What it’s like recovering from a long-term injury

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I’m looking back on a year of very low activity on this blog. I never thought I’d slow down this much. There are three primary reasons for it. I can share two of them, one today and another tomorrow or Tuesday. The first one has to do with what it’s like recovering from a long-term injury. There’s more to it than most people realize.


Recovering from a long-term injury

It’s been eleven weeks since my fourth foot surgery for a complicated tendon problem. I’m approaching four years since the injury and the first surgery. I’m in physical therapy now to re-strengthen my lower limbs. On most days it’s about an hour of home therapy, but if I’m having scheduled PT at the hospital it takes about two and a half hours out of my day. Everyone is predicting this will last a year.

That’s not the worst disruption, though. I’ve just thought of a way to explain it.

This is my story, but it’s many other disabled persons’ story, too. I’m sure it’s the same for many stroke patients, only (I’m sure) much more so. If you’ve got a friend or family member with a long-term disability or injury, I’m writing this for them as much as for myself. I suggest you ask them to read this, and then ask if it helps them describe any of what they’re going through. The physical aspects are challenging in ways that are easy to see. To every long-term disability, however, there’s a hidden challenge that others may not easily understand. I’m hoping this will help.

I’ll start with an analogy. This will communicate best if you’ve ever helped anyone learn to drive.

It was fascinating to me, when I was helping my son and daughter learn to drive, just how much mental energy they spent on operating the vehicle: how much to turn the wheel, when to hit the brakes in order to stop on time, how hard to push the pedals, and so on. They had almost no capacity left to notice things like traffic lights changing or cars merging onto the expressway. I had to serve as their eyes for them; they literally didn’t have mental space left over see the things a driver needs to see to drive safely.

They could navigate to familiar places but they could never have followed a map to someplace new. Their minds were fully occupied with making the car move forward without hitting anything, and that was all they could do. For experienced drivers, of course, none of that involves any mental effort whatsoever. When was the last time you actually thought about how fast to accelerate out of a turn?

Similarly, when’s the last time you had to think about how to take a step? I don’t mean taking a step on rough or uneven ground, but just walking across your living room. During this phase of my recovery, I spend at least some mental energy on every step I take.

I had developed habits, you see, of sometimes walking flat-footed on the left foot, and sometimes pushing off sideways, so as not to irritate the injured part of the foot. My balance-control muscles are badly out of shape, so for stability I tend to walk with my feet spread further apart than they should be. None of that is healthy walking technique. I’ll never correct it unless I concentrate on it. Meanwhile, though, there’s that balance thing going on. I really do start to lose my balance sometimes.

My foot tires easily, which calls for further energy devoted to decision-making, as I ‘ll explain in a moment. By “tires easily,” I mean for example that this morning I got as far as making the coffee and feeding the cat before my foot delivered its first complaint of fatigue. That was the best it had done since the last surgery. Even a short-lived experience of normalcy like that, while pleasant, was distracting. I couldn’t help noticing and thinking about it.

Pain is tiring in itself, and pain is present with nearly every step I take. Sometimes it’s a debilitating ache that goes all the way up into the hip. Sometimes overuse doesn’t lead to pain, though. Sometimes with little warning and without any standard sensation of pain or tiredness, my ankle simply decides not to hold me up. I’ve only fallen the floor once from that happening, and it was when I was already leaning forward to look get a shoe out of my closet; still, it’s a disconcerting and debilitating feeling to know that my foot might just decide not to do its job of holding me up on the next step.

So as I said, that leads to further decisions: Do I use crutches? The answer is often yes, if I’m going further than just across the room. But what if I need to carry something? Do I use a backpack? Most of the time I do, but it’s not much help if I want to take a coffee cup along. I have to pause to get my car keys out of my pocket. A phone call will stop me dead in my tracks.

