Skeletal and Spiritual Deformity

Peter A. Cole, M.D.

This article originally appeared in Scalpel’s Edge Vol. 23 

Before reading beyond this paragraph, consider the manifestations of a crooked bone that doesn’t heal in proper alignment. What if you broke your leg and it healed in a “turned out” position; or imagine you were born with a congenital condition like clubfoot whereby your foot “turned in” 90°. Perhaps you do have such a deformity? 

My subspecialty as an Orthopaedic Trauma Surgeon, includes not only the treatment of broken bones, but also the reconstructive surgery involved in correcting skeletal deformity. Reconstruction of a malaligned bone is very complex surgery, often involving the cutting and reorientation of bones, lengthening of tendons, scar tissue release, and even skin expansion.

Let’s take an example. I had a patient come to me recently who had an injury that healed with half her pelvis bone shifted north along the spine a couple inches on the left side of midline. Her right shoulder blade was also broken and tilted downward. She was an athletic young woman who had been struck by a car while cycling in Chicago. Though she survived the accident, and the doctors helped to save her life, she had major deformities after her bones healed. She explained to me that her body mechanics were messed up, such that it was hard to be on her feet all day. Because of the shortened pelvis on the left side, her leg lengths were abnormal. Additionally, when she sat in a chair, she would tilt to the left because her butt-cheeks were not symmetric due to higher ischial tuberosity on her left. This tilting caused her to bend to the right to correct her back when she sat at a desk computer. She had a leg-length discrepancy caused by this pelvic obliquity such that the left leg seemed shorter. Her opposite hip developed a bursitis because she would cant leftward while ambulating, stretching her iliotibial band over the right greater trochanter.

At the end of long days in the office, her foot and left knee would hurt from compensating, and her back was strained. She gained weight and became depressed. She had been an avid swimmer, yet when she would try to swim to stay fit, she could not properly swing her right shoulder over the top or outward properly, which caused her shoulder to “pop” over the ribs, resulting in an ache in her neck. She needed daily Ibuprofen to reduce the pain, self-medicating often just to get through the weeks of relentless symptoms. Her social life was negatively impacted; she lost her boyfriend, and relationships with loved ones became strained. She felt isolated and knew that no one could understand her plight. Hopelessness followed as she pondered many years to come with these disabling deformities. She tearfully described the sequela of these bone deformities.

Just as there are skeletal deformities, it is appropriate to consider that there are spiritual deformities. Consider that the Bible describes God creating us to be in a relationship with Him. This creation was His purpose. It is written, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us.” (1 John 4:10) Our primary purpose, God’s inspired word says, is to serve and enjoy Him. “Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; meditate on and talk of all His wondrous works and devoutly praise them! Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord!” (1 Chronicles 16:9-10) In fact, we see in the first book of Genesis, that His creation of male and female brought him great satisfaction, and indeed He desired to be in union with Adam and Eve. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God, male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27) This relationship was ruptured by their disobedience after listening to Satan and pursuing their own will rather than God’s. In their shame, sin and suffering were born. Recall the serpent said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:1-6)

Indeed, our sinful behavior creates separation from God—always, and the pursuit of our own will over His will for our lives promotes spiritual disharmony and emotional burden. This spiritual deformity is most severe for the individual who actually rejects God altogether, denying His existence or simply pursuing false God’s or paltry idols. Life in disunity or separation from God will ultimately lead to emptiness and want at best, and an eternity of damnation at worst. The gospel of Matthew states it clearly, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)

It is gratifying to be in a field where I can get to know people and help to treat their skeletal deformities. In the case of my patient, I developed a plan to resolve the painful manifestations of her crooked bones. It was very important for me to listen to her carefully to understand all her symptoms. Then I followed with a careful physical examination to see where she was tender, measure how short her left leg was, and compare her left to right side shoulder motion. Next I ordered special radiographic studies to see the shape of her pelvic ring and check the angles on her broken shoulder. I correlated the physical exam and X-rays with the symptoms she had in order to solve the diagnostic puzzle and to develop a treatment plan. My treatment included a cortisone shot for her right hip to take away the painful inflammation of her bursitis, a custom shoe-lift inside and outside her left shoe, and a special pillow designed for her left buttock to keep her upright and comfortable when sitting at her desktop. Lastly, I performed a surgical reconstruction of her shoulder blade and collarbone, which involved re-breaking the shoulder blade and fixing it with plates and screws at the proper angles to align her shoulder. With these treatments, I provided her great relief to the pain in her right hip and a balanced and comfortable sitting position, allowing her to be productive for long hours at the computer. I gave her a symmetric gait by balancing her leg lengths, which took away the foot and knee pain. Best of all, she returned to swimming gracefully in the pool and riding smoothly on a bicycle promoting excellent spirits and weight loss. She soon became filled with hope for a pain-free and fulfilling future. She could imagine dating again, and she no longer sought escape mechanisms such as drinking.

Likewise, God has given us treatment options to help realign us and treat our spiritual deformity. This is why Christ is referred to as the great Physician, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.” (Exodus 15:26) He made us to be in union with Him, and he desires to communicate with us through our active prayer life. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)

He has given us the Spirit-inspired, written word for study and meditation to know Him more. Not only can we learn more about the law from the Bible, which guides us on how we should live, but also we can read the psalms in sorrowful times to give us hope and can find wisdom in Proverbs. The Lord not only desires our active prayer life and knowledge of the Bible, but He has provided us opportunity for fellowship with other believers, His children who make up the body of Christ known as the Church. The fellowship of believers is powerful, and God purposes it to help us be accountable to one another, be encouraged by each other, and collectively glorify Him through worship with song, sermon and offering back to Him of our gifts given to us by Him in the first place. “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with flute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” (Psalm 150:1-6)

There is a principle in the field of orthopaedics, that form and function are directly related. The corollary to this statement is that deformity and dysfunction are related, and we have discussed examples, which illustrate the point. Such is the case with spiritual dysfunction caused by isolation from God, which we create in our lives. Yet, you should know that even in isolation, whether spawned by our sinful ways, or the desert seasons which God purposes, God’s grace is a free and undeserved gift and His mercy will reign if we invite Him in and accept His son. God can and will reconstruct our deformities and heal our strained symptoms because He is a God of love; and in fact, He is love, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8) In the field of skeletal reconstructive surgery, the goal is to restore length, alignment, rotation and stability. There is also a spiritual reconstruction that restores spiritual lives to proper length, aligns lives with his heart, rotates lives to point in the right direction, and stabilizes lives on the rock solid foundation of God himself.