The Key to Positive Recovery

By David A. Young, Th.D., aka Chaplain DAY

How will I ever recover from this? Have you ever been in a situation where you asked that question? Have you known someone who has been through so much that you didn’t know how they would ever get through it? How do we get through those times in our lives? Beyond following doctors’ orders, do we have any control over how well we recover?

I am very familiar with recovery periods. When I was only 21 years old, my left lung collapsed once and then my right lung collapsed twice. Fearing both lungs might collapse at the same time, a surgeon performed an invasive procedure which involved splitting me open from the middle of my chest around to the middle of my back and spreading my ribs apart to get to the lung. Neither lung has collapsed since, but I went through a tough recovery period.

Three years ago, I had one knee replaced, with a typical recovery. However, this year, a staph infection developed in that knee and a surgeon had to open up the knee to clean it out. Afterward, I endured six weeks of intensive antibiotics and therapy. Unfortunately, the staph returned. I’m currently recovering after a second, even more invasive surgery to the replaced knee and they inserted a temporary implant for another six weeks of strong antibiotics. Later this month, I will have a third surgery performed to insert another knee.

It would be easy for me to reflect on my situation and feel very discouraged. Wouldn’t you agree it would be understandable for anyone going through recurring illness to be angry? To feel justified in giving up? To say, “I’m tired of fighting”?

Let me remind you of the old adage, attitude is everything.

According to a 2011 post by The New York Times, 2,800 heart disease patients were given a questionnaire by researchers at Duke University Medical Center to assess how much optimism they felt about their diagnosis and recovery. Patients with more optimism, for example, might agree with the statement, “My heart condition will have little effect on my ability to work.’’ A less optimistic patient might be more likely to agree with the statement, “I doubt I will ever fully recover from my heart problems.’’

“Over the next 15 years,” reports the Times, “more than 1,600 of the study patients had died, and about half the deaths were related to heart disease. The researchers found that optimism was a strong predictor of overall survival. Patients who scored low on optimism tests were 30 percent more likely to die during the study period, even after the researchers controlled for factors like depression and severity of disease.” Attitude is everything.

The attitude we are speaking of is a mind-set or a way of thinking. We make decisions and choices based on our value belief system. We will follow what we value; we will do what we believe. This same value belief system determines our attitude toward life in general.

When I wake up after a major medical procedure, I am faced with making several decisions. First, I decide whether I want to recover (desire). Connected with this is deciding whether my attitude will be to fight, to work hard (determination). I can choose to do less than what is expected of me or to give my all. I encourage you to give your all, even if that is more than what is expected of you: “I want to recover and I am determined to work hard.”

At this point, I have won the first strategic battle, knowing that discouragement will come at me from every angle, but I am determined to press on. Here is an example of how it might go:

When the physical therapist (PT) challenges me to lift my leg 10 times, I choose to lift it 11. When the PT asks me to bend my knee 20 times, I bend it 25 times. On Friday, when the PT says to take it easy over the weekend, I choose to do a full set of exercises each day. (Always be sure to check with medical professionals before going beyond their recommended steps to recovery.) Despite what my body wants to do—as little as possible—I am determined to recover as quickly as possible.

For those of you who have loved ones facing recovery from a major medical procedure: Please understand that making a few decisions might seem simple, but it is never easy. When one is lying on their back in pain, feeling dazed from medication, it is hard to think, much less make decisions. Help your loved one—in a positive way—to find a good reason why they should want to recover. Always speak encouraging words to them. Always. Never use harsh words. Never. Little things do mean a lot: visits, calls, a gift bag with lots of little goodies in it, and cards, especially those from children.

Recovery is a battle, but with an “I will fight” attitude, it’s much easier to “do more today than yesterday” … and win!


About the author:

David A. Young, aka Chaplain DAY, and his wife Suzanne moved to Advent Christian Village in March 2013. David holds degrees in Christian education, Christian counseling and theology. He was involved in full-time ministry and pastoral counseling for more than 25 years and spent seven years as a chaplain and counselor in mental health facilities and rescue missions. David’s life purpose is “to bring hope, healing and peace in the midst of pain, torment and turmoil.”

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