A Numb Skull and a Stiff Neck

I suspect that as my brothers read this blog post’s title, they are thinking, “Praise the Lord, he’s back to normal – recovery only took a month!”

There may be a kernel of truth to that.  But one of the things I have learned about recovery from more involved surgeries is that as you heal, you become aware of conditions that hadn’t even registered as problematic earlier in your recovery.

Take the numbness of my skull for instance.  During the first two weeks of my recovery, I couldn’t wash my hair.  I couldn’t comb or brush my hair.  I couldn’t put any covering on the wound on my head.  In short, I left my scalp be!  Then during week three I could start taking showers and very, very gently began washing my hair.  And for that first week of showering would you believe that I found a way to wash my hair without touching the back left side of my head?  I washed the hair – not the scalp.

I have always erred on the side of being squeamish when it comes to medical issues.  Concerning myself anyway.  Cleaning fish and birds or field dressing a deer never bothered me.  Getting blood drawn?  Different story.  I remember as a senior in high school when I went to the Military Entrance Processing Station – at the time located in Glen Burnie, MD, and hesitated to allow the army phlebotomist to draw my blood.  She looked at my papers and said, “It says here you want to be a Marine.  Really?”  Well, that shamed me into learning how to man up and drop the arm on the table, look the other way, and recite the Apostle’s Creed until the vials were full.  But even now, thirty years after I tried to enlist (I was medically disqualified on account of a degenerative eye disease), giving blood still leaves me extremely reticent to straighten my arm out afterwards.  And that cotton ball and strip of medical tape?  It will fall off in its own good time – maybe a day or two later.

Needless to say, this last surgical adventure really had me doing everything I could to simply leave the wound in my head alone. So it wasn’t until this past week – the fourth week since surgery – that I tentatively, and oh so gently, washed my scalp.  That is when I realized that while my fingers were feeling my head, my head was not feeling my fingers!  Somewhat concerned, I told Kerrie, my head has lost sensation.  Her response: “Of course you can’t.”  It had never crossed my mind that when you make a ten-inch long cut up and around the back of a man’s head, and roll the scalp away from the skull, that is going to bring on a fair bit of localized nerve damage too.

Every week since I came home from the hospital, John, a friend from church who is a retired Orthopedic Surgeon who specialized in lower spine issues, has made house calls to check up on me.  His visits have been extremely encouraging as he has shared with Kerrie and me a physician’s perspective on my recovery progress.  After his first visit when I had been home for just a few days and was struggling with such a burden of discouragement, I remember on several occasions whispering to Kerrie, “Tell me again what John said?”  Well, this past week I shared with John about my scalp numbness.  His response: “Of course…”  But he did say that some of the feeling would come back.

And the stiff neck.  The first couple of weeks out of surgery, things like an insensate scalp and extreme discomfort in moving my head to the left were complete non-issues.  I wasn’t even aware of them.  Although I had been told by my surgeon that my neck would be very sore because of the way he had manipulated and moved those muscles during the surgery, I never noticed until the end of week three.  It could be that the steroids and painkillers I was on suppressed the pain.  It could be that I was dealing with other pains and worries that were far greater and didn’t have time or attention to spare for lesser aches. But now that my surgical wound doesn’t throb anymore, my neck sure hurts!

In a way, this is strangely comforting.  It is proof that in some significant ways, my body is healing.  I now have the luxury of noticing a stiff neck.

Many years ago I remember having a conversation with my Dad in his study at our home in Running Brook.  I was concerned that in trying to live the Christian life, I would experience growth in one area and then notice that I was struggling in an area I hadn’t even considered to be a problem before.  He gave me an analogy for progress in the Christian life that I have never forgotten.  “Bob, growing as a Christian is like climbing a ladder through the clouds.  God is only going to let you see a couple of rungs in front of you.  He wants you to focus on the things that matter most for where you are right now.  And it is good that he does this.  What if God showed you every rung you have yet to climb – every issue, character flaw, temptation you will struggle with.  That would be the most discouraging thing you could ever see.  You would be tempted to give up.  The fact that God is showing you the next rung is proof that you are growing and an encouragement to keep climbing.”

That was over thirty years ago.  I have reminded myself of that truth many, many times since.  And spiritual recovery and physical recovery have this in common.  As my body slowly recovers, new issues will present themselves as challenges to overcome.  And so there is something encouraging about facing these two new issues.

So, for the time being, it may be the case that both figuratively and literally I have a numb skull and a stiff neck!  But the main thing about this growing and healing process is that we intentionally progress – that we don’t become lazy or static.   Physically speaking, I have two new rungs in front of me.  What about you?  In your progress in life are you facing any new or unexpected challenges?  Do you see them as evidence of growth in any way?

Spiritually speaking, the fact is that none of us are perfect.  Not even close.  The Apostle Paul acknowledged this with blunt candor in his letter to the Philippians.  And then he went on to say: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining on toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14).

And so physically, just as much as spiritually, those of us in recovery need to put yesterday in the books and move forward.  Forgetting and straining.  Moving past one challenge and embracing the new neck exercises that will take care of that stiffness and pain.  You see that new rung on the ladder in front of you?  By the grace of God, you can take that one step higher in whatever recovery you are facing – however much straining it requires!  As Paul writes later to the same church, ‘we can do everything through him who gives us strength.’ (Philippians 4:13)


N.B.  The picture is of a real stiff-necked numb skull 🙂


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5 Responses to A Numb Skull and a Stiff Neck

  1. Jim Bjerkaas says:

    Enjoy reading these, although I am a bit disturbed that slap-u-puncture may not work on you anymore! (Sorry for the semi-disrespectful comment!) You are the man!

  2. Bob Burns says:

    A pain in the neck, numbskull.
    I can identify with what you learned about seeing each rung of the ladder we climb from your dad, and “Forgetting what is behind and straining on toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
    I too had forgotten even the purpose of my heart surgery, which was to make my heart strong enough to undertake an 8-hour mack operation. No back pain and no leg pain for 5 or 6 weeks and it all came back. I know I would have been overwhelmed had I felt the pains from the surgery and all the back issues at the same time. I thank my God and Savior that he spared me that, so I can press on to the next step He has in store.

    Thanks Bob for your encouraging words and reminder of God’s faithfulness in sometimes mysterious ways.

    The other Bob B.

  3. Bobbie Kogok says:

    Good reminder for all of us.

  4. Linda Karner says:

    Love that story from your dad. He once climbed “into the clouds” to rescue my cat from my roof: I tried to rescue her on that ladder that he brought over, but I just couldn’t make myself go the last rung because it seemed like the ladder would tip over backwards. So, whether from his love for me or from his machismo, he was my hero that cold day!!!

    Also: a tip for the future: if you cough at just the time when they insert the needle you won’t feel it, because when you cough your whole body goes numb… the trick is timing that cough . . .

  5. Andrea says:

    Kerrie shared the ladder analogy many years ago in a ladies bible study. It was a very formative thing for me to ponder early in my walk (or should I say climb!). I have shared it many times since then!!

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