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

Beautiful view, horrific history

Shenandoah NP, New Hope VA
The one thing that constantly amazes me is how much I learn by taking photos. And often what I learn has more to do with the setting than photography itself. This photo is the perfect example.

Anyone would be happy to take this shot. I certainly was. The late afternoon light was perfect shining on the Blue Ridge Mountains, highlighting the ice-encrusted trees along the undulating summit. This is the southern section of Shenandoah National Park.

I noticed a historical plaque close to where I had stopped to get the shot. So I pulled up to read what the plate said. I was stunned. Here among all these rolling farm fields against the backdrop of the mesmerizing Blue Ridge Mountains a bloody, decisive Civil War battle had been fought. Known as the Battle of Piedmont, Union soldiers defeated Confederate troops. This led to the fall of Staunton and control of the railways in the Shenandoah Valley, known as the Breadbasket of Confederacy.

The combat was costly on both sides. The Union suffered 800 casualties and the South nearly twice as many with 1,500. I wondered if passersby knew of the blood spilled all those decades ago. What did the farmers think as they plowed those fields?

I took the photo with mixed emotions. The scenery was marvelous, the history humbling. Without the marker, this would be just another beautiful rural scene. In reality, it is so much more than that.

“Beautiful view, horrific history” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

What the Olympic athletes can teach us

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I love watching the Winter Olympics on television.

We wonder wide-eyed at the participants bouncing down the mogul runs, throwing in a couple of showy back-flip jumps before zipping across the finish line. I’m always amazed that the skiers and snowboarders have any teeth left as they broadly grin at the in-your-face TV cameras.

Gold medal by Charles Deluvio.
We gasp at the speed of the bobsledders, especially if there is a crash careening the sled and riders down the slippery slope like ragdolls. The same is true with the downhill skiers. Curling is much more my style.

We marvel at the ability of the athletes to overcome mistakes and carry on. Figure ice-skating is a prime example.

Most of the skating athletes are young. I won’t pretend to understand or know the various requirements or vocabulary of the sport. I just know it takes incredible skill and practice to even qualify. The pressure has to be enormous being in the bright lights of the arena, cameras rolling, coaches, family, friends, teammates, and the rest of the electronically tuned-in world watching.

They synchronize their routines with the music the skaters chose. Each performance requires certain moves and skills to positively impress the judges and meet the necessary requirements.

The athletes have practiced and practiced and practiced. And then it happens. On a tricky maneuver, spinning like a human top, the landing is slightly imperfect. The skater falls or at the very least touches the ice with a hand that subtracts precious points.

And still, they carry on as best they can with their routines, desperately trying to regain the rhythm and pace of their choreographed performance. The adrenaline must be pumping. Their minds must be racing, yet they continue, either flawlessly or as too often happens, with further miscues.

Skier by Nicolai Berntsen
No matter what country they represent, my heart goes out to them. All that time, effort, money, and travel, previous competing, sacrificing, just for this moment. In an instant, with a slight stumble or inability to fulfill the required maneuvers, their moments in the spotlights dim.

The cameras zoom in as the performance ends. No forced smiles or automatic hand waves to the appreciative crowds can conceal their emotions. They know they have missed their chance. The despair can’t be hidden.

There is only one thing for them to do. These amateur athletes have to act like professionals. They accept the flowers and gifts that are affectionately showered on them from the audience in anticipation of perfection regardless of the real results.

No doubt their coaches will school their understudies on their errors, encourage them, remind them that they can do it. The athletes get themselves ready for the next event and try again.

Whether they are in the running for a medal or not, the contestants keep on competing. It’s that simple. Their next performance can only be improved upon if they learn from their mistakes, practice, and try, try, try again. Some competitors, however, may have to wait another four years for that opportunity.

Teenagers win gold medals. Veteran Olympian medalists fail to qualify to stand on the coveted awards podium. It indeed is “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” to quote the late Jim McKay.

Failing is a part of life. It’s a way to learn, to improve, and to be a better person, to be resilient. It’s just one of the reasons I enjoy the Olympics as much as I do, especially curling.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Introducing a few of the people I’ve met along life’s path

gathering of friends, Fernandina Beach FL
We recently gathered with friends in Fernandina Beach, FL. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

There can be no mistake about it. I enjoy meeting new people. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the guys and gals I already know. I like them, too, and the stories and friendships we share.

Of course, I love my family. They mean the world to me. I hope they think likewise.

I find there is just something personally memorable about meeting strangers who so willing and so easily engage in conversation. It might be the only one we have, and then we all move on. Then again, happenstance encounters might lead to endearing bonds. You never know unless you take a risk.

I’m glad for folks who feel the same way. Otherwise, life wouldn’t nearly be as sunny. To be sure, traveling takes away the home field advantage for everyone. We’re all standing on neutral ground.

Dick Stambaugh, Marian Stambaugh, Bruce Stambaugh, parents
My late parents, Dick and Marian Stambaugh. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
I attribute my willingness to smile and greet others to two factors. One was my gregarious father, who knew no strangers. He enjoyed exploring nature and history, and the fear of asking was never a fault. Tact, however, didn’t seem to be in his repertoire. People liked him anyhow.

The other is my intense yearning for learning. And the only way to satisfy that is to listen, look, read, ask and explore. Hopefully, I mind my manners in the process.

Travel enhances the desire to gain new understandings. It also has afforded plenty of opportunities to meet and know many fine folks. A few of them come to mind.

While visiting San Antonio’s world famous River Walk, I casually asked a local police officer where the best place to eat lunch was. He deferred, saying he wasn’t permitted to make recommendations.

sunrise, Grand Canyon
Sunrise at Shoshone Point, Grand Canyon, AZ. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015.
I reworded my question. “Where are you going to eat lunch?” I asked. He told me, and we waved to each other as he walked in.

We found a young ranger equally helpful at Grand Canyon National Park. When he finished his talk, I asked him where the best place was to view the sunrise.

The wise young man looked around, leaned in and whispered, “Shoshone Point.” We weren’t disappointed the next morning.

When vacationing in Fernandina Beach, Florida, I kept seeing the same woman evening after evening taking photos of the sunset over the town’s harbor on the Intercostal waterway. We talked, shared about photography, and the next thing I knew Lea had invited me to her home for a camera club meeting.

photography, Fernandina Beach FL
My friend Lea being Lea. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
I can tell we’re going to be photographic comrades for a long time.

More than 30 years ago, Neva and I attended a church conference in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We stayed in an old brick farmhouse of a very gracious guest. We hit it off right away, despite my lame attempts at humor. I especially loved Mary’s tasty and colorful meals. We’ve been friends ever since, even attending her wedding. Now we love her saint of a husband just as much as Mary.

photography, friends
Impromptu photo situations are my favorite with friends. © Bruce Stamaugh 2015
Several years ago, Neva and I met Sharon, a nationally syndicated columnist, at a book signing in Toledo of all places. We hit it off right away and have been communicating and encouraging one another’s writing ever since.

These are but a few examples of the many, many kind people we have met along life’s meandering path. I’d run out of ink if I mentioned everyone.

Besides, you know who you are. Thanks so much for being our friends.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015