Mostly, though, I have to think about every step I take. To be standing upright isn’t just a physical challenge for me. It’s a matter of expending constant extra mental energy on ordinary activity. I used to walk a mile every afternoon. It was usually my most productive “think” time of the day. Now if I’m walking, if I’m thinking about anything other than walking, then by necessity I’m thinking about two things at once. Either that, or else I’m walking in those bad habits I mentioned above. It’s tiring to work that way.

Last night I had a great night’s rest, nine full hours. Today I had nothing urgent to do, and I got about a 90-minute nap. I feel fairly rested for the first time in weeks. I think now you might understand better why I would feel that way.


That’s part of what’s been slowing me down: I don’t have as much energy to think and write as I’d like to have. I keep thinking I’m going to get this blog active again. I do think that day is coming. There’s more  going on, though—much better news than this, mostly, though with a bittersweet side to it as well. I’ll be back with it in a day or two.

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5 Responses to “ What it’s like recovering from a long-term injury ”

  1. Thanks for this post, Tom.

    Hang in there – very likely, better health is in your future soon. And it is for sure… eventually, when we get those bodies which don’t fall apart or get broken. I was down for much of the summer with a slipped disk in my neck. Sleeplessness, pain, drugs, therapy, walking like an old man. It was a big deal, and for all I knew, this was my future. Then unexpectedly, things took an upturn. Know that whatever you manage to do when down is enough, enough for God to use. Your trust is all he really wants, and I take it he’s getting that. If all you could do with lift a little finger, he’d be fully pleased with that, when you’re aiming to love him or your neighbor.

    God bless,
    Dale

  2. Tom,

    In all this, God is yet God. Able to turn evil into good. Hard is just hard – there’s no getting past that. Pain is pain and fatigue is fatigue. And it’s okay to say so. “God, I hate this!” is a phrase I’ve uttered a few times. Christ and Paul and David and….. and…. echo that same humanness. And that’s okay. That isn’t faithlessness. It’s just calling bad, well, bad. Then, from there, to the degree that we can let go – rest in Him. Earl and Dale both expressed our felt-sentiments quite well – we’re praying for you and for yours – Amen.

  3. Strength within trouble.

    What is it?

    Skeptic: “If God gives Christians the strength they need to deal with the issues they face – do you also believe it’s your god who gives strength to atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Jains, etc. when they find the same strength to persevere?”

    Tom: “I think so, depending on what kind of strength they call upon. If it’s strength of character, then likely yes. If it’s magic or idolatry, then no to that degree, though there remains God’s providence and the fact that he is our creator and constant sustainer in a very deep sense that I won’t go into here. Between those two there’s a vast continuum of gray on which I cannot comment.”

    Question: Does God help, care for, favor, help, Non-Christians?

    Answer: Of course. Yes. In Christ we find our proof of that offensive News.

    There are three reasons the question of the Non-Christian’s strength in relation to God, prayers, and so on, reveals an un-scriptural root within the very question itself:

    1) God in Christ in Covenant with Himself – and what that entails where Man is concerned
    2) The fundamental shape of reality
    3) Scripture’s meta-narrative

    Leaving number one and number three alone, and having touched slightly on the second point already, a few more (basic, generalized) observations relative to the second point:

    There is no (metaphysical) possibility of encountering, tasting, perceiving, some contour of the Good, (or truth, or love, or ought, or logic, or personhood……) without tasting some contour of God for (on Christianity) *any* contour or elemental constitution of “reality” that is The Good just is some contour of Goodness Itself, and there is but *one* metaphysical path to such a paradigmatically irreducible (non-eliminative) actuality, and that is, simply, God.

    Another way to put it is to say that there is no part of Creation untouched by Reality – by Actuality. Nothing escapes reality – or – nothing escapes the causal shape of reality – and in fact it would be impossible for such to actualize and there we begin to see the Non-Scriptural nature of the question about this or that Non-Christian’s unavoidable interface with Actuality – with Reality – with God.

    The Shape of Reality is what it is – or – the Grain of Actuality is what it is – and Man – whether he runs his hands against said grain or whether he runs his hands with said grain – is ipso facto interfacing with said grain.

