Roughly eight years ago, I had surgery on my belly button. People always give me a weird look when I say that. It sounds less strange when I tell them I had an umbilical hernia. It was a simple procedure to remove it, yet it was still full-on surgery– hospital gown and everything. As a seven year old, that was extremely daunting. I loved the attention it got me, and I knew that with two older brothers, there was no way I could act scared, but I was pretty terrified.
I remember going to the pre-surgery meeting and receiving my original hospital bracelet. The surgeon explained that I was not allowed to eat food 12 hours before the procedure. He also told me I was allowed a stuffed animal to accompany me during my surgery. Boy, he sure didn’t know what he just got himself into. After the meeting, my mom and I raced to the toy store so I could find the biggest stuffed animal around. I spotted a huge teddy bear, but my wise mother talked me down to a pretty large stuffed animal dog. The dog was white with black ears, and displayed one big black spot on the back. For that reason, I named him Oreo.
In the days before surgery, Oreo and I became best friends. I talked to Oreo, played with Oreo, and fake-fed Oreo. I mean, for goodness sakes, I even put a collar on him. That dog was one of the main things that prepared me for surgery. I knew that if I had Oreo, I would be alright. To this day, Oreo sits faithfully on my bed, reminding me that I am not alone.
But there was another huge thing that allowed me to feel better about surgery: my mom. You see, God timed it perfectly so that my mom would be having surgery a week after me. Hers was much more severe– open heart surgery, in fact. I barely understood what that meant at that age, but what I did know was that I had a partner alongside me whom I could recover with. She brought comfort where I felt fear. If my mom could conquer surgery, then so could I.
I arrived at the hospital at 5 am with my parents, hungry and anxious. I recall receiving a new hospital bracelet (and being confused as to why the order of my name was messed up: Gotthardt, Madison Anne). There was a kids waiting room, where I sat with my mom for what I recall being a couple hours, watching Tom and Jerry on the little TV set and trying to entertain myself with half a deck of cards. Oreo sat by my side as visitors came to wish me luck before I headed to the operating room.
A woman came in eventually and told me to put on my hospital gown, and so I did. I hugged my mom tight and she assured me that she’d be waiting for me until I was finished. The lady wheeled me to the operating room, and that last thing I remember is being asked what I preferred my anesthesia to smell like. I chose cherry, and the next thing I knew, I was awake, my stomach feeling like it had a needle stuck in it. There was a clear bandage (it looked like a piece of packing tape to me, but I was assured it wasn’t) over my belly button, in order to make sure I didn’t harm the operating area.
I thoroughly enjoyed being wheeled around, first to a recliner where I sat sleepily and ate an orange Popsicle, then to my parents, and finally to the car. I longed to stay in the hospital longer, just like I knew my mom would, but I was also secretly grateful to be able to sleep in my own bed. I carefully (but reluctantly) followed the doctor’s instructions not to play at the playground at school, or to participate in P.E. for the next few weeks.
My mom had her surgery the following week, and my family sat in the waiting room for hours. I stared at my incision a lot during that time, perhaps looking for comfort as I tried not to think about what was happening to my mom. Immediately following the operation, someone came out to inform my anxious family that it was finished, but that they didn’t recommend anyone other than my dad to go visit her.
I longed to see her, and was pretty disappointed I would have to wait. However, when my dad came back, I decided it was best that I wasn’t allowed, seeing the pale look on his face. He explained that she was very weak and very pale (I silently wondered whether it was possible to look more ghostly than him), so we’d have to wait a while to see her. When I was finally permitted to see her, my whole family went in to visit her in the ICU. I don’t recall much besides dark lighting and lots of tears. I had never seen my mom look so fragile, and my seven-year-old self didn’t know how to handle such a thing.
Each day after school, my dad would take my brothers and I to visit her in the hospital. I would accompany my mom as she was wheeled around the halls, and eventually I’d take walks with her. When she finally got to come home, I’d do my best to help with chores, even though I myself was somewhat recovering alongside her. She had this weird breathing-tester-thing, in which she had to breathe into it with as big a breath as possible, and it would measure how effectively she did by a little ball being blown to the level she was at. Or something like that. I just remember testing my own breathing alongside her. When she was able to drive, I’d accompany her to maneuver the cart because she wasn’t able to.
Why am I telling you this story? Because my mom is having open heart surgery again. This time around, I don’t have my own surgery, but I do definitely understand the situation much more. I don’t look forward to seeing my incredibly strong mother so weak, but I cannot wait to her being at her peak again. I mean, even when she isn’t, she’s more athletic than me, but I’m thrilled to be at competing level again. (;
Surgery is on Monday morning, bright and early. It’ll be a new journey, but I’m excited for what God has in store.