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The Ordeal and Getting Through It

The Ordeal and Getting Through It

    The chaplain, a delightfully fey Irishman, a laicized Catholic priest, sat at the front of my bed and plied me with his questionnaire.  "What would you say," he began, "was the greatest source for you of comfort and strength?"  He assured me there was no correct answer, although, I confess, a verse from a Psalm rattled around in my head, a verse from which, I suspected, the chaplain borrowed the phrasing of the question.

    It was Tuesday afternoon, a day after my admission to the sub-acute unit of a rehab center where I was to  learn how to walk again.  The chaplain and I, most certainly I, had little inkling of the pertinence of his opening gambit.

    Nor did I measure the depth and the personal truth of my response: "Family, friends, and faith."  That's just the kind of response, right?, one might expect from a retired preacher whose sermons usually had three points.

    But that night and the following days, about thirty-six hours, I was to be plunged into a narcotic episode in withdrawal from anesthesia and pain-killers.  I saw hieroglyphics on the walls and bedsheets.  The whole world, including the food on my plate, smelled like a plastics factory.  I heard children playing in the woods adjacent my window... and it was three in the morning.  My stomach rumbled constantly.  I dreamed a wild and wretched dream.  Worst of all, I was possessed with an overwhelming sense of dread and saw no possibility of escape.  I glimpsed if only for a brief moment in a lifetime, the agonies of the addicted.

    Throughout the ordeal, holding on to me and holding me together, even to sharing my sense of dread, was my life's companion who gladly, nay eagerly and generously, fulfilled certain vows made forty-eight years earlier, about better or worse, sickness and health.

    Finally, the hieroglyphics disappeared.  The appetite returned.  Children no longer played outside my window in the wee hours of the morning.  The day brightened.  Dread dissipated, curiosity reappeared.  I could walk again.

    Daughter one and grandsons arrived.  A friend of many years, a veteran of the same surgery, phoned me good strategies for dealing with the pain.  Sisters-in-law plied me with cookies.  Our dentist and his family appeared bearing gifts, including Dunkin Donut doughnut holes.  A son-in-law reported his success with a Ukrainian Carol.  Daughter two phoned me and swapped a couple of Emails with me.  A niece showed an uncommon interest in my latest experience. Daughter three and family serenaded me with "Happy Birthday."  Pastoring me and my family was a mid-fifty year old Methodist pastor for whom I had been pastor when the Dodgers and I were still in Brooklyn.  The nurses and aides were unfailingly considerate and upbeat. 

    And that's where I found my comfort and strength, from others... held in hands held in the hand of God.

    As for faith, I am still working on it... just what this new experience of bi-lateral knee replacement means.  And I am a guy who needs meaning.  Continued reflection and writing will surely produce something. 


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