No Pain, No Gain

February 29, 2012

Come tomorrow, it will have been four weeks since my shoulder surgery. By most accounts I have come along pretty well, getting off the prescription pain meds four days after surgery and dropping to Extra Strength Tylenol a couple of times a day as needed. I started physical therapy a week after surgery, making the trek to the PT center once a week, and doing the exercises at home one or two days a week. After three weeks I graduated from the sling (mostly–when around crowds I still wear it judiciously, as people-men in particular-like to instinctively slap one on the left shoulder).

I realized that last weekend was a pretty taxing one; a church officer retreat Friday and most of Saturday, followed by a wedding, followed by celebrating my (wonderful) Mother-in-Law’s 80th birthday, then preaching twice (and serving Communion), hosting 13 family members at our home for lunch, then playing pastor for a couple, where the wife recently lost her sister very suddenly. On Monday, out of the sling, my “shoulder bone” was hurting badly enough that I went back to the prescription. As it hurt on Tuesday, I decided it was time for “game on.” I called, and upped the ante to going to PT twice a week.

As I lay on the table, the diminutive but fierce physical terrorist Amy kept pushing-stretching-the shoulder boldy where it did not want to go. I kept saying to myself, and to her, “No pain.” She repeated it back to me. And then she pushed, stretched, the shoulder beyond the last point. From the deep recesses of my mind crept a part of my mantra: “Pain is my friend, hunger is my brother, fatigue is my lover.”

One of the other therapists walked past, and seeing me grimce, said with a smile on his face, “No pain, no gain.” I winked in reply.

Now, while I agree with that philosophy, and tend to live it out-not only in terms of rehab, but in life in general-I find that many people will go to great lengths to avoid pain. That’s really fascinating, when you consider that many of the early Christian writers viewed sacrifice and discomfort as a way of drawing closer to Christ, identifying with His suffering, and coming to understand their own mortality and growth.

Without pain, we will not grow. It’s as simple as that.

I recall the summer of 1981, when I was dating this wonderful young woman in Dallas, and I realized that in a couple of months-literally, a couple of months-I would move back to Atlanta to finish my Master’s degee. I considered our romance insane, given the fact that it would have to be terminated at the end of the summer; yet we both chose to continue it. I recall thinking once that it would hurt to leave that relationship and lose that love, but that if that was what happened, I would grow as a person from the experience.

And for the record, that young woman and I have been married for over 28 years. Sometimes you don’t have to experience the pain, in order to discover the gain.

Slow and steady wins the race

February 15, 2012

Come tomorrow, it will be two weeks since my outpatient shoulder surgery. Dr. Evander Fogle did a great job prepping me for the surgery, and giving post-surgical advice. The nerve block applied by Dr. Mack Sams kept me pain free for a good 24 hours, at which point the prescription pain meds kicked in, keeping me pretty loopy. I took my bride’s advice and decided NOT to slip in on the back row of church the following Sunday (instead, I watched via internet and managed to avoid being hugged and patted on the shoulder.) I cheered as the Giants won the Super Bowl, and stayed home the next day, working from home the better part of the day, and making the decision to get off pain meds. I shifted to extra strength Tylenol, which I am now taking only about twice a day, choosing to manage the pain rather than mask it.

What I am learning through this process is several things.

ONE, I have forgotten how humbling it is not to be able to do the things you want to do in the time you are used to doing them. I had similar surgery on my right shoulder in 1998, and I have simply forgotten thet it takes longer to do everything (try putting your socks on with one hand, or tucking your shirt in with one hand).

TWO, I have learned to use one of my wife’s phrases: “Thank you, I accept.” The people who offered meals saved our bacon for several days. The friends who offered rides when I was unable to drive made a big difference. Help putting on a jacket or sweater, buttoning a shirt, tying a tie (those last two by family members, obviously), all these simple things become complicated when you only have one functioning arm.

THREE, I am trying to learn through this to slow down in general. I recall reading a book years ago by Arch Hart, in which he argues rather convincingly that much of the coronary disease in our nation is rooted less in our diet, and more in our (hurried) lifestyle. I am guilty of that. I need to slow down, and this is a good lesson.

FOUR, the old saying is true: No pain, no gain.: I started seeing my old physical “terrorist,” Amy Ross, last week. the simple, passive exercises she (this diminuitve, sweet, now-triathlete who competes in Tough Mudders) has me doing require that I push to, and if possible, beyond the point of pain. I keep channeling my inner Rocky (from Rocky 4) saying over and over, “No pain!”

Speaking of Rocky, it turns out that the same day I was having shoulder surgery, two others were having shoulder surgery; not at the same hospital as me, but these two were in the same hospital. The one on the right I can tell is in the recovery mode, while the fellow on the right has yet to have his procedure. The race to recovery is on–they have money, but I have motivation!

Long long ago (Thanksgiving week of 1998 to be precise), I had surgery on my right shoulder to repair a torn rotator cuff, and to deal with an impinged joint. I still have the 1/2 inch of collarbone that the surgeon removed, in a jar of formaldehyde. When he asked why I wanted it, I explained. “It’s mine.”

Anyway, in February of 1999, while working on the roof, then climbing down, I was trying to protect my right shoulder, and remain convinced that I tore the rotator cuff in my left shoulder. I remember it distinctly: the hot, searing pain in my shoulder, and the miracle that I made it down the ladder while seeing spots and getting tunnel vision, the pain was so intense. “Spit on it, rub a little dirt in it, and keep on playing” has been my philosophy, so I pushed on.

Fast forward to January 2010. I was at home on a Saturday afternoon, watching football, and ran upstairs to get something. Heading back downstairs, I was “skiing” the stairs, barely hitting them, when I missed one. Instintively knowing that if I fell forward, it could spell disaster, and throwing myself backward could mean a traumatic head injury, I threw myself to my left, towards the wall, and all my body weight went on my shoulder joint. Repeat hot, searing, pain. Hello, torn biceps tendon.

Spit on it, rub dirt in it, keep on playing. The Doc thought he could deal with it without surgery, and so it has been for 2 years. But now the time has come. As I write this, I look at the clock, and realize that this time tomorrow I’ll be blissfully asleep, while my surgeon, who is a friend, is working away on me. He will deal with the rotator cuff, torn biceps, and bone spurs that are impinging the joint. By afternoon I’ll be home, loopy on pain meds, no doubt, and odds are, NOT spitting on it, rubbing dirt in it, and continuing to play. Not for a few days, at any rate.

Some years ago, I wrote my own mantra, something that I repeat to myself when facing anything that seems daunting. I have a feeling I’ll be repeating it over the next few days:

I am steel.

Purified by God,

Forged in pressured fires,

I can bend, but not break

When hammered, I harden.

When stressed, I strengthen.

Relentless in focus,

Pain is my friend,

Hunger is my brother,

Fatigue is my lover.

Stay tuned. I’ll see if I can’t update things (my status) and add some pictures over the next few days.