sure I’ve adequately conveyed the sentiment – but all to say, pastoral care has this visceral, bodily quality about it – a physicality, a tending not just to the spirit, but to the body of the person. THANK YOU. Thank you for tending to my body in all of my physical distress, in my odors, in my secretions, in my needs. You have blown me away with how much you have learned about care, people of God. But now this is precisely the care we are to show to the hurting of the world. Remember, just a cup of cold water in His name…

Today is Day 5 of recovery. I write this with 1.5 eyes wide open. My body is strong again, I get under the sun every morning for 45 minutes of calisthenics and exercise. I’m eating well. I even pee on my own. I am grateful for the physicality of life, and for the community that visits. But I am still far from 100% back to normal, and I still have a long road of recovery to come. Maybe a little later I will post a pic, but not today.

UPDATE – Sunday, 10/30:

It’s been almost two weeks since my surgery and I’m starting to get antsy. This is classic Wayne – just ask my wife – and I’m not sure yet what to make of it; neurotic workaholism or healthy drive to get back to work? I’m not sure, but the trend in my life has been to complain that I need a break and when I finally get it, grumble that it’s too long, or start to get irritable and under my wife’s skin, which is really a crying shame because if it weren’t for her the house (and my world) wouldn’t still be standing since my surgery.

Ah my surgery.

If getting smashed in the face by a hard-hit line drive were pretty bad, this was bad times 7. The surgery literally broke my face to fix it – and getting back up from it took a little (a lot) longer than the initial injury itself. Almost every day is a first. Just a few days ago, it was the first time I could wear glasses since October 18. Today was the first time I could roll food around both sides of my mouth, savoring the taste of it. And the first few days… man, those were tough. But all things considered, today I am quite well, mobile as ever, moving about, going out, starting to get back into my old rhythms, and I’m well enough to complain about it. See – the pictures below prove it.

So in the end, before I return to “life as normal” I pause and reflect: did I learn my lessons? Have I taken this time to be still, to listen, to think about life and vocation from afar? There is no doubt I have. Some of the things have been profound; others downright frightening. I still haven’t found the words just yet, but this sense of incapacitation, aging, impending weakness, helplessness, frustration, dependency, life, and then death – these I have not come to terms with yet. And I will be revisiting these places – the hospitals, nursing homes, places of convalescence – looking for the answers.

In the meantime, I am graced with a strong mind, and a quick will to recovery. Here are the pics I promised as time progresses. The first few are a little gruesome. I apologize for that. But in the spirit of honesty and sharing here they are:

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Day 9
1 month later
2 months later

Published by Wayne Park

Asian-American clergyman thinking about issues of faith, place, race and culture-making in the vast city of Houston, TX

8 thoughts on “Reflections on Recovering From Surgery

  1. That painting says it all, doesn’t it, Wayne. “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13) May He soon restore you to your family and your church.

  2. I have to admit, I was more over protective wife than usual post surgery but now I can honestly say, “YOU ARE READY TO GO BACK TO WORK, grumpy man.” LOL!! Ahh, God is gracious and merciful for sinner like us!!!

  3. Wow… what a crazy story. Christopher, my husband tells, me about these cases, and I have to be honest, I’m usually not really interested since I don’t have the stomach for it nor do I know these people. But reading your entry and seeing the pics makes me feel for those people and want to lift up these people and their families in prayer. It must be so tough for loved ones .. in prayer, in waiting and watching. I hope you recover fully, with less and less pain and discomfort everyday!

    1. Vivian? That u? Vivian… Marian… Joan…

      Thanx for your comment. It was a bump in the road of life – but enough to force one to take stock in the things that matters most. The hubs – what does he do?

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