Photos | Left: NBA Game 6 viewing party | Right: Last meal before surgery
How are you doing in your recovery?
First, I just wanted to thank everyone for their prayers, thoughts, and well wishes. I really appreciate the cards, notes, fruit baskets, and flowers! I'm onto week 7 of my recovery and I think I am doing very well. Everything seems to be going as it should. Around week 5 and 6, it felt like I made a significant turn. I felt more energy and I was able to do more, so much that I was able to host a viewing party at my place for the Pastoral team for Game 6 of the Raptors!
My recovery plan includes a cocktail of medication to keep my heartbeat and my blood pressure lower. As well, I am to walk 30 mins a day. No lifting, no housework, no driving, and lots of guiltless naps. But those first few weeks were hard. Everything took a little longer, sleep was intermittent, and I was dealing with episodes of irregular heartbeat but that finally subsided and now I am able to drive and I got back on my bike last week! Fred Liebich ... here I come.
What was surgery like?
I got a notice about 9 days before surgery that there was an opening for me. At first, I thought surgery was happening way faster than I was ready but then, I heard stories of people who had bypass surgery with one day notice! In retrospect, the timing was right in that I didn't have an 'event'. The Lord's timing is always perfect, He is indeed good to me.
Surgery day was an early morning, Karmie and Hannah drove me to St. Paul's at 6:30am. I got ready and settled into the area before the OR and saw a familiar face welcoming me... Laine Bosma. As they wheeled me into OR, the team of doctors and nurses greeted me as if they knew me! Soo Goh Tai (who used to work as a cardiac nurse at St. Paul's) went to visit the day before my surgery and let them know that her friend/pastor was coming in! So I think I got the 5-star royal treatment.
Surgery was about 4 hours and after anesthesia took effect, the next thing I knew, I woke up in the Cardiac ICU really groggy and in pain. I had tubes and wires coming out of me. But as I read more about what the surgery involved, it is amazing what modern medicine can do. This too is God's gift to us and a way that He provides healing... this is what the Bible calls common grace to all. Those first few days in the hospital were really difficult but I was thrilled to be discharged and able to recover from the comfort of home.
What else has been happening over the past month and a half?
The first week that I got home (early May), there was this story of a car accident at the Peace Arch crossing where the sole driver of a van died on the scene. I didn't think anything of it other than how odd and tragic. Then a few days later, to my shock, I found out that I knew the driver of the van who died. He was a Pastor from a church in Port Moody that I once served alongside with, Tom Cheung. Anna and Greg Burke also know Pastor Tom from the time he served at Oakridge Baptist. This incident put my surgery into perspective and the fragility of life. I was able to attend the memorial in early June, reconnect with some friends and co-workers from the past. I was really moved by the support from the wider Christian community for Pastor Tom.
Anything else strikes you over these past few weeks?
A friend of mine passed along a small book by Charles Ringma, it is a collection of Ringma's reflections during a 6-month sabbatical. That was helpful to reflect on his thoughts on one's identity during a time of 'non-productiveness' and learning to be loved by God simply as who he was, a child of God. A number of people have been very helpful in sharing the stories of their heart surgery and recovery.
I had the opportunity to read some books by John Swinton who is a Pastoral theologian. He was in town doing a series of talks and for a week-long course at Regent College. Swinton offers theological reflections on death, disability, dementia and mental health. Very thoughtful insights. For example, how do we see individuals with disabilities? For a short while, I was a shut-in. Many of us (if not all), will experience disability at some point in our lives either through health or through aging. How do we come to terms with or accept disability when it happens to us? How do we include those with disabilities? How did Jesus interact with those who had disabilities or illness? What can we learn from the healing stories that we find in the Gospels?
Earlier, I joked about how there was one final lesson that God had in store for me and that was to be a patient and to receive care. But I do hope that the feelings that I experienced will help me be a better caregiver and empathize and understand with those who go through surgeries, health issues, setback, etc.
Finally, my time of 'disconnecting' or isolation with the church fellowship was temporary but I recall one quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Life Together. Bonhoeffer wrote:
It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God's Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone.
The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer. The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian in exile sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the Triune God. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God's grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.
When will you be back to FBC?
Overall, I'm feeling good and will start the Healthy Heart Program at St. Paul's in late June. The tentative plan is to ease back into work with part-time in July and gradually moving to full-time by August. Of course, we'll monitor that as things progress and try not to rush anything.
See you all soon!
Minister of Congregational Care