Today, July 20, 2012, marks the first anniversary of my Crohn’s surgery. I have had Crohn’s for eight years and it has won the battle over a few organs. I was in serious pain for just over a month prior to the surgery. I spent my birthday last year, July 18, in pain. The next day I was going to go out with some friends to TGI Friday’s for a Jack Daniel’s steak to celebrate my birthday. I wasn’t feeling well that afternoon and took a nap. I woke up with a 105 degree fever. Leah rushed me to the hospital. I was not a good patient. I was angry. I refused to take the CT scan at first because I knew what they would find. I gave in. I didn’t know what they would find. I was wrong. They found that my colon was perforated and I needed emergency surgery. They let my body rest for the night in the ICU. It was a rough night…
I remember the nurses pushing my bed into the room where they prepped me for surgery. I was, of course, having fun with all the drugs I was on, but I knew what was going on. My Dad and step-mother drove out from Richmond for my surgery. I’m so glad they did. I saw them before going in thinking, “What if this is the last time I see them?” The staff let Leah back in one more time before I went unconscious. She had to hold on my wedding ring while I was in surgery. I remember asking my surgeon how many times he’s done this surgery and he said that my condition was “pretty bad” but that he has done thousands and this sort of thing was his “bread and butter.” I trusted him. These surgeries happen all the time, so why was I so nervous deep down?
Before Leah came back into the prep area to get my ring, I prayed. Even though I was high as a kite on the dilaudid and Valium it was the most serious prayer I ever made. I prayed for the surgeon and that I’d make it out okay. I felt like I couldn’t even pray for no complications. Even if complications happened I didn’t care, I just wanted to come out on the other side. This was the first time I seriously entertained the thought that I might actually die and these are my last few moments awake. Without the surgery I could have easily died in a short period of time, but I didn’t think that was going to happen. I’ll come back to this in a bit.
It was about this time in the afternoon last year I was waking up in the recovery room. I lost about three inches of my colon, 15 cm of my small intestine, and my appendix. I was sitting up in the bed. I opened my eyes and saw my surgeon sitting behind the nurse station doing paper work. He looked up at me and then looked back down. I knew I was okay. Then I felt an incredible amount of pain. A couple of nurses learned I was awake and came to my aid trying to comfort me. They told me my pain had to be down to a 6 before they’d let me out. The pain was at least a 9. I confess–I lied. I told them it was a 6 and they let me out. I just wanted to see my family.
You can read about my experience with Crohn’s in last year’s posts:
So, one year later… To be honest, I have thought about that day and experience every single day since. I still have physical pain and experience this pain every day. The doctors think it may be misfiring neurons–a phantom pain. I can’t sleep at night because I can still feel that something inside of my gut is missing and it makes me uncomfortable in certain positions. I ended up spending 30 days in the hospital last year. I have a 70% chance that I’ll get worse and that I’ll need surgery again in as soon as five years. I’ve been happy. I’ve been grateful. I’ve been sad. I’ve been angry. Just because I’m a Christian doesn’t make pain and suffering any easier. I’ve lectured for hours to university undergraduates on philosophy and the problem of evil. How can a good, omnipotent, and loving God allow such pain in this world? Sure, when we work it out philosophically and theologically it doesn’t become that big of a problem and we can make sense of it. However, experiencing it doesn’t make it any better and it’s not as clear as on paper. I’ve had doubts. I won’t lie about that. But you know what?
Back to my prayer right before surgery. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Religion with a specialization in Biblical Studies and I’m almost done with an MA in Philosophy. I’m not ignorant of doctrine and theology, yet this was the first time I understood justification by faith alone. When I was praying I became incredibly conscious of my own sin and evil. My body may have been out of it from the drugs, but my mind was the sharpest it had ever been in this moment. I realized that there was nothing I could to atone for my own sins. If that moment was indeed the last few minutes of my conscious life, I couldn’t do anything to save myself. I couldn’t justify my wrongs. I couldn’t make things right. I mean, yes, I knew and understood justification by faith alone, but it was never as clear to me as it was then.
C.S. Lewis said that we don’t suffer the way the world suffers. We suffer differently. Why? Because we have hope. Without God there is no objective justice. In the end, the universe will either expand to maximum entropy or suffer a heat death and collapse back in on itself. Life is utterly absurd without objective meaning, purpose, and value. Life can be subjectively absurd–like my inability to understand the meaning, purpose, or even value behind my pain. I can construct my own scaffolding of meaning, purpose, and value behind it but in the words of the early twentieth century atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell, this is a scaffolding of despair.
I ask that you consider helping me and share a message of hope by buying a shirt, which serves as a donation. After 50 shirts are sold the proceeds will help me pay off a great deal of medical bills. Also, please see my video below.
So, what am I doing today on my one year anniversary of my life being indelibly changed? I’m going out in a few hours with the same friends, Josh and Taylor, that we were going to go out with the day before my surgery last year. We are going to TGI Friday’s for a drink and my Jack Daniel’s flat iron steak.
Yes, my life is changed and I have physical and existential pains but my life is good and I don’t have the right to complain. God is good.