Well, I screwed up. I went to my surgeon for my first follow up visit on Friday and I told him that I was only taking the muscle relaxants morning and evening and that I had almost weaned myself completely off the narcotic pain killers. The pain has been tough to manage, but I was managing it and was quite proud of myself for doing so. I was excited to tell him what I had been able to accomplish and so what he said in response hit like a ton of bricks. Dr. Norton is very soft spoken and he has never said anything to me before that had any sort of edge or harshness to it, but he let me have it. He told me in no uncertain terms that I had not been obeying his instruction. He told me I was not taking my medication as prescribed. He told me that I have a high tolerance for pain. It is actually noted in my chart. It has been something I’ve been sort of proud of. It is a macho thing. Tough guys suffer and they don’t cry. Dr. Norton said, “You think that it is a good thing to tolerate pain, but it isn’t. Pain is an indicator that things are not the way they are supposed to be. I knew when you walked in here that you weren’t using your medication. Your shoulders are hunched together and you are struggling to do even simple things because of the pain. I told you to take the pain medication because it is a path toward healing. It is part of your therapy. Your body desperately needs rest and you are not getting it because you are not taking the medication. It is important for you to go back on the medication as prescribed so that your body will heal from the severe trauma that we put it through. For the next two weeks you are to take the pain medication every four hours and the muscle relaxants every eight hours. You are to be on complete bed rest which means you are not to work. You may get up to shower or fix a lunch or other simple things, but the rest of the time you are to sleep and take the medication.”
It was a brutal turn of events for me. I confess I was planning to go to the Village Sunday night to worship. It would be less then two weeks since surgery and I imagined everyone would be impressed with how tough I am. It was a stupid macho vow. I remember prior to the surgery when Eric said I would be out for a month after the surgery. I had told Eric the doctor had said three weeks, and I’d promised I’d be back in two weeks. Eric was right. I had hoped at our appointment that the doctor would clear me to drive and return to work. Instead he declared me to be needy and weak. I don’t like this feeling of dependence and weakness. It strikes at the heart of what I have believed about manhood and it means I need to submit to the wisdom of others instead of depending on myself. It was so very hard to hear. But the doctor was very clear.
He renewed my prescriptions. I hate these prescriptions. I hate the feeling of helplessness that washes over my body as the pills do their thing. I hate it with a passion. I would make a lousy drug addict because I can’t stand the feeling of obliviousness and loss of control that comes with drugs. It means not being in control, and I hate not being in control. I hated having to depend on Derek to drive me to the appointment. I hated having Kathy have to take care of things I always take care of. I hate not doing the work I’m supposed to do. I was looking forward to being large and in charge again. Well, so much for that…
I so hate being needy and I hate having to ask for help. This year the Village is talking a lot about healing. Part of being healed, I think, is to sit in the longing and to cry out for help. You can’t really be healed if you won’t ask to be healed and to ask for healing you have to admit to needing to be healed. It seems simple enough, but I think it is harder than it looks to admit that we are sick or broken or needy. We are all totally dependent on Jesus for everything. It is a yucky realization when I serve the idol of self. I feel the need to confess and acknowledge that I am not tough and I am not a big guy who can push through anything. I am weak and in pain and in need of a God who heals and who can make things right.
Another confession is that I have judged other people rather harshly. Many of you have probably felt the sting of that judgement. I think if I can bear pain, so should you. If I can do hard things without complaint, so should you. If I can be a tough guy and never ask for help, so should you. It has been an awful judgement and I am so very sure many of you have felt the brunt of that judgement over the years. I am deeply sorry for that. I don’t walk in your shoes. I don’t know what doctors have said to you. I don’t know where your struggles are or what you have had to face. I’m sorry for my meanness. It is unbecoming a pastor. Please let me know if you are one who has felt my criticisms and let me know how it hurt so that I can seek your forgiveness in the days ahead. Please call me on it when you hear me say judgmental things about others. It is not Christ like. It is unbecoming. I don’t want to do it anymore.
I find it fascinating that this is the year when the Village asks God to teach us about healing. I think that God has taught me two important things in the last couple of days. One thing is that I must acknowledge my neediness and my longings. I need to say it hurts, when it hurts. I need to admit my weaknesses and not just try to cover them up. The people who asked Jesus to heal them didn’t pretend that they could do it on their own. They cried out for healing. They asked for help because they were helpless. They didn’t pretend that they didn’t have a problem. We all need to do that. I need to do that. I am helpless outside the tender care of my loving Father.
I also need to submit my life to others. I have to submit my ‘knowledge of how my body works’ to someone else. I need to do what the doctor says I need to do. I don’t need to get on the internet and figure out alternative methods of dealing with my pain. I don’t need to go to twenty different doctors until I find one whose expectations I like or think I can do. I don’t need to tell God how and when he must heal me. I simply need to submit my life to him and to the community he places around me. I need to ask Jesus to heal me and then allow him to choose how and when he might do it. I was so committed to doing things my own way that I refused to listen to the wisdom of the doctor God has given me to care for me and hasten my healing and in doing so I have done even more damage. It is hard to trust that God will use others for my good, but I think he is calling me to simply submit to what the doctor says. Everything in me wants to rise up and take control. I’m tough and I can make my own way. I don’t need no stinking drugs… It is so hard to take these narcotics. I hate living in the hazy world of powerful drugs and in dependence on the grace of others. It is hard to follow doctor’s orders when I’m so sure I know better. Please encourage me to do what the doctor says to do.
Thank you to those who have come to visit and who have offered acts of grace and kindness and especially those who take the time to pray. As I move deeper into the drug therapy I may not be very alert or able to fully engage. I do get horribly bored sleeping on the couch, watching television, and trying to read. Bed rest feels more like a curse than a blessing.
I love you all and I’m sorry that my failure to submit to my medical caregivers has extended the time of my recovery. The good news is that the surgery was a huge success. The doctor removed lots of scar tissue from the previous surgery and also rerouted the nerve that was being crushed by the deterioration of the disc. He explained that the awful soreness in my shoulders is because they tied my arms behind my back and placed a sand bag between my shoulder blades and taped my shoulders as far back as they were able to force them. They then pulled my head way back and taped it down as well. He said there is a huge amount of bruising and tissue damage because of the positioning of my body during surgery. He also said that they open up the neck and then clamp everything to the side as they work on the C-spine which causes lots of pain in the neck as well as difficulties with speaking and swallowing. So the body needs rest in order to heal. Please pray for me and ask God to continue to heal me. Thanks.