Assistant editor Dan Hoffman never expected his surgery would lead to spiritual growth…
Posted in , Feb 13, 2017
As I’ve learned working at Mysterious Ways, spiritual lessons come from the unexpected sources—in this case, unfortunate news from my doctor. Just before the December holidays, I found out I had a 1.5 centimeter tumor on my thyroid. I wasn’t sick yet, but if I wanted to avoid future complications, I would need to have my thyroid removed and take time off from work to recover.
I wasn’t so much afraid of the operation itself, or any pain (I’m used to it), but of this forced time off. I’m not a workaholic, but coming to the Guideposts office five days a week gives structure and shape to my time. Thinking about those two empty weeks gave me anxiety. What would I do? Would I become depressed or bored? How could I use the time in a meaningful way?
In 2001, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wasn’t a good candidate for chemo. I took tamoxifen instead and gave my trouble to God—just as Dr. Peale suggested in his book, "Thought Conditioners". Since then I’ve remained cancer free. -Guideposts Magazine reader
I slept, as it turned out. After my night spent in the hospital, I mostly lay on the couch and slept in. Normally, I’d feel guilty doing nothing, but my doctor stressed that’s what I was supposed to do: rest. The quality and depth of my sleep improved. I didn’t even meditate like I usually do, because my head felt foggy—and yet I didn’t have the usual stress or anxiety I feel when I skip. I wasn’t particularly aware of time passing at all—whether quickly or slowly.
The most remarkable event occurred the first weekend, still early in my recovery. A temporary side effect of thyroid removal is poor calcium absorption, so I had to take supplements. That day, my calcium level was particularly low. The tell-tale signs were pronounced—numbness and tingling in the extremities and lips. The doctor on call suggested I go to the ER. I spent seven hours there; they tested my blood twice, and gave me two doses of intravenous calcium. Of course, this experience left a lot to be desired. Inner city ERs are not fun places. Nevertheless, I found myself thinking, well, I’m here—nothing to be done but see it through.
It occurred to me that my perspective on life was going through a subtle but important change. So often, I think about how to fill my days, how to structure them… how to control them. My fears over how I would pass my time were unwarranted. I passed my time healing—beyond that, it didn’t matter. How often do any of us take time for that? Even friends noticed a difference. One person said I seemed remarkably at ease. It was as if I’d relaxed my grip on myself. While I was physically healing, I was spiritually healing too. It seemed that undergoing a surgery—a shock and trauma to the body—had the effect of calling up spiritual resources I didn’t know I had. In a way I rarely experience, I was able to simply be.
Now that I’m back to work, my days have more or less returned to normal. I wouldn’t want to go through surgery again, nor would I wish the experience on someone else, but my recovery time showed something to strive for. Those “empty” spaces I used to drive myself crazy trying to fill? They’re already booked as time to heal.