The nurse asked me how my knee surgery had gone during the past year. I gave her a one word answer: "Miracle."
I don't use the word lightly. I use it in its richest theological sense. I have been gifted with a new lease on life.
I shall not have to limp through the remainder of my days. I can stride through them erect to my full five feet nine inches of shrinking stature. I can stand for two hours watching a Memorial Day parade. I can even abide cocktail parties without constantly looking for a place to sit down. I can kneel for communion when expected. I can lift myself from an exercise mat with relative ease. I can, if I had a mind to do it, go walking in the neighborhood with my wife and my dog. No longer do I have to calculate how far it is to the next place to sit down. Arthritic medications, prescribed and nutritional, are now, for the most part, for other people, not me.
I returned recently to the orthopedist for my "graduation." Just two days short of a year ago I underwent bilateral knee replacement surgery. That "bi-lateral" means I had both knees done at the same time. The surgery lasted four hours. The blood spilled was vacuumed up and returned to my veins. The hospital stay was three days; the recuperation in the sub-acute unit of a local rehab center was one week. The physical rehabilitation went on for another month. When I just about broke the weight machine (resisting its upward thrust, as I was told to do), the therapist switched me to other exercises.
I was driving myself to rehab five weeks following surgery. I needed three months to regain my energy level. By the sixth month the swelling had pretty much subsided, although the most troublesome knee, the right one, injured in a basketball game in the spring of 1957, lagged behind the left one, injured in a football scrimmage in the fall of 1951. After a full year of recuperation, I can lift one hundred twenty pounds and depress one hundred sixty with my legs on weight machines at the exercise center. The knees bend to far better than 90 degrees, greatly exceeding the doctor's promise.
Like I said, I have been given a whole new lease on life.
Which is why I hugged my doctor. He didn't withdraw from my embrace. In fact, he encouraged it. Considering the wonders wrought by his genius of hands and brain, he probably gets plenty of hugs, although I suspect few of them are received from septuagenarian men.
A miracle in the minds of most of us is something dramatic, out-of-the-blue, sudden, and life-affirming. Sure, some of Jesus' miracles were shows of power: walking on water, calming the sea, and multiplying the loaves and fish. But these too served a humanitarian purpose and are not really a different category from the healing miracles. I think, understandably, of the woman reported in Luke, who had been unable to stand up straight for eighteen years. With the touch of Jesus' hands, she was soon able to join her friends erectly at a parade... or a cocktail party.
Peter, St. Peter, did likewise for a man crippled from birth. Steven, Dr. Steven Schutzer, touched, chiseled, and reformed my two knees, with his hands.NB The cure wasn't instantaneous. And I have been very disciplined in my exercises over many months. But the effect was the same as that reported in the New Testament. A new lease on life. A miracle.
A parishioner shed a different light on the miracle so much in focus in this holiday season. He observed that the virgin birth did not seem unreasonable when one considered the procreative wonders the medical profession has achieved for couples wanting and not getting children. That, if the procedure of in vitro fertilization can produce new life, why couldn't the Almighty - so reasons my friend - with all of the strategies at his command, put baby Jesus in Mary's womb without Joseph's assistance?
I look at my knees. My father-in-law, the Methodist preacher, visited me in the hospital before I underwent my second menisectomy in 1957. He put his hand on my shoulder as he prayed to God to "guide the skilled hand of the surgeon." Who said prayers aren't answered? If fifty years later.
NB. I reprint verbatim an exchange of Email recently with Dr. Schutzer:
After looking repeatedly at the X-ray of my knees, I saw something I had not noticed before: the space between bones of the right knee is almost twice that of the left. I seem to remember that the space is actually the plastic which is attached to the titanium. In other words, it only now dawned on me that you had to compensate in your calculations for those prostheses the greater erosion of bone in the right knee. Do I have that right? Or is the spacing just the consequence of the angle at which the X-ray was taken? If it is the former, then you are even more of a marvel than I had earlier celebrated.
Barbara walks in the neighborhood each day. She stops and talks to people along the way. Today she met Dr. Sweet, a retired orthopedist who knows you. His comment upon hearing that your had done bilateral knee surgery on me was to say, “That fellow is going to go places.” Had I been with Barbara, I might have retorted, “Yes, but I think he’s already there.”
Indeed, you are correct! Because of the greater destruction of the Right knee, we did more of a correction on the right side than on the left. This is part of the reconstruction and the "art" so to speak. You are quite observant...but I guess I should have pointed that out to you before. NO two knees are the same, even in the same patient!
Dr. Sweet is a remarkable man and has always been my "role model" for over 20 years. Do you know that he went over to England and saw the great Sir John Charnley do a total hip replacement done in 1970? Dr. Sweet was (is) a master. say hi. Happy Holiday.