What is it about asking for help that is so hard? What more, what is it about help that is so hard to give? Father Damian Ference, recovering from knee surgery, shares some insights about what it means to help those in need—from someone who was.
My mom died a year before I was ordained. My dad is 87 and legally blind. And my only brother has a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old that keep him very busy. So when the Scientist asked me where I was going to recover from my knee surgery, I didn’t know what to tell him.
I considered recovering at the seminary, which is where I live, but the priests I live with told me that was a bad idea. There aren’t many people around here in the summer, the hallways are long, and the only way that I could receive visitors after hours would be if I made my way down to the first floor and let them in myself.
A few of my friends who are pastors invited me to recover in their rectories, which sounded like a good plan at first, but after thinking about it, I realized that all of their rectories had the guest rooms on the second or third floor. I liked the idea of living in a rectory again, but I didn’t like the thought of stairs nor did I want to be a burden to busy parish priests.
I was running out of options. I needed to find someone to take care of me. And I was getting desperate. Surgery was only a couple weeks away and I was running out of ideas. Then it hit me.
I remembered that line in the twelfth chapter of Exodus—if the family is too small for the Passover lamb, then they should join a larger family. This biblical inspiration gave me hope, and it also took away some of the fear and embarrassment that often comes with asking for help. I started thinking back to all those people from my first parish assignment that had told me, “Father, if you ever need anything, don’t be afraid to ask.”...
Father Damian Ference has learned that having knee surgery is not a "set it and forget it" lesson in quick fixes. Healing takes work, his work, and that can be tough stuff. Today, in the second of his "Lessons from Surgery" series, he shares what he's learned about spiritual healing through the rigors of physical therapy, and how his "scientist" got the ball rolling. But the heavy lifting? That's the patient's burden. Read the first installment here.
The Scientist brought a model of a knee in the examination room with him. Step by step he walked me through the operation. I was fascinated. When he finished, he asked if I had any questions. I did. I wanted to know how long the surgery would take, how long I would be on crutches, how long rehab would take, how long before I could drive, how long before I could walk, how long before I could run, and what kind of risks were involved with my surgery. He took his time and answered each question thoroughly. Two weeks later he sliced into my leg.
The surgery was scheduled for one hour, but the Scientist said that there was more damage to the knee than he was able to determine from the MRI, so it took him a little over two hours to complete the procedure. When I woke up, my left leg was wrapped in an ACE bandage and a fancy leg brace that works as an immobilizer. I ate a bowl of ice and two red popsicles, and then asked if I could go home—I told the nurse I was afraid to get a staph infection. She checked with the Scientist and he released me from the hospital that afternoon.
The surgery happened on Thursday. On Monday I began physical therapy. The Scientist, a nurse and a physical therapist were all in the examination room that day. The nurse took off the brace and bandage. The Scientist examined the incision and commented on the swelling—he said it looked like I’d been icing and elevating often, as instructed. Then he asked me to lift my left leg. I couldn’t. He smiled and explained that he had to cut into my quad muscle in order to flip my kneecap over for the microfracture surgery. He said the muscle would come back, but that it might take a few weeks. That’s when the physical therapist took over and introduced me to the exercises that I would have to do every day, three times a day...
One of the most confounding elements of Christianity is its take on suffering. Why would an all-loving God allow us to hurt? But those who have experienced suffering, who have come out the other side, have a better understanding of what it all means. Father Damian Ference is one such person. Read on to find out what a recent surgery taught him about the Father, his father and grace.
I knew there was something wrong with my knee when it hurt to genuflect. I waited a week to see if it would get better. It didn’t. I made an appointment with a knee specialist who, in the good spirit of Flannery O’Connor, I call “the scientist.” He took one look at my x-ray and told me that I had something called osteochondritis dissecans, which means that part of my knee bone had dried up and died.
The scientist said that when I was going through puberty, I would have banged my knee really hard on something and traumatized one of the growth plates in my knee bone in such a way that it never developed properly. He said I probably wouldn’t even remember the injury. This sounded right, as I was a very active boy, playing baseball, football, basketball, riding bikes and skateboards, and doing all the things that teenage boys do—and I remember banging my knees on a variety of surfaces.
As time passed, the knee got worse. Long bike rides through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, a full-marathon, an olympic triathalon, tennis, snowboarding, and the Insanity workout became too much for my knee to bear. It was Palm Sunday when I started replacing my genuflections at mass with profound bows...