“But, Mommy! How do they get to Annie’s heart?” An inquisitive big sister wanted to know the gory details hidden beneath Annie’s skin-colored patch.
It had been hours since she stood proudly at Annie’s bedside. Smiling bravely. Seeming unscathed by the lifeless, towel-wrapped view of her sister. Audrey beamed as she meticulously sketched a giraffe, found Annie’s name poster, requested tape, and adhered markered paper love all over the walls of her sick sister’s hospital room.
Now, back in the dark safety of a hotel room night, she had questions that needed answers. “Momma,” she pressed again and tapped my leg to see if I was listening. “How did Dr. Spray find Annie’s heart to work on it?”
I waited timidly, wondering what the appropriate five-year-old version of open heart surgery was. Before I could answer, she shouted, “SCISSORS?! Momma, was it scissors?”
“No, honey, no. First you need to know that Annie didn’t feel anything. Mommy gave Annie medicine this morning that made her go to sleep before her surgery. She slept soundly through the whole thing.”
That tidy nonanswer wasn’t enough. “But sleep doesn’t open your heart for surgery,” she yelled.
“You’re right.” I conceded. “While Annie was asleep, Dr. Spray used a special surgery tool to open her chest.”
“SURGERY SCISSORS?!”she begged again.
“Not scissors, Audrey.” I finally caved. “There’s a special surgery tool kind of like a knife that the doctors used so that they could see Annie’s heart inside her chest.”
The answer was razor sharp. It cut Audrey to the core. She gasped, shrieked, and slunk to the ground clutching her own chest. She lay limp, sobbing for at least half an hour, never releasing the grip from over her heart.
I tried consoling her. It was no use. When her red splotchy face finally peeked up from the rough carpet, glaring eyes were glued on me.
“I know, honey. It’s so hard to think–”
She cut me off. “YOU. You LET them do that to Annie. You gave her to THEM! To CUT her!” She was right. And I certainly felt the weight of it all.
The truth that no five-year-old needs to hear is that I did in fact give Annie to them. And even though I had given her medicine that turned her quickly to drooling, snoring, dead weight in my arms, she actually somehow woke up as the comforting hands of a loving mother shifted her over to the cold hands of an invasive stranger. The minute I passed her to the anesthesiologist, Annie thrashed wildly, kicking and clawing until she knocked the doctor’s glasses to the ground. “Momma! No, Momma!” she squawked, and Matt ushered me into the meeting room with Annie’s surgeon.
Audrey wasn’t the only one blaming and protesting my counter intuitive act that day. How could a mother do that? It’s a question I’ve had to answer to myself on more than one occasion.
“I let them. Yes. I let them help her heart get better. I know it’s so hard to understand, but what the doctor did in surgery is to help Annie. She’ll be better once it’s healed.” Audrey collapsed into my arms, exhausted from the horror of it all and relieved that she could trust her mother again.
Annie’s carefully cut incision has healed now. So much so that I’ve started the eerie practice of nightly scar massage. Each night, just before slipping into princess pajamas, Annie reclines on Audrey’s bed–Audrey a sure witness to it all.
I warm coconut oil between my palms and talk myself through the steps. Criss cross. Diagonal. Xs. I talk Annie through the no pain agreement. “This isn’t going to hurt. I promise. And if it does, tell me and I’ll stop.”
A couple nights ago, as I crissed and crossed a long pink line, Annie let a tiny giggle escape. Audrey, on alert, shot familiar glaring eyes up at me. “What’s wrong, Annie?” she asked protectively. I continued, my thumbs pulling ridged skin loose.
Annie burst into a full belly laugh, squirming side to side, bouncing my thumbs with each breath. “Nothing, Auddie. It tickles!!! My line tickles and tickles.”
Audrey’s glare turned into a confused grin. “But they cut you, Annie. Don’t you remember? With a sharp surgery knife. But Momma was right. You’re all better. You don’t hurt anymore. Now you can laugh again.”
Now we can laugh again. Now we can dance again. Now we can love again. Thanks to this steady handed surgery who sliced Annie’s chest to recraft her broken heart, now we can live again.
The scar that Annie proudly reveals to her K3 classmates, as Audrey reports it, is a mark of victory, a mark of miracle, no longer a mark of pain.
Psalm 86:10- “For you are great and do marvelous deeds. You alone are God.”