My wife Lauren underwent a major knee surgery back in 2019, and it taught both of us some important lessons with regards to pain and suffering. Though sometimes I wish we had been spared these lessons, we now realize more fully and practically how such are of a piece with living in a Creation marred and broken by sin and the effects of sin.
This was not how it was in the beginning before the whole race fell in Adam. Now all Creation is groaning until Christ returns or calls us home. God will someday wipe the slate clean and make a new Heavens and a new Earth in which there is no more suffering and death. In the meantime, however, we must often resign ourselves to trusting in the good Lord’s goodness, relying on Him for strength to endure patiently and to meet the tests and challenges of life as good stewards and faithful servants.
It is an undeniable fact that even the most expert and authoritative sometimes make mistakes. Even the most skilled and knowledgeable have blind spots. All of us as men and women are limited at best. As Gandalf tells Frodo in the Lord of the Rings, “Even the very wise cannot see all ends.” Medical professionals are no exception to this rule, and neither are husbands and wives.
It is a hard thing to experience great pains, or even to be a husband who feels appropriately protective of his wife, and yet is limited in his ability to shield her from hurts and trials. Though, on this point, we cannot miss how sometimes excessive avoidance of pain is worse than feeling the pain itself.
For instance, when the dose administered fails because it was too little or else was in the wrong place, then there is an overcorrection, the effect can be lethal. And we cannot suppose that outcome is preferable to feeling some temporary pain, however severe.
Speaking to the general condition of our country and countrymen, for years and decades doctors in America were too free in prescribing opioids. They prescribed them too often, in dosages too high, and for too long. The result was that many American men and women became addicted, dependent on painkillers to function even in the midst of life’s routine setbacks and disappointments.
Now doctors and hospitals are required to start with too little, if anything, and then they carefully increase the dose as necessary. What Lauren and I went through in the summer of 2019 was just a single, solitary instance of this happening more broadly. But in the case of my wife’s knee surgery, we really do wonder how close we came to losing her when she woke up from the initial surgery. The medical staff at the surgery center gave her too much too quickly to compensate and regain control after too little had been put in the right place. And that is a very sobering thought which neither she nor I will soon forget – nor should we.
At first we might have been tempted to see the prescription of too little or too weak a painkiller as being cruel and heartless. When the reason was explained, though – not just concerning the hospital’s and doctor’s liability, but also concerning Lauren’s long-term well-being in not becoming addicted – the more cautious and moderate approach took on a new light.
All those men and women who became dependent on opioids for everyday life medicated themselves to such an avoidance of pain that they were avoiding life itself. And that is a tragedy we would not want, and are happy to have not been subjected to.
So also, I think there are much broader implications for how we avoid or else dull pain with other means besides pharmaceuticals. How have so many goods and services been marketed to us except by emphasizing the inherent desirability of pleasure of various kinds as well as the avoidance of discomfort? We do well to think long and hard about such in every sphere as we go about our daily lives before God and man.
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