My Grandfather’s Cane
Written 26 June, 2017
I missed doing an article last week. During the last 1,065 weeks, or 21 ½ years, of writing for this newspaper, I have missed only three weeks. One of those weeks I was out of the country in Africa. The other, I experienced last minute computer problems and the article, that I did have ready, failed to send. The third was last week. I could say that the deadlines changed but that wouldn’t be the reason. The reason is that I had total knee replacement surgery and, even though I thought I would be able to submit an article in plenty of time, my thinking was wrong.
I really need both knees replaced, something my orthopedist has said for years. We’ve tried a number of treatments, but the results, though good, have always been short term. I first started having knee problems in my mid to late 20’s. I was jogging on the high school track after work one frigid winter day in northeast Tennessee. The temperature was about 20 degrees and a strong wind was blowing. I heard a popping sound and tried to figure out what it was but gave up and continued my run.
Once I returned to the car and turned on the heater, I began to thaw out and my knee began to hurt intensely. So much pain, in fact, that I drove myself to the emergency room where, after examination, the doc said that I had almost no cartilage in the knee and that I needed surgery. He said that, whether I did or didn’t have the surgery, I would probably never do anything athletic again. With that diagnosis, I declined the surgery and went home.
Things did, however, improve and I eventually took up martial arts studies and practice again. I continued to compete in tournaments for another ten years and continued to teach well beyond that. Playing pickup basketball was out, as was bowling. So, I took up pool and became reasonably competent at that. But the problem never went away.
Sometimes, in church, I would literally stand on one foot because one or the other of my knees would be so painful. This condition lasted, literally, for years… maybe a couple of decades. So, finally, a few months ago, I agreed to have the knees replaced, beginning with the left one. I spent three days in the hospital and came home to a walker. After about ten days post-op, I graduated to a cane… my grandfather’s cane, as it turned out.
Progress is slow, painfully so… figuratively and literally. I have missed the last two Sundays at church and have had at-home rehab several days a week. We have lots of stairs in our house so that has been a challenge. All the folks I know who have had this surgery say, “You’ll be so glad you did.” Well, I’m not there yet. I still have 21 or the 42 staples sealing the wound, the other 21 being removed last Friday. I can get around better than I did a few days ago, so that’s something.
I had intended to have the right knee done in October but I may push that into next year. Maybe I’ll give up my right knee for Lent. We’ll see. In the meantime, my wife, recently retired, is looking after me and, as a life-long nurse and nursing professor, is not letting me get by with much. I did have someone ask a few days ago, “You are getting the other one done, right?” That’s a bit like asking a woman who delivered a baby three hours ago, “So, when are you having the next one?” Bad timing. Ask her later. Ask me later.
On a bright note, I have started re-reading the “Jack Reacher” series of novels by Lee Child. I have discovered that is almost nothing on daytime TV worth watching. And, maybe most importantly, I have learned anew that healing takes as long as it takes. One can cooperate with the process and move along or not cooperate and impede the healing. All healing—physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, relational—takes what it takes.
My grandfather died in 1973. In about 2006, I inherited his cane. I have thought about him every time I try to get to one place from the other with it in my right hand. I am reminded of frequent fishing trips, dinner at his house with all the family (especially Christmas Eves), the perpetual pipe in his mouth, his like-new 57 Buick that was two-tone blue, his Democratic leanings up until George McGovern ran for President, and other memories too numerous to count. So, in a sense, the surgery that led me to this cane also led to happy and priceless memories of a man I loved dearly.
Forty-seven years after his death, my hand goes where his went, in the curve of the cane, as I struggle, as he did later in life, to get from place to place. It’s one of the unintended and unexpected surprises of this surgery. Perhaps I should have had this surgery in my 20’s. If I had I would have, doubtless, purchased a newer, “cooler,” more modern steel or titanium cane. But this one will do, this simple wooden cane.
I’m going to try to be in church Sunday and possibly preach from a stool and let our ministers do everything else. With the help of my grandfather’s cane, maybe I’ll make it down the aisle.
David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org