Accepting the New Normal – Phil’s Perspective

When I was in my 20s, I had the privilege of being an Air Force jet pilot and flight instructor. I spent my brief Air Force “career” at four different Air Force bases in the state of Texas. A few weeks ago, I attended a class reunion in San Antonio, Texas, of fellow Air Force pilots with whom I had attended a year of pilot training school at Randolph AFB more than 41 years ago. Almost all of those guys I hadn’t seen since pilot training graduation in August, 1970.

To my surprise, three of my former classmates told me that the thing they most remembered about me from pilot training days was my “cannon” arm on the softball field! Back in the day, I had played a lot of baseball during high school and college, and with the help of weight training and constant practice, I had developed a relatively strong and accurate throwing arm. I was an outfielder who prided himself on his ability to throw out runners at third base and at home after catching a fly ball.

The ability to make long, accurate line-drive throws from the outfield was normal for me from the age of about 18 until the age of 44, when I radically tore the rotator cuff in the shoulder of my throwing arm. I continued to play softball and throw from the outfield for two more years, but my throws became increasingly more painful and had less and less velocity. Finally, I had to accept the fact that I could no longer play outfield and throw out base runners tagging up after fly ball outs. Softball heroics became a thing of the past.

You are probably thinking, “So what? What’s the big deal with that? All athletes get old and slow down and lose their edge and have to retire from their sport. Get over it!” That’s absolutely true, but my new normal is that I can’t throw anything at all anymore with my right arm. My right shoulder has been operated on twice, and the supraspinatus and infraspinatus tendons have both torn again completely and are unusable and inoperable. I can’t hold my right arm out in a horizontal position or straight up in a vertical position for more than a few seconds. Changing a light bulb that’s over my head is a challenge. Placing a suitcase or camera bag in an overhead compartment on an airliner is extremely difficult. Installing a ceiling fan or light fixture is next to impossible.

Here’s another even more radical “new normal”….

In the fall of 2010, I began experiencing complications from prostate cancer radiation treatments and from cryo surgery (a freezing process designed to kill cancer cells inside the prostate). Except that the complications seemed to be related to recent spinal surgery, not to the cancer treatments. When all was said and done, I ended up in the hospital in February, 2011 with a ruptured bladder and a massive abdominal and pelvic infection that nearly killed me.

I lost my bladder, my prostate and my rectum in an 11 1/2 hour operation on February 17, 2011. I was on strong IV and oral medications for 14 weeks because of the infection, which had impacted my pelvic bone. I now pee into a urostomy bag attached over a stoma coming out of the right side of my stomach, and I poop into a colostomy bag attached over a stoma coming out of the left side of my stomach. I have a completely “new normal” for going to the bathroom! (It’s not normal for most people, but it’s now normal for me.) The bags have to be changed every 5 to 7 days (sometimes more often), which takes from 45 minutes to an hour.

How does one adjust in a positive way to this type of “new normal?” Well, for one thing, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that when things like what I described above happen, there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s beyond your control. “It is what it is,” as the saying goes. There’s really no point in complaining or lamenting about things that happen to you over which you have no control. Nothing you can do or say is going to change what is. Complaining about it or feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to make anything better; it’s just going to make you feel worse. So it’s best to just accept the reality of the situation and make the best of it going forward.

Another thing that really, really helps is to acknowledge the sovereignty and Lordship of the personal God who created the universe and all that has life and breath. It is my miniscule and radically incomplete knowledge of this God and His ultimate purposefulness and goodness that has helped me more than anything else to weather the storms of physical and emotional adversity and to come through them with a mostly positive attitude and with the assurance that no matter what, “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

For more information about my background and about some of the details of the adversities I’ve summarized above, see the Prologue I’ve written for what will eventually become a Fine After 50 book. If you’d like to read about another life-changing family event that has shaped my thoughts about God and my relationship with Him, see the Anchors Away book excerpts here.

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