A Very Frank Discussion

Finally arriving at the last week of lectures before our mid semester break was a relief. I was exhausted in every way. I had also been wondering whether the muscle spasms were due to fatigue. With no lectures in the next couple of weeks we would know whether exhaustion was a factor. But in that last week of lectures I needed to face a hurdle that I had been trying to avoid since all this happened. I was beginning to feel comfortable lecturing again. I can stand in front of a lecture room of students, but preaching was another matter entirely. Lecturing and teaching isn’t as all consuming, but preaching demands the whole of who I am and I wasn’t sure whether I was up to that demand. When lecturing I can hide behind a lectern, but preaching, there is nowhere to hide. I was doubting myself in a big way. But a couple of weeks ago, knowing that I would have to face the task of preaching eventually, I agreed to preach at our College chapel this particular Tuesday morning. And the challenge wasn’t just the task of preaching, but the three hours of lectures on top of that. And, under God, I got through it. I was drained of energy by the end. My concentration split between what I was saying and standing without any aid to help me. I didn’t have a lectern to steady myself if I overbalanced. I found not being able to move my feet or shift my weight while I talked to be awkward, but I was just thankful that at least I could stand.

I was so focused on preaching well and then lecturing straight afterwards that I hadn’t yet looked at my calendar to see what was scheduled in my afternoon. Knowing that the morning was going to be physically demanding, I had postponed my outpatient rehab work and was planning an afternoon of down time with some writing. Looking at my calendar though, my plan for burrowing myself into my writing needed to be postponed as well. I forgot that I had an appointment with my surgeon late that afternoon. So instead of writing, I decided to get a decent chunk of marking done. The problem though is that when I have been marking for quite a few hours in one sitting, I tend to emerge from the marking brain fog with a greater degree of bluntness than usual. And that afternoon was no different.

I had been sitting in the waiting area of the surgeon’s rooms for a while. I didn’t mind. I had my headphones in my ears, listening to King’s choir sing Rachmaninov’s Vespers, while still ploughing through an essay that I was marking. So when the surgeon called my name, I was still thoroughly in a mindset of critiquing and being concise. And what followed was probably the frankest discussion I have had with the surgeon to date. He asked the normal kind of questions. How is the leg weakness going? What are the pain levels? How is rehab work progressing? I was still wary about saying how things really were after the humiliation of my last GP appointment. In the back of my mind, I was still questioning whether the surgeon agreed with the GP that the deterioration of my condition was psychosomatic. The surgeon asked how lecturing was going. When I told him about my morning, that I had gotten through the talk plus the three hours of lectures in one piece, he was genuinely happy. But he stopped himself mid-question asking why I had declined to give a talk publicly until now. He quickly brushed the question aside and turned the conversation around to the issue of pain management. He asked whether I would find seeing a pain management specialist useful. My response was simply, ‘No, I don’t want to take any pain medication.’ He stopped for a moment, pausing, and then asked, ‘So you are not taking any pain medication?’ ‘No’. He didn’t ask why, he just sat a bit surprised for a few seconds. After addressing a few more questions, he then asked whether I had any questions for him. An internal argument raged in my brain for half a second. Should I raise the issue of what the GP said? I decided that clarity would be better than continuing to wonder. So I briefly told the surgeon what happened in the last GP appointment and I asked whether he agreed with the GP. Now it was my turn to be surprised. Sitting back in his chair, he replied that he didn’t think the issue was psychosomatic and that he had never and would not call my condition hysterical. There is a problem, we just hadn’t gotten to the bottom of what was going on, yet. And what surprised me was what he said next. He acknowledged that there were parts of what I had been through that have been traumatic. Sure, there are unanswered questions still. Unanswered questions though do not equal a psychosomatic diagnosis. The surgeon held to his line, a line that I’ve heard time and again for the past three months. Irrespective of the unanswered questions, he is still happy with how I’m progressing. And then he reminded me that I needed to remain positive about the function I do have. The surgeon’s words had a different impact to what he intended. The thought hit me that somewhere along the way  in the past three weeks I had forgotten to be thankful. I was so focused on regaining the lost function in my legs, and being consumed by what I don’t have; I had not remembered to give thanks for the function I do have.

My discussion with the surgeon that afternoon was frank and honest; I walked out though humbled. Humbled that I needed the surgeon to remind me to focus on the positives and upon what I have. The surgeon used the language of being positive, but thankfulness is so much more powerful. Thankfulness takes away the focus on ourselves. Thankfulness causes us to remember that we are dependent on another for what we have and for what he has given us in the everyday of life.

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