Lessons from a Life-Saving Surgery

Through the turmoil of a week-long hospital stay, thoughts on suffering, trust and comfort.

Posted in , Aug 22, 2021

Rick Hamlin

“What did you do for your summer vacation?” used to be a classic back-to-school question. My answer for this summer—the summer my wife wishes she could forget—is that I had two long stays in the hospital. Two weeks in early July because of a lung infection. And a week in August for heart surgery.

The heart surgery is something I knew would have to happen. I had open-heart surgery almost 14 years ago because of an aortic aneurysm. The new valve would have to be replaced…someday.

Someday came. With a vengeance. That August morning, I woke up, stood at the window and panted for breath. Gasping for air. My wife said it went on for 40 seconds. 

I called my cardiologist. He said I needed to go into the E.R. immediately. There I waited 36 hours to get a bed on the cardiac ward—hospitals are crowded these days. The valve replacement surgery could be done arthroscopically, without opening up my chest. Tests were taken, and surgery was scheduled.  

All went well and after a couple of days I was sent home to recover. 

I’m much better now. Breathing freely and comfortably. Going for walks every morning up to our beautiful park where the flowers are gorgeous. Getting in touch with the Creator. I’m so glad to be home.

But I don’t want to forget any of the lessons I’ve learned through all this turmoil. Just a few thoughts.

Suffering is part of life. Suffering is part of being human. To love is to suffer and to suffer is part of love. I hated putting my family through this (bless them, they visited every day). But as I listened to stories in the E.R. and heard the groans on the cardiac ward, I could pray for those suffering around me. We were in this together.

Take comfort in others’ prayers. Sometimes in my despair, I simply couldn’t pray. I’d cry out, “God, help me,” missing that inner peace. Then I’d get a text or an email or a call from some beloved. They were praying for me.

Give thanks for the caregivers. The front-line workers were keeping me alive. Without their ministrations and tests (countless CT-scans, EKGs and echocardiograms), pills and treatments, I would not be here. I am alive thanks to them.

Trust in God’s will. “Why me?” I’d ask. Don’t I take care of my health? Don’t I eat right and get plenty of exercise. At such times, I’d remind myself that God’s will is much bigger than anything I could possibly imagine. God’s will is always at work.

Embrace your mortality. In these days, I have found that my fear of dying, that aching sense of mortality, has left me. I think of how Jesus would often remind the disciples of the suffering and death He would face (far worse than anything we could know). Without it there would be no Resurrection. Death is not the end.

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