There are times – let’s be brutally honest for a moment – when even the strongest of the faithfully strong tries to cast the most loathsome and fearfully dark thoughts into the furthest recesses of the soul.
But for those of us who are not the strongest of the spiritually strong but the weakest of the weak, yeah, the anchor doesn’t even begin to hold. We crash against the rocks of despair and become buffeted about by winds we have no chance of taming.
Long past then is there even hope of seeing, much less, believing, in the mariner’s blessing for “fair winds and following seas.”
I count myself amongst the weakest of the weak.
Oh, I had promised myself how brave I’d be and how l’d brush aside even the faintest glint of worry regarding yet one more spinal fusion; the fifth overall and the forth for the lower back in the past 10 years.
Yeah, that should be more than sufficient to dismiss any fears I could possibly have. After all, I was a multi-times veteran of such work – and such work helped pilot me to an early retirement and bunch more days afield, on the stream, hunkered over the shooting bench at the gun club and in the company of my two retrievers, Berry and Millie.
But I was only whistling past the graveyard, so to speak. I mistook my false boldness for the truth, failing to remember that my feet are made of clay. Or in the common vernacular, I lied.
So when I actually got to Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Village it was cut bait time for the emergence of every dark thought to allow that old serpent, Satan – and Satan does do his best to whisper he’s not real – just the right moment to drag them all out into the open.
I won’t tell you what my blood pressure was when I was prepped during the pre-op steps. Let’s just say one of the numbers was only a bit south of 200 while the other number was a shade north of 100. I did some deep breathing, whacked some cold slaps to my ego and said a round of prayer with my wife, Bev and Christian sister Kristine. To tame things a bit.
The work would be in the hands of the Cleveland Clinic’s top neurosurgeon and whether she know from whence came her talentss, that is not in my purview.
Somewhere midway through the surgery the windstorm that chopped at Northeast Ohio cut down the hospital’s electrical power. For a quick flicker the hospital was pitched into night until the institution’s back-up generator kicked in. That power up allowed the neurosurgeon to finish up with the couple hours’ worth of work left on me, the surgeon’s eyes looking for a pair of nerve roots maybe a couple millimeters in diameter.
Thing is, the hospital’s protocols say that on-going surgeries are to continue but any other operations scheduled after that and while the institution’s back-up generator is still burning diesel fuel; well, no. The generator does provide electricity but at a reduced level. Besides, there is no backup to the backup.
Think about that for a moment. Had I not been assigned to the station in the surgical schedule I was placed - in other words, had I been the neurosurgeon’s next patient - my surgery would have been delayed for who knows how long. That would have meant more days and weeks of pain and, well, additional gear accumulating in my already overflowing worry box..
Just as nasty - as many of you will note with either a chuckle, shake of the head, or both – I’d have been forced to postpone the back surgery well into the goose- and deer-hunting seasons. Or just as bad if not much worse, at the start of the late winter steelhead-fishing season.
Oh, there’s more to this Lord’s blessing, if you please..
The neurosurgeon had figured she’d have to cut through the scar tissue that had come about via the three previous lower back fusions. Which she did, too, but which (strangely enough or not strangely enough, depending upon your faith’s point of view) turned out to be a very fine thing indeed.
You see, scar tissue has no nerves to speak of. Nor blood. And today’s scalpels are pretty sharp so the surgeon didn’t have that significant of an issue on that score either.
If truth be told and we will tell it here, the surgeon accomplished not only one or maybe two of the things she was hoping for; she did ‘em all, every single one; lock, stock, barrel, and trout-fishing fly.
Not quite finished with this little story, if you don’t mind me saying so.
All of that long-dead scar tissue – the stuff with neither nerves nor blood vessels – meant that once the surgeon zippered me back up the end result was – IS – virtually no pain. The reason is there’s nothing there left alive to tell the brain that they hurt.
I have not needed to take so much as a single non-prescription Tylenol.
I’m not going to fool myself into believing that I’ll ever be among the strongest of the faithfully strong.
What I will say, though, is that one of my darkest of dark and loneliest of lonely recesses has been illuminated by a Lord who really was with me all along, even when I believed I could do it all by my lonesome
Sometimes a body needs to roll a mustard seed around in the palm of the hand to show just how small he really is.
By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Jeff is the retired News-Herald reporter who covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. During his 30 years with The News-Herald Jeff was the recipient of more than 125 state, regional and national journalism awards. He also is a columnist and features writer for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and details the outdoors happenings in the state.