Recovery: An Analogy

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A reflection on recovery offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio. Fr. Funston is not preaching during August and September, 2017, while recuperating from total knee replacement surgery and will, from to time, offer reflections in place of sermons.

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Recovery. It’s what they call the process that comes after surgery. A physician cuts you open, spends a few minutes or hours doing whatever needs to be done, sews (or staples or glues) you up, and they wheel you out of the surgical theater and into the recovery room. Recovery has started, but when you leave the recovery room it isn’t over. It goes on and on for days, weeks, even months.

Recovery. It’s what they call the process that comes after a natural disaster. An earthquake, a tornado, a forest fire, a hurricane cuts through your community, spends a few minutes or hours or days doing whatever is really not needed, then leaves doing nothing at all to sew up the lives impacted, and there’s no recovery room. But recovery has nonetheless started, and it won’t be over for a long, long time. It goes on and on for days, weeks, months, even years. It goes on for lifetimes.

Consider the recovery process I have embarked on after total knee replacement surgery. After a couple of days in the hospital, I came home unable to bear any weight on my leg, walking only very short distances with the aid of a four-footed framework called a “walker.” Ha! What a silly a name! They should call them “creepers” because that’s the pace one travels over those short, usually-less-than-ten-foot distances. I also began the practice of rounds of low impact exercises.

The first of these consisted simply of moving my foot in a motion like pumping a gas pedal; five or ten slow repetitions and my lower leg muscles needed a rest. After a few minutes, the second exercise was to rotate my foot in a clockwise directions ten circles, then back counter-clockwise ten circles, the a few more minutes of rest. Those were the most active exercises; there were also isometric, tense-and-hold exercises of the gluteus and quadriceps muscles. All told, these motions and “sets” took the better part of thirty minutes.

Meanwhile, my leg was swollen and bruised. I swear its circumference was twice that of the other limb. The bruising, a very dark black-blue-purple, extended from groin to instep. And my knee was transected by an eight-inch incision that was puckered, inflamed, and scabby.

After that half hour of exercise there was a half hour of ice application, and then simply resting in a recliner with my foot elevated, foot above knee, knee above hip until time for the next round of exercises about an hour later. This routine was repeated every day for the first week. My physical therapist would add one or two new exercises every other day as my strength and range of motion increased. Now, three weeks out from surgery, the scabs are gone, the incision is closed, my leg is less swollen, and I am walking with a cane, although I still can’t climb stairs very quickly; I can at least go to the second floor of my home and take a shower.

I have yet to have a visit with my surgeon, but my in-home physical therapy has ended and I anticipate transition to out-patient therapy. I am told that the swelling will take another three to six months to fully abate. When that day arrives, I suppose, I will be as recovered as I am going to get from this orthopedic procedure. I will not be as I was before; I will have a hunk or two of titanium and some plastic pads where my natural knee used to be and that eight-inch scar.

Now . . . consider Houston. The city was ripped open by Hurricane Harvey with none of the surgical precision my orthopedist used cutting open my knee, and the damage done was not limited to a designated site. It is, by analogy, must worse off than I might have been at the end of the operation. It has taken my 504 hours since an hour long surgery to get to this point of “recovery.” Hurricane Harvey and its rains continued for the better part of a week: its rains started on August 24; it made landfall on August 25; after several days of rain, the sun finally reappeared later on August 30. Just imagine that for Houston and surrounding communities to get to the limping-with-a-cane it will take the same 504-to-one ratio of time that my recovery has taken to date. That’s 504 weeks; that’s nearly ten years.

That’s a silly, analogical estimate of something that will take much, much longer. And, in truth, there are people who will never recover, people who died, people who lost loved ones, people who were grievously, and permanently injured. There will be recovery, but there will never be complete recovery. Houston will never be as it used to be. And there will never be “closure” (a ridiculous concept to begin with). There will be, one prays, reconciliation to the current and future reality. There will be, one prays, some modicum of peace.

That, however, will need the support of the whole nation . . . which brings me to the last bit of this metaphorical meditation. During the first week of my recovery I received three or four get-well cards every day and numerous emails and texts. The second week, I got a couple. Last week, not one. My family, my friends, my parishioners, my colleagues moved on; my initial trauma was of great interest. The long, dull, painful process of recovery less so. Compassion fatigue set in.

That must not be allowed to happen to Houston. Compassion fatigue must be fought and defeated. Houston’s recovery will take a long time, and Houston will need our support for years and years!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

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