Healing is a humbling experience


I thought I was doing so well with my new knee. Then reality hit.

At my two-week post-surgery check-up, the orthopedic surgeon was pleased with my progress. However, he didn’t like the swelling in my leg from above my knee to my toes. I didn’t much like it, either.

The doctor said the swelling was most likely from my daily goal of walking a mile. I needed to rest, not walk.

That was my reality check. Thinking I was doing the right thing, my extra walking was actually slowing the healing process, adding to the post-surgery pain that goes with any major operation like knee replacement.

The doctor repeated what I already knew and was doing. “Elevate your leg, ice it, and rest,” were his orders. He assured me that I was well ahead of schedule in my healing. I need not try to hurry it along with my aggressive walking goals.

I got the same message the next day from my physical therapists. The swelling was hindering my ability to stretch, extend, and flex my repaired leg. I felt silly.

I got the message loud and clear. Healing takes time.

Being retired, the time I had. So I reordered my post-surgery routine. I continued with my physical therapy twice a week. I did my exercises and stretches. I wore out my recliner, my go-to spot to raise my leg and ice it, a lot.

Most importantly, I eliminated the additional walking. Both the doctor and therapists told me that many patients still used either a walker or a cane several weeks after the surgery. I walked without either a week after my operation.

I was the exception to the rule. Only I didn’t realize it or appreciate it. The doctor said that my dedication to the pre-surgery exercises likely had prepared me for a quicker response to walking unaided.

However, I needed to adhere to after surgery recommendations for a successful recovery. Now that I have settled into my new routine, I see how foolish I was to try to rush something that genuinely needed time and rest to properly heal.

I have always been an active, involved, engaging person who enjoys helping people. I like staying busy. I enjoy work that I can do. I learned that for the present, my most important task was to rest, elevate, and ice.

I listened to the medical experts by reprogramming that energy. I have limited my computer time. When I do write, I type with the laptop on my lap, feet up.

Treasure hunt.
I sit in the sunshine on the back porch, reading or watching gray squirrels plant acorns in the grass. Minutes later, the ever-observant blue jays unearth those same tasty treasures. For a change of scenery, I lounge in the comfort of my recliner, feet up, leg iced, and reading.

Even at this slower, laid-back approach, the days seem to fly by. I hope that’s not merely a reflection of my age.

The healing process has been an awakening and a humbling experience. I thought of others who weren’t as fortunate as me. Weeks after their surgery, they still relied on walkers and canes. I realized the arrogance of my over-zealousness to heal.

I grasped the importance of patience. The stark awareness of my situation increased my gratitude.

I learned that clarifying my own condition sharpened my empathy for those not as fortunate. Compassion took on a new form.

Healing from significant trauma to the body, whether by choice or accident, simply takes time. This old patient has finally discerned how to be patient.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Moving more slowly for good reasons


I’ve been moving a lot slower lately. At my age, that can be expected. That, however, is not the primary reason for my more leisurely pace. I recently had a right knee replacement.

Before the operation, I had been hobbling along at my usual rapid stride for too long. With bone on bone, arthritis, and bone spurs, I knew my knee would need medical attention.

I sought the absolute best orthopedic surgeon I could find. His reputation clearly preceded him. I had to wait three months for a consultation, and then another five months for the knee replacement surgery itself.

Three and a half hours after the surgery.
I took that delayed process as a cue. I needed to be more patient, more deliberate in my approach to life. I wasn’t a spring chicken anymore, and my achy knee daily reminded me of that fact.

My wife and I attended pre-surgery classes together. The instruction covered the do’s and don’ts of my activities both before and after the operation. Also, a friend from church had had the same surgery by the same surgeon at the same hospital as me with impressive results.

From these sources, I gained confidence, and specific themes emerged.

“Stay ahead of the pain,” was one. In other words, don’t try to be a hero. Take the pain medicines as directed.

“Ice is your friend,” was the second piece of wisdom. Elevating and icing the leg helped reduce the swelling and inflammation. Ironically, though, swelling is needed to properly heal the soft tissue, muscles, and ligaments that have been cut into and/or moved in the surgery process. The key was to keep the long, stapled incision dry and clean.

Long before the surgery, I began a routine of recommended exercises. I continued to do them in the healing process. Doing so clearly paid dividends.

On the stationary bike in the hospital rehab.
The doctor had told me that he would have me walking the same day as the operation. My surgery was at 10:30 a.m., and I was strolling down a hospital hall with a walker and supervision by 3:30 that afternoon.

Staying hydrated was another essential element in the post-surgery protocol. I drank like a fish.

The doctor had one more piece of pre-surgery advice for me: “Keep moving.” So I did.

I walked around the neighborhood, usually in the morning, as much as I could. I also went hiking, though I often stopped to rest, especially on inclines.

