This past week on Tuesday, I had surgery to remove my gall bladder. Since then I’ve been taking it easy, sleeping a lot the first couple of days because of the general anesthesia, I suppose. Thankfully, the surgery was done with the laparoscopic method, so I don’t have a big incision nor have I had much pain, just some soreness in my belly button. The worst part was the procedure that had to be performed when I couldn’t empty my bladder on my own after surgery (you know what I’m talking about) and the ride home from the hospital the night of the surgery. It was out-patient surgery. My driver was very careful, but any motion beyond walking to a rest room in the outpatient room left me nauseated. Aren’t insurance companies that insist people are well enough to go home instead of an overnight stay at the hospital wonderful?
I wish I had some grand spiritual insights to offer you about the experience. But, spiritual insights haven’t been arriving in great abundance before and after the surgery. Perhaps the closest I get to being spiritual about the event is that is a personal reminder of the brokenness of the human condition. The consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin was an imperfect humanity subject to the corruption of the body revealed in disease. Illness can be a sharing in the cross of Christ, but it is also a sign of our need for redemption by Christ, to be restored to the perfection of human existence through the resurrection.
I do know that the experience has enabled me to enter with a renewed empathy into the experience of parishioners I visit in the hospital who are facing surgery or being treated for illness. Too often I am probably not aware of how they’re feeling, thinking that I’m doing some wonderful thing bringing cheer and “the presence of Christ” into their situation. I need to remember more that the person in the bed is anxious, maybe not feeling well and needs to be reminded simply that it will be o.k. in God’s time.
The other thing I am aware of as a result of the experience is how grateful I am to a few particular people. I am blessed with a sister who insisted she’d find a way to spend the night with me after surgery despite her less than flexible work schedule. Our parish’s pastoral associate got me to the hospital and insisted on praying over me – a kind of sacrament of the sick. Priests may be professional pray-ers but it’s good to have someone pray over you and remind you that the Holy Spirit dwells in all the baptized and works healing grace through the intercession of the Church, not just the ordained. Another friend, Tony, is to be thanked so much for spending a boring long day, waiting, waiting and waiting in uncomfortable chairs for me to get through the surgery, feel well enough to go home and to drive this “sick puppy” home where my sister was awaiting my arrival. The nurses, anesthesiologist, surgeon were very patient, kind and understanding. I’d recommend St. Mary’s Hospital in Clayton if you need an operation. Fr. Clyde Grogan gets a shout out for insisting I should receive the anointing of the sick since (as he said) priests who are quick to offer it to the infirm are often the last to ask for the sacrament. Finally, I am grateful to my parishioners. They’ve been calling to see how I am doing. They have been sending get well cards. They have been a sign of the compassionate Christ for me. I’m blessed to be allowed to be their pastor.
The word of God often comes to us from unexpected people. A few days before the surgery, at my favorite restaurant I was mentioning to the owner that I was a bit nervous. Not the most “religious” person, but raised a Catholic, he looked at me and asked, “Do you believe in God?” “Of course,” I said! To which he replied “Then don’t worry so much!” How to the point! Life has its anxiety producing moments, death being the big fear, but as Jesus said to the apostles after his resurrection, “Do not be afraid.” I still have a long way to go to reach that point of blessed assurance as a hymn puts it, but maybe this surgery has brought me one step closer to realizing God is faithful and will “…protect us from all anxiety as we wait for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.” (Embolism after the Our Father at Mass in the Roman Catholic rite)