Life & Health Theology

Meditations on Surgery II: Decision

January 15, 2010

All day yesterday I was in Ann Arbor for my pre-op appointments for my surgery on Monday. I got a physical, blood work, and met with a ostomy nurse. It was surprisingly ordinary and normal for me. I was able to get a lot of reading for my Seminary classes done as I waited, and I listened to a couple good sermons on the drive there and back. The actual appointments went really quick for two reasons:

1) I’m relatively young and healthy (all things considered).
2) I have done extensive research on all the things that are going on.

The waiting, however, did take some time.

Considering the first reason, it often surprises me what the nurses and physicians have to say about me. They typically make some comment about me being young and in good health and wishing all their patients were like me (mainly because I’m significantly younger than the typical person with gastro-intestinal issues). It’s odd to be told that you appear to be in great health when you know that it’s a totally different story inside, that something inside is dying and seeking your death. Or is it? As I’ve thought about that a little more I’ve realized it’s not so odd after all, and perhaps it’s more accurate than I’d like to think — just not always about my physical body. How often do I appear to be “doing well off” and “in need of nothing” (to quote Revelation 3, the letter to Laodicea) and yet I am really “wretched…poor…and naked”? How easy it can be to feign good health when I am really dying on the inside. But it isn’t always easy for others to see my sickness, even if it is ever before me (Psalm 51:3). No, it really isn’t that odd to appear fine and really be dying — I think people do that every day. If only we had eyes to see it — in ourselves and others. Perhaps what we need more often is for it to be removed and cut out right away. That would be best if it really would kill us. It would be painful, indeed, but pain that was necessary for our best. How much that same surgery would appear a horrendous injustice to the man who thinks himself perfectly healthy, while it would be known as a life-saving operation to the man who knows well his sickness. May I love God as the loving surgeon that C.S. Lewis depicts in his Grief Observed.

Considering the second reason, sometimes it surprises me how much I actually know about the digestive system and all its disorders. I can’t tell you hardly a thing about my heart and all the valves that hook up to it or how it works, but talk about the ilium, duodenum, pedunculated polyps, ostomies, flexible sigmoidoscopies, EGD’s, and I can track with you without losing a step. An elderly man went in to meet with the ostomy nurse before me and it took them over an hour to explain everything to him. I met with that same nurse after him, and I was in and out in 15 minutes because I already knew everything she was going to explain. I find that, generally, there is a correlation between how much I know about something and how much it affects my life. I never imagined I would know so much about my colon because I never imagined it would affect my life so drastically. I often wonder how much more motivated I might be to know God and his Word if only I truly understood how much it affected my life.

The difficulty in this whole process has not been which surgery to have, or when, or by whom — but should I have surgery at all. Once I made that decision much of the anxiety and worrying disappeared. My mind was set and I had a goal in mind. Having no clear goal or future leads to foolish fears and questions. It took me some time to come to a decision — perhaps upwards of a year of constant prayer and seeking. It definitely has been one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. But the decision to have surgery was the hard thing, not the realization that I will be having the surgery. I can’t fully explain that, but it’s true. After the decision, the waiting has not been that difficult. There have no doubt been hard things since then, but nothing as difficult.

Perhaps one of the hardest things about making the decision to have the surgery was figuring out all of the logistics of it: how I will afford it, what to do about work, where will I stay, will I be alone afterwards, etc. That seemed to be a barrier to me, a huge worry and burden that I could not lift on my own. I remember clearly when it was lifted. It was the night I met with the elders of my church here in Michigan (Pine Ridge Bible Church). It was a night when I got to see for the second time in my life a beautiful thing that many have never seen: the church caring for the body, being the hands and feet of God. I’ve seen it vividly once before when my father passed away — our church loved us like I have never been loved before, not abstractly, but more concretely than I can describe in words. That night with the elders, I was able to lay my burden down and see the body of Christ pick it up and carry it for me. It is a precious thing, and without the pain and suffering I would have missed that picture of God’s grace and love. That night I was finally able to truly rest for the first time in months, and the next day I was filled with a joy and peace that I still do not understand to this day.

This has been a very scatterbrained post, most likely because it’s too late for me to be writing anymore. But much has been on my mind and I have found writing to be a great release for that pressure. As Lewis says, “Ink is the great cure for all human ills.”

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