Though I have yet to have my post-op surgery visit with the doctor, it’s clear all that locomotion paid off. At the end of my first session, my physical therapists said I didn’t need either my walker or cane. A week after surgery, I was walking unaided up and down our street.

How I kept writing.
I noticed that my gait was nearly half of what it was before the surgery. As we walked side by side, I told my wife that I think this is the stride that I should continue to maintain.

I felt comfortable walking at a slower pace. An occasional sharp pain radiating from either side of the knee kept me focused on each and every step. It was the first test of my new, slower resolve. I had a new knee and a renewed appreciation for all that was around me.

I know I am fortunate, and that I still have a long way to go in the healing process. I hope that the more unhurried stroll through life will enhance my awareness. I’ll breathe deeply, observing, absorbing, and appreciating with even more vigor of whatever finds me along life’s path.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Keep on the sunny side of life no matter what

Sunset rays by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

In this dog eat dog world of ours, it’s easy to get down on others and yourself. I’m much too guilty of that. Just ask my wife.

An email from a friend reminded me of that the other day. My friend, a man 14 years my senior, three decades ago survived a serious illness and now is in a pitched battle against lymphoma.

If anyone had a reason to be down, he did. Yet, he wasn’t. He has had a very successful life, one filled with both professional and personal achievements, most in service to others.

My friend wrote this email in reference to celebrating spring, the newness of life that is bursting forth all around us here in the northern hemisphere. He gratefully reflected on the lovely spring day on which he arrived home after his near brush with death 27 years ago.
Dogwood blossoms by Bruce Stambaugh
He championed the simplest things, a blooming flower, the green grass, a whiff of a refreshing scent, a tender touch of a loved one, and how we all are interconnected to all that is around us. His concluding comment of gratitude was, “And I almost missed this.”

I immediately replied by thanking him for the reminder to celebrate life in the present. We can’t change the past, and we can’t control the future. We can be positive in each and every opportunity in which we find ourselves daily.

Cockeyed optimist or bully pulpit preaching? Perhaps. But consider the alternative, a life of grumpy complaining that dulls everyone’s spirits. What fun is there in that? My friend’s note was looking life right in the eye and saying I’m glad to be here. We were all glad he was, too, and still are for that matter.

When I read that brief message, the song, “Keep on the sunny side of life,” instantly came to mind. Now, I’m no singer, but I like that song for its lyrics and its meaning. Stay positive. Life can be a bummer at times. Hardly anyone could deny that.
Spring Beauties by Bruce Stambaugh
With the temperatures warming, the grass growing, the leaves unfurling, the flowers blooming, some birds already feeding their young, and the ability to be out and about without fear of frostbite, it’s simply great to be alive.

I know times are tough for many, especially financially. There is too much illness in the world, too much injustice, too many wars, too much hatred. Yet, we are alive, and we can do something about all that if we put our mind and energy to whatever productive cause we support to help counter those woes.

I need to take on the spirit of my friend. Live life fully, completely, honestly, purely, truly, compassionately, thankfully. To do otherwise is a simple waste of the precious time we have left on this earth.
Workhorses by Bruce Stambaugh
A long time ago a lady called a school superintendent’s office. It was a miserable, cold and rainy day, and the woman was notorious for complaining. The superintendent took the call anyhow. He answered cheerfully by saying, “Good morning. It’s a beautiful day to be alive, isn’t it?”

When the lady recoiled at the positive greeting and asked how the school official could be so upbeat, he simply replied, “It sure beats the alternative.”

Yes, it does. I hope you can keep on the sunny side of life today, even if you are in the midst of a personal storm.
Wildflowers by Bruce Stambaugh
© 2012 Bruce Stambaugh

In praise of bathrooms and healing

By Bruce Stambaugh

I normally don’t write about politics. I try to keep my news on the bright side.

That said, I had a lot of time to fill while recuperating from my recent surgery to remove my cancerous prostate. I listened to the radio, watched television, reflected on life’s really important matters, and appreciated the kindness and generosity of family, friends, neighbors, churches, businesses, organizations and even strangers.

Their cards, visits, well wishes, prayers, flowers and food all rather overwhelmed me. I found it humbling and heartwarming to be told that so many people in so many ways love you.

The post-surgery visit to the doctor was positive, although we will have to wait a month for the results of my next PSA test to be able to say that I am “cancer free.” All things considered, I am very upbeat about my progress so far.

That brings me back to the beginning. While recuperating, I was astonished to already hear so many detailed reports on who might be running for the opportunity to oppose our current president in the 2012 election.

That’s right. Next year’s presidential election was commanding headline media time and it’s only Spring 2011. It was enough to make you nauseous, more so than the pain medication did for me.

The recovery process required that I also listen to my body. Much of that dualistic listening took place in the bathroom, which may be the perfect spot to have to endure premature political discourse.

Even without having had surgery, I’ll confess that I have always loved both bathrooms and politics. In today’s age of sound bite mania, it’s hard to tell the two apart.

