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

Reflecting on an unhealthy year

January sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

This hasn’t been the healthiest year of my life. It began in January with bronchitis that turned into pneumonia and has ended with recuperation from a second surgery.

In between, of course, came the confirmation of prostate cancer. I had to endure uncomfortable tests to determine both its presence and infiltration into my body. Fortunately, the cancer was caught early, and removed without major complications.

Helping hands by Bruce Stambaugh
My good wife braved the cold winter elements to fill the bird feeders while I was sick.

I chose the robotic or da Vinci surgery to get rid of the cancer as opposed to the regular radical surgery. The da Vinci was proven to be less intrusive, cause less pain, have less blood loss, be more exact in saving the bundle of nerves that control men’s precious plumbing, and have a quicker recovery.

I was more than glad I went that route. Of course, like anyone else facing surgery, especially surgery for cancer, I ran the full gamut of emotions that ranged from anger to fear to doubt to denial. Still, I wanted that cancer out of my body. My good doctor expertly did just that.
Bluebird by Bruce Stambaugh
After the surgery, I knew I had to behave and follow the instructions religiously. With the aid of my wonderful wife, I did my best to get my life as close to being back to normal as possible.

My recovery was progressing along nicely until I had an unexpected sidetrack, which led to my second surgery. Repairing a hernia certainly isn’t life threatening, but it did set me back considerably in my initial rehabilitation from my May surgery.

Kids and balloons by Bruce Stambaugh
My grandchildren did their best to keep me smiling.

The second surgery was also successful, and once again my recovery has gone well. I still have some lifting limitations that I tried unsuccessfully to get the doctor to extend for six years.

All that being said, I tried to keep my focus on others. Clearly, many, many people in this socially connected world of ours have had or do have it much worse off than me. The last thing I wanted was to feel sorry for myself. But I did. I’m a man. What would you expect?

Mom's birthday by Bruce Stambaugh
My mother celebrated her 90th birthday in June.

My wife made sure my self-pity didn’t last long. Thankful to be alive and alert, I worked around my physical limitations as best I could by trying to focus on the circumstances of others. There are lots of hurting people out there who have it much worse than me. Friends, relatives and even friends of friends are going through unthinkable miseries.

But think of them I must. To be down and out, sick or disabled through some accident or illness is bad enough. To be that way during the approaching holidays makes it all the harder. I try to visit and pray and do whatever I can to help. They did that for me. It’s the least I can do for them.

Three survivors by Bruce Stambaugh
Three prostate cancer survivors, Kim Kellogg, Randy Murray and me.

I greatly appreciated the kindnesses shown to me. I feel obliged to return the favor wherever and whenever I can.

Chances to help unexpectedly present themselves. The key to being helpful is recognizing when those opportunities arise, and responding accordingly.

Being a survivor, I hope I never forget that that’s exactly what I need to do. Respond where and when I can, even if it’s just listening and holding a hand. Having company in times of personal distress is a mighty gift that needs no unwrapping.

This has been an unhealthy year for me. But I’m here. I made it, grateful to be alive and determined to help those in need, even if it is nothing more than offering a smile.
Foggy sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh

I hate waiting, especially in hospitals

by Bruce Stambaugh

I am not an impatient person. But I hate waiting.

For me, that is not a contradiction. There is a gulf between waiting and impatience. Delays in life, often inconvenient, are inevitable. New York City cabbies, with their persistent honking, are not my model for waiting.

When my son had surgery last week, waiting became part of the routine, more than either my wife, his wife or I cared to tolerate. His surgery was scheduled for evening one day, then postponed until early afternoon the next and yet delayed again. It was frustrating. But when you are at the wrong end of the scalpel, what choice do you have?

That state pertains to concerned family, too. When you are assigned to a room appropriately labeled “Waiting 1,” that’s what you do. Time seems to stand still. You feel stuck in an institutional time warp.

The hospital tried to accommodate relatives in 21st Century style. Each family was given a four-digit tracking number for confidentiality purposes. In turn, that number was displayed on a blue and white lined electronic board in proximity of each family waiting area. It was like checking the status of a flight at an international airport.

I grew a little anxious when my son’s number didn’t even appear long after he had been taken to the operating room. Finally when it did, the message simply indicated the original time of his surgery, information that we knew was inaccurate.

The sign continued to display numbers of other patients who were at various stages of their surgeries. Impersonal but efficient “Patient in OR,” “Patient out of OR,” and “Surgery start time” scrolled by in herky-jerky fashion.

About the time his surgery should have ended, the waiting room phone rang. It had rung earlier for other families, indicating that their family member was either going into surgery or was in recovery.

Our lovely daughter-in-law took the call. Wives always trump fathers. That’s life’s pecking order as defined in Robert’s Rules of Order or Hints from Heloise or Emily Post.

“He’s just now going into surgery,” our daughter-in-law said puzzled.

We waited some more. My wife called us for an update on how the surgery had gone. I had to tell her that the surgery had just begun. She arrived in Waiting 1 a half-hour later, and joined the Team Waiting.

We surfed the web via the free Internet service. We chatted quietly and took a few phone calls. And we waited and waited.

It was supposed to be a simple, in-and-out type surgery. In our hearts, we knew no surgery was indeed “simple.” Silent prayers were offered, and yet we waited far longer than we ever imagined.

Finally, nearly four hours after his original surgery start time, the sign said, “Patient out of surgery.” But we waited for human confirmation.

Shortly before 4:30 p.m., the surgeon informed us that Nathan’s gall bladder was so badly inflamed that an incision had to be made instead of the planned laparoscopy. Nathan was fine, but he would be in the hospital three to four more days.

Our wait was over. Only now another had begun, a wait that hopefully, would be more tolerable. We all were anxious to see Nathan, to hold his hand and hear him complain. For that happy reunion, we had to wait another long 30 minutes. But I would have waited a lifetime.