    ***Whether he knows it or not.

    It is not at all obvious that in either Naturalism’s paradigm or in the Christian’s paradigm there is some X somewhere that is free of the fundamental – irreducible – non-eliminative – bottom of reality. It is in this sense that nothing in reality can escape reality’s fundamental nature or shape – that “Metaphysical Shape” being for the Christian – say – God, or love, or Justice, or Mercy, or Delight, or The Good, or Personhood, or what have you.

    Granted, in Naturalism there are no final causes, and hence the phrase “perfect reasoning” is an oxymoron, as Reason herself finds no paradigmatically fundamental shape which, should she (Reason) contradict, will leave her (Reason) as being factually *un*reasonable as there just is no such thing as the morally *un*reasonable. However, on Christianity’s premises, the state of affairs called “perfection” and specifically the perfection of “Being Human” referents factual means and factual ends, such that should Reason herself contradict such irreducible (non-eliminative) contours she (Reason) shall be thereby factually *un*reasonable, factually contradicting the constitutional shape of “Reality”.

    Divine simplicity – or the fundamental bottom of reality – awaits all vectors in that while we can run our hands against that grain – against the grain of reality – we will in doing so only generate painful splinters – as the grain of said Tree (God/Reality) does not bend merely because we run our hands against it. Therein our goals which run contrary to The Good – while achievable – are not and can never actually *sum* to that which is The Good. They may sum to some lesser good – say – our own Self in its own Teleos. All the same reasoning applies just as fully should Man run his hands with said “Grain”. There is that fundamental shape of reality which out-distances the level or the layer that is the finite and mutable teleos – that being God, or Actuality, or Reality, or the Fundamental Bottom of Reality – and so on.

    The OT and the NT speaks the express language of the God Who brings all Nations, all Tongues, all Peoples into His prophetic claims and we find Him doing just that every step of the way, from Non-Hebrew prostitutes asking for help – and they find favor in His eyes – to Hebrew liars asking for help – and they find favor in His eyes – to Non-Hebrews asking for help – and they find favor in His eyes – to thieves asking for help – and they find favor in His eyes – to outsiders asking for help – and they find favor in His eyes – to Ethiopian travelers asking for help – and they find favor in His eyes – and to an entire species called Mankind – finding favor in His eyes – and so on.

    Just as emphatic – we find in Scripture the language of the God Who hears not only the groaning of Man’s Nature and reconciles such to Himself, but, also, apparently, the God Who hears the groaning of every bit of our own particular created order – the world and universe – and there too makes His claim of making all things new.

    To question the Christian God’s interfacing with either Man or Creation – both in their wholeness and in their brokenness, both in covenant and out of covenant, is to completely misunderstand three things:

    Firstly, that God in Christ makes a Covenant with Himself and is in Covenant with Himself where Man is concerned. His Goodness towards us does not depend on us agreeing with Him. He comes to us while we are yet in our darkness.

    Secondly, the metaphysical fact that nothing can escape the fundamental shape of reality.

    Thirdly, Scripture’s entire and singular meta-narrative.

    There’s no Scriptural support for the notion that God does *not* both hear and attend to the prayers and/or interior groans of people both in and out of Covenant with Him.

    Strength” in this context is on the same ontological surface as is Ought or Love or Justice or any other contour of Man – in that such terms – in referring to our Nature’s contours – do not refer to “said stuff” in different ways when it is found in Bob the Christian vs. when it is found in Mary the Buddhist vs. when it is found in Sam the Atheist. Because Man’s nature is a very specific “something” and such just is the state of affairs – full stop.

    Those are all basic concepts which “broadly apply” to the question of God, Prayers, Pain, Man, and our (Man’s) Nature’s groaning.

    In fact, apparently all natures (plural) groan (whatever that means) as all of creation groans (whatever that means) – and apparently God redeems, restores, makes all things new – makes all natures new – “.……the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”