My forties sucked.
The short version of a long story is that I journeyed through more than ten years of my life dealing with chronic pain. In four years time, I underwent two total hip replacements and foot reconstruction surgery. And as is the case with most journeys, I picked up a few lessons along the way.
Lesson one: Healing does not mean things will go the way you want them to
After years of spending time, money and emotional energy on trying to find the cause of my pain, I was told at age 45 that I needed a hip replacement. Arthritis had deteriorated the cartilage in the joint. I wasn’t convinced – I was too young, right? “You don’t have to do it now,” the doctor said. “But you’ll be back when it’s time.”
For the next two years I tried everything I could to “get better.” I tried exercising. I tried rest. I took unbelievable amounts of ibuprofen. Deep depression set in and I cried – a lot.
Lying awake most nights unable to find a comfortable position, I prayed to God to heal me and take away my pain. God didn’t seem to hear. I started taking advantage of monthly healing prayer and anointing with holy oils during our combined staff Eucharist at the cathedral. Whoever was doing the praying would ask me what I needed praying for, and I would always answer relief from pain. But there was no change.
During one such healing prayer when asked what I needed praying for, I blurted out, “Acceptance.” I’m not sure I know what I meant by that request – acceptance of the pain or acceptance that it was time to take action, but eventually I decided I could no longer live with the pain. It still took me another several months to schedule the surgery, but I finally did it and on that very day, the pain was gone. Some physical therapy and I was back to work in two weeks. Healed.
Lesson two: “Fixed” does not always mean healed
Sadly, relief was short lived. A few months after surgery, I developed some serious pain in my ankle. I tried orthotic inserts, ice and rest, lots more ibuprofen. It just got worse. My depression returned. I did my best to just suck it up. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I did to deserve this fate.
Eventually I went back to the doctor. Turns out that the repair of my hip set my very flat foot in a little different direction – putting strain on an ankle tendon and damaging it beyond repair. Major surgery was in order. A tendon would be transferred from one side of my foot to the ankle, and the entire foot would be reconstructed so that the injury would not reoccur. Total time of no weight bearing on the foot – six weeks.
Lesson three: Sometimes, true healing is as simple as acceptance
I recalled that day I asked for acceptance, and suddenly realized that I didn’t suffer for so long because I didn’t pray hard enough or the right way. I suffered because I couldn’t accept the fact that my body had failed me. Healing came when I accepted what needed to be done. Dr. Reilly was right – I came back when it was time. So now when the specialist laid out all that was involved with this surgery and told me to go home and think it over, I told him that wouldn’t be necessary and scheduled the first available appointment. Healing had begun before the first incision of a scalpel.
I wish I could say the journey ends here but after six weeks of no weight bearing and four more in a walking cast I started having a lot of pain in my back and the other leg. Because I’m stubborn, I spent more wasted time and energy than I’d like to admit in trying to fix the problem on my own. It wasn’t until I had a routine follow-up x-ray of my prosthetic hip that I learned the source. My other hip – that appeared perfectly healthy just a few months before – was now completely deteriorated. There was no question of what needed to be done. The difference was that this time, I had faith I could be healed, once I let happen what needed to happen. I had a second hip replacement and was back on my feet in no time. I’ve been (mostly) pain-free ever since.
Lesson four: Grace
So yes, my forties sucked. But looking back, I realize that as much as I don’t want to repeat that journey, I wouldn’t change any of it either. Pain taught me more about patience and empathy than I could ever have imagined; lessons I would need for the next journey I would take. And through God’s healing grace, I know that I am not journeying alone.
Connections editor Julie Murray also serves as Associate Director of Communications for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.