Where the Sun Don't Shine
On Wednesday last, September 28th, I had a small surgery in a clinic here in Spokane. I won't go into the details, but the title above should give you a pretty good clue as to what was involved...and where. Let's just say it is one of the most sensitive areas of the human body, more nerves there than just about anywhere, and when it works right, it makes life livable and enjoyable and when it doesn't, well, things can get rather, ahem.
The surgery itself is a snap: snip, snip, snip...stich, stich, stich...and the doc is done. Anesthesia is called for in this little surgery, so I know nothing about that part of the deal. Once I woke up in the recovery area, I knew immediately that the healing was going to be anything but a snap. It felt like I had just had a firecracker go off "down there." I remember nervously grasping the rails of the bed trying to reduce the pain. My great friend, Father Miguel, was there as primary support guy, and his smile and happy chatter helped immensely as the anesthesia quickly wore off and the reality of the achy-breaky days ahead dawned on me. "This is worse than I imagined!" I remember telling Father Miguel, but I was fairly warned by the doc who reminded me in our first meeting that the pain is acute and it will last for a couple of weeks, at least. I eventually had the strength and wherewithal, with Father Miguel's help, to get up, get dressed, and ever-so-gingerly walk out of the clinic and head home for that fortnight of recovery.
I am now on Day Seven, and I must say, it has been everything the good doc warned me it would be. No grimy details needed, but intense pain, even when calmed by ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and a dose of narcotics every six hours, is really, really, really very hard to bear. It wears a guy down and leaves him weak, dependent, and fighting off the worst sin of all: thinking of only yourself, "poor little me." It was near impossible to read anything beyond a headline. Writing was fully impossible. And prayer? Forget about it. It is just really difficult to formally pray the breviary or reflect on the Scriptures when every squirm leads to a scream. The word "Jeeesuus!" came out at the worst moments as a half-and-half mix of swear and prayer. Dread of the next elimination made the next elimination worse. My brother, Bill, who spent his professional life as physical therapist, recommended warm showers to relax my body so that I might be able to p. and p...p more easily. He was right; the shower has become a very good friend these past days.
It was only on Sunday that I realized how self-preoccupied I had been and how little I had been thinking of others or pondering on the things of God. After the second shower of the morning, I turned on gentle classical music, fluffed my pillow and sat for a while in my dad's big red chair just to spend some time with Jeeesuus, who, I figured, knew plenty about pain. I really wasn't interested in "uniting my sufferings to his", as professional spiritual directors might advise, but really just wanted to let him be with me for a while. Like the warm shower, it kind of worked. I calmed down, let go a bit, and let him be with me for that while. No words...no formal prayers...just a few sighs...then a small eruption of gratitude for all that is not pain and suffering in my life, which is 99.9% at least. For my sisters and brothers...my friends and parishioners over the years...Pope Francis...my overall health...Jeeesuus himself: Deo gratia.
The while didn't last too long, ended by the need to hoist and wiggle myself up out of the pillowed chair and back into the bathroom. That while turned out to be a graced while, brief as it was. It kept me from sinking into self-centered depression and reminded me that most of the world suffers far more than I, and that in the end, I will almost certainly gain some wisdom from this that I might share along the way with another who might need it. But most of all, it was what it was meant to be: not me trying to holify myself, but just Jeeesuus being with me in a tough moment. Backing up that Sunday grace, a dear friend, who would be a great spiritual director of the unpious type, reminded me yesterday that I don't need to worry too much about formally praying in these days; "the pain is the prayer," she wisened me. Yup, she hit the nail on the head for that has been my experience so far.
As I write today, I know I'm yet a long way from being out of this: at least another week of hanging close to the bathroom and living with various levels of ache, pain, and perhaps occasional excruciation, warned the doc. I'm daunted by the prospect of those coming days even as I'm encouraged in looking back and knowing that I'm better today than I was two days ago...and a lot better than seven days ago, (yesterday and today feel about the same).
I presently have a break between bathroom visits, so I'm going to turn off the laptop, turn on some gentle classical music, sit down in my dad's big red chair, with fluffy pillow beneath me, and just let Jeeesuus be with me for a while. It probably won't be a long while, but every time I move this way or that and get one of those sharp stabs from that place where the sun don't shine, then let out that half-prayer, half-swear, "Jeeesuus!", I'll be grateful that he is near and here...and dear. This I am learning: we don't need to strive to unite our sufferings to his; he is already with us in ours. For that, on this Day Seven of recovery, I can only be grateful...and that, too, is prayer.