In being sensitive to what my body was telling me as it slowly healed, I had to carefully respond appropriately. After they mess with your plumbing, believe me, you don’t want to stray too far from the water closet.

But then, I already had that reputation. As a kid, I got ribbed about using the bathroom so much. I tried not to let it bother me. I knew my business better than others, so to speak, and I learned early on to make sure I took care of business as needed.

Honduran outhouse by Bruce Stambaugh
An outhouse in rural western Honduras.

I used to say that I never saw a bathroom I didn’t like, until I went to Honduras. And even then, I learned the valuable necessity of compromise. As I matured, which is still being debated, medical tests proved what I already knew. Bathrooms were my best friends.

When I go to meetings, I always sit on an end chair just in case. In junior high school, I had a permanent hall pass. I made NASCAR pit stops seem inconsequential.

Minutes, hours, days and now weeks after my delicate, nerve-sparing robotic prostate surgery, I have learned that spending quality time in bathrooms is both a necessity and a positive sign of healing. In that unmentionable course of action, I have learned that patience is definitely a virtue.

I am looking forward to the continued healing and to hopefully hearing the words “cancer free” at my next doctor’s appointment. About 218,000 men in the United States are diagnosed each year with prostate cancer and more than 35,000 die from it annually. (See BlueCure.com for more information.)

Given those statistics, I absolutely feel fortunate to be able to share, even if it is about bathrooms. Premature presidential politics, on the other hand, is another matter.

Healing among the mourners

World War II Memorial by Bruce Stambaugh
My father, Richard H. Stambaugh, 89, got his only visit to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. courtesy of Honor Flight. As part of a review of the first decade of the 21st century, this picture appeared on the front page of nytimes.com on Dec. 24, 2009, three days after Dad had died.

By Bruce Stambaugh

In August, I emotionally crashed and burned. I thought I had been dealing pretty well with my father’s death late last year. Truth is, I wasn’t dealing with it at all.

Like so many others who have lost loved ones, I kept myself busy, and suppressed any emotions and hurts that spontaneously tried to ooze out at serendipitous times. I denied my suffering perhaps afraid to let myself go. I needed to properly mourn, take care of myself and share with others just how much Dad meant to me.

I thought I had of course. But I was just fooling myself. I know now that what happened to me was inevitable. I was in denial and the resulting consequences finally had caught up to me. I thought I was alone in this internal battle, and had to be strong for our mother and myself.

In his final months and days, Dad had received marvelous care from Hospice of Holmes County, along with the staff at Walnut Hills, the assisted living facility in Walnut Creek, Ohio where he and Mom lived. After his death, I began receiving monthly mailings from Hospice. Most of them had articles and literature on grieving.

Thinking that I was doing just fine, I usually glanced at them and that was it. That information was for others, not me. I was wrong.

The day my emotions hit rock bottom another Hospice mailing arrived. In it was an invitation to attend a special five-week session on grieving. I wasn’t tolerating the depression medicine the doctor had prescribed for me. I decided to stop the meds and start the counseling.

The group was small, which allowed for intimate, personal, confidential sharing. We met once a week for five consecutive Thursdays. I knew most of the handful of people who attended. The lives of rural people tend to intertwine consequentially.

Dick Stambaugh and Bob Dole by Bruce Stambaugh
Seeing Bob Dole, who was instrumental in making the World War II Memorial a reality, seemed to energize my father. Dole is often at the memorial to greet Honor Flight veterens.

Participants made the two hours each week a priority. We laughed, cried, listened and comforted each other. Our common, profound grief, our tears and smiles bonded us together with measureless compassion.

By the end of the final session, I had a greater appreciation for what others go through, how much people hurt even years after losing a loved one. I was no exception. I learned, though, that hearing the varying situations of others helped see my own issues in a new and realistic perspective.

We learned that grieving is an ongoing process. It takes time and understanding.

Still, I saw healing in my fellow mourners, and I felt healing myself. The last night we met, each of us took turns sharing something significant about our loved ones. Pictures, quilts, special mementos were all passed around.

I showed a slideshow of the Honor Flight trip I took with my father and older brother to Washington, D.C. in September 2009. Honor Flight is a program begun a few years ago to transport as many World War II vets as possible to the memorial in their honor in the nation’s capital.

I served as Dad’s guardian for the day, wheeling him around in his wheelchair. My older brother assisted two more able bodied vets. When asked where that experience fit in his 89 years of living, Dad said it ranked right after his marriage.

Knowing how much the trip meant to Dad, my brother and I were blessed to have been a part of that marvelous experience. In the same way, I was honored to have participated in the bereavement small group. The unconditional love and acceptance I experienced were unforgettable and priceless.

The hugs and handshakes upon parting told me the feelings were mutual.

Stambaughs at the WW II Memorial by Bruce Stambaugh
My older brother, Craig, Dad and I posed for a picture at the Ohio pillar at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 12, 2009.