I woke up from surgery and learned a few things

Published 5:53 pm Friday, August 23, 2019

By Charles Qualls

Last week, I had outpatient surgery on my knee. This wasn’t my first operation. I’ve had some other things along the way. Most noteworthy, in August of 1981 a displaced fracture of a finger resulted in surgery to repair that. Also in August of 1989, I had a shoulder reconstruction. Come to think of it, August has not been particularly kind to me.

Because of this surgery, I see some things differently. For instance, I have learned through this that when you say you had knee surgery, people automatically assume you had yours replaced. Then, when you say it wasn’t a replacement, they react as though your surgery was minor. It’s only minor when it’s someone else’s knee.

I also learned that I may be at my very funniest when under the influence of anesthesia and some post-operative narcotics. Yes some of these are little insights, some of them are funny. Others, though, I suspect will stay with me a little longer because they are formational.

Friends and family make all the difference. An experience like this puts you, even for a brief time, in need of help and good company. I was strictly off my feet for four days. Only necessary walking in a confined space was allowed, with lots of ice and elevation.

That left me needing a lot of help from my wife, who was fantastic. Friends showed their love in the form of food and offers of help or transportation. I have a stack of cards that arrived in the mail, and far more well-wishes via social media. One family brought us a therapeutic machine that delivers chilled water to the affected joint area. A friend brought lunch and spent a couple of hours with us on the second day after surgery.

A Church is an essential support system. I know that people who don’t go to church endure procedures like this all the time. I was also reminded that I simply wouldn’t want to. Our church loved us actively through the last week. They expressed their concern, and also their happiness upon my return. They are our friends. I can’t imagine wanting to go through an experience like this without them, much less a genuine tragedy.

I am far better at giving care than at receiving. There is a degree of vulnerability and exposure to receiving care from others. You become a focus for people who are doing things for you, or who are expressing their concern. It takes an amount of what Christians call “grace” to receive expressions of love. I was reminded that I am used to dispensing these commodities, and not so much to receiving them. Being on the receiving end was awkward for me, but also life-giving.

The world can run OK without me. A terrifying insight is that you could be replaced. Or, at the very least that your workplace can run for a week without you. I missed a week at the office. I missed one essential meeting. I wasn’t there for folks who just dropped by, no matter that things work better when they have an appointment. You know what? Nothing fell apart. This should be comforting, and I suppose on balance it was. But, it’s also scary to realize you aren’t as important as you thought.

My cane is a metaphor. A few months ago I found a beautiful, sleek black cane in an antique store. It has a shiny, metallic horse head atop it as the handle. I anticipated this surgery, and knew I might need one. For the first four days, I used it for nearly every step I took around the house. By the weekend, not so much.

I glanced at my cane last night, now laying on the floor next to my chair in the house. It looked like a symbol of so much. My cane — like family, friends and our church — is there if I need to call on it again in extraordinary circumstances. If I do, it will hold me up and help me in vital ways. Until then, though, I will take care of it. It needs me, too. It needs to be polished, and even needs a new rubber tip. I’ll have to replace that soon.

My knee already feels pretty good this week. Now, I have a friend who needs me. I have a church member who needs a visit. There are a few things that need my attention and upkeep. We don’t live in this world alone, if we don’t choose to. Thanks be to God.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.