Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Tue 6/29/2004 4:50 AM
Random Thought: Laparoscopy

Did you know that laparoscopy isn't Latin for "quick" and "easy." I thought it did. It doesn't. Then, again, Latin and I weren't bosom lovers in high school. Talking about being made painfully aware how simple-minded I was, I also thought think laparoscopy may have been Greek for "painless" and "simple. Never having had invasive surgery, never having taken pain meds, never having taken novocain when the dentist drilled and ground, having a himalayan high threshold of pain, I didn't have a clue. I was cavalier to think that this surprise hernia surgery would be a quick-in-quick-back-to-normal operation. After all, when it popped up I wasn't in pain or discomfort or anything. It was just an innocuous bulge. After all, I wasn't going to be sliced open. After all, the surgeon was only going to make three very small poke holes. After all, I was going to be in and out of the hospital and back home in literally five hours. I was convinced I'd be working out and power walking and building and gardening as if nothing had happened within a week! I refused to listen to my Susan who has a tic-tac-toe board of surgical scars decorating her beautiful stomach. After all, why should I listen to her. Her pain threshold is so low that a splinter puts her into ICU while mine is so high that I've had a 16 penny nail go through my foot leaving me with little more than a mild residual ache.

But, you know "in-and-out" is a far cry from "up-and-at-'em." My abs quickly clued me in. "Hey, macho man, you can't move a muscle without us," they smirked. "You mess with us; we'll mess back with you." Doggone, mess with me they did. Being careless enough to think this operation was a "piece of cake," I was quickly eating crow.

Luckily, I have my guardian and healing angel. Heeding the doctor, my angelic Susan put chevrons on her sleeves, and became something between a steely eyed, stern voiced, commanding drill sergeant and a smiling, loving mother hen. I think I'm at the receiving end of what is called tough love.

My Susan understands with her low threshold of pain. She understands pain. She knew better than I what I was about to go through. So, she could be understanding of my pain when I first couldn't. She wasn't surprised when I was at first stunned. Of course, this didn't stop her from lovingly rubbing a little "get even" salt of "I told you so" into my three laparoscopic wounds. This has been a humble lesson for me. I won't forget how I, during those first few days, needed an engineering degree to get in and out of bed without feeling I was being drawn and being pulled apart on a torture rack. The second day, I surprised myself. I felt the pain after the surgical anesthetic wore off. I knew if I felt the pain, it must be some kind of pain! I didn't run away from it or deny it. In fact, I screamed out, "Screw this macho shit. Give me those meds." And, to my surprise, I didn't feel the lesser for it. I actually felt smarter, more relieved, and more relaxed. I didn't have to play the grimacing he-man role and put on airs. In fact, I called my expectant daughter-in-law to proclaim, "The hell with natural childbirth. Take the epidural!"

After two weeks, no workouts; no quick movements; no lifting more than ten pounds. I haven't power walked since the Wednesday before Memorial Day weekend. I am forbidden to bend over, to sit at the computer for extended times, to tend my garden, to haul building materials, to build what I wanted to build, to climb slowly more than a flight of stairs. The best I can do is stroll for about a mile each day at what is for me a tired slug's pace. Anyway, after two weeks, to my surprise I have been a disgustingly obedient and patient patient. No biting at the bit; no sneaky disobedience; no objections. Just a series of submissive "yes, ma'am" to my caring Susan.

I had another surprise. Two days ago, a close friend of mine had laparoscopic gall bladder surgery. I found how I could identity better with her distress and pain; I wasn't judgemental as I might have been; I moved towards her pain rather than be cavalier about it and dismiss it as a weakness. In fact, I took on her husband, who sounded like I would have two weeks ago. He told her to get up and moving because it "was nothing, but a few holes. I get bigger holes when I step on nails at the job site." And I came to her defense. I, who, had always chided my Susan threse nearly forty years about her low threshold of pain.

So, here I am, with three slowly closing, very itchy, annoying, highly sensitive, distracting, restricting holes lined up in a row across my stomach (I hope the one below my belly button heals so I have a "smilely"), stranded to meditate on the pre-dawn newly screened-in patio, on the front door stoop, or by the fishpond. And, my thoughts this morning are stunning me.

I am now like a baby who is encountering a sound for the first time. I listen more and better to pain. I am less pained by pain. I have pained and I have gained. I have expanded my empathy and compassion. It is no longer sabotaged by an arrogant and self-righteousness feeling of some kind of superiority because I am able to suffer through and endure pain, and that there's an inherent inferiority about being otherwise. It has increased my capacity to care. It has given me a greater appreciation. It has strengthened my connections. It has made me more intently aware. It has sharpened my ability to listen. It has made me more present and devoted. I am more moved by distress. I am less in my way.

This operation may have poked holes through my abs, but it has also opened my heart; it may have temporarily weakened my stomach muscles, but to my surprise it has permanently strengthened my heart muscle.

It's a good lesson for the classroom for honoring the reality of the physical, intellectual, social, and personal pains of students; for noticing students who are in need.

It's a good lesson for life.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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