"Those who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint."
- Isaiah 40:31
It's been three weeks since I took off my organ shoes, shut down the computer and carved out time for surgery and the necessary convalescence. Although my energy is slow to return, I am progressing well and expect to be back to my normal self by the end of the month.
Unlike a similar experience 26 years ago, my current procedure was not life-threatening, and my primary concern is getting back to work as soon as possible and relieving those who have been adding my care to their already consumed lives. But I can't help remembering that other "time out," when the anxiety was greater, and my faith had some stretching to do.
The Bible often uses the expression "40 days and 40 nights" to describe a long or intense period of time. For me, seven weeks in the fall of 1979 was a very long time.
I found the mass myself - lower abdomen, size of my fist. Tumor? Cancer? I tried not to jump to conclusions. I made an appointment with my doctor for Sept. 7.
"My, that's a big one! ... Let's see when we can schedule you for surgery."
The appointment secretary shook her head. "We don't have an open date until the end of October. Shall we schedule her for the 30th?"
With the date set, paperwork in hand and shaky knees intruding on my mobility, I prepared to leave. The doctor, as skilled in mind-reading as in medicine, did his best. "The risk of cancer is small," he said, "though we can't rule it out. But you leave the worrying to us, OK?"
Sure, doc - no problem. My faith was strong. I'd had lots of practice "casting all my care upon God" (I Peter 5:7), and I knew the verse, "The prayer of faith shall save the sick" (James 5:15). Besides, if healing wasn't in the plan for me, God's heaven was ready and waiting.
My optimism might have lasted past the first five minutes if it hadn't been for all those days and nights ahead - and the less than optimistic mood of nearly everyone else.
"Mum, why are you having a hysterectomy?" My son had been talking with his friends.
"Do you know what a tumor is?
Gwen called. She'd had a recent mastectomy. "If you need someone to talk to...." Another caller told me in detail about a relative undergoing chemotherapy. I found it hard not to drown in stream of consciousness thinking.
At church the following Sunday a woman with worry etched in her face assured me I was going to a wonderful hospital where the food was wonderful, too, "although you won't feel like eating anything for awhile."
Wednesday night prayer meeting included this from the cadre of the concerned: "And, oh Lord, please help Barbara as she faces surgery. May it not be malignant, but if it is, help her to accept your will." I resisted the urge to pray in rebuttal, and resolved not to go back to prayer meeting again, at least until after surgery.
Similar calls and comments continued until, finally, one friend wrote: "Claim victory! Don't worry about those who are untrusting. Your surgery reminds them that they, too, are mortal." My attitude softened.
The day before surgery I was counseled by the head nurse, the anesthesiologist and the chaplain, and examined by three doctors. Lastly my surgeon explained one more procedure.
"Before we begin, but while you're under anesthesia, we'll do a simple biopsy and wait for the results. If there's a malignancy, we'll cancel surgery and determine another course."
I respond, "If I wake up hurting, then I'll be all right?"
He smiled. My 40 days and 40 nights were almost over.
The noisy nurse barked me awake and administered the first stage of sedation. The noise abated. Someone helped me onto a gurney, and I began the bumpy ride past frocked personnel to the operating room. The surgeon greeted me. It was just past 7 a.m.
I thought I was watching television, but the screen morphed into a large clock with a second hand sweeping past the numbers like radar. The time: 20 minutes after 11.
The young man beside me in the recovery room was crying.
"It hurts! It hurts!"
I hurt, too, but I didn't cry.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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