She confessed her fear two nights before the surgery. I pulled her little body in close to mine, while her lamp cast a purple glow across the bedroom wall.
“Mommy,” her voice quivered. “I’m scared of the mask. I’m afraid it will hurt.” She’s 10 now, but her voice suddenly sounded so small, like it belonged to the little girl I put on the kindergarten bus a few years back.
I drew her in, tighter. I could smell lavender on her still-wet hair, dampening her pillow.
She had read the brochures, so she knew about the IVs and the incision. She understood that the doctor would take a small oval of her skin then graft it onto the hole in her eardrum.
She’s old enough to sound out words like anesthesia and intravenous, but still young enough to ask one of the most tender questions of a vulnerable child: “Will it hurt?”
It wouldn’t hurt, I assured her. I reminded her that the mask would deliver anesthetic into her body. She would count to three, and after a few deep breaths, she would be floating in jolly, potion-induced dreams.
She’s had surgery before. Two sets of ear tubes. Adenoids removed. But now, she was old enough to know that things like surgery held inherent risks.
Maybe it was the idea that someone else had the power to put a piece of plastic over her face, flip a switch and put her to sleep. Maybe she was afraid she wouldn’t wake up. I’m not altogether sure. Maybe I was too scared to ask her about the real root of her fear.
“I don’t like it at all, Mommy,” she said.
We did pray. We prayed for God to take away the fear. We asked God to help her breathe, and — on the count of three — to plant sunny dreams in her mind while she reclined on that operating table. We prayed for peace, but how do you explain something like peace to a child? Even the Apostle Paul couldn’t quite put a finger on such a heady concept. He described it as something that “surpasses all understanding.”
The surgery came on Maundy Thursday.
We drove north to the city. I cranked up the radio. “Lydia, honey, listen! One of your favorite songs!”
It was Dive by Steven Curtis Chapman. And then the lyrics:
“So if you’ll take my hand
We’ll close our eyes and count to three
And take the leap of faith …”
“Mommy?” said the voice from the backseat. “I feel really calm. I can’t explain it. But I finally feel calm.”
I nodded my head, knowing the inexplicable calm that had a name: Peace.
We walked into the operating room side by side, and all it took was one look at that long silver table. She burst into tears.
She turned toward me, wearing that tiny pair of blue scrubs and a poofy hair net. Panic fell down her cheeks in rivulets.
I forced a smile that I couldn’t feel on the inside. A nurse led her to the table, gently by the elbow, and said, “Mom, you hold your daughter’s hand.”
The anesthesiologist set the plastic mask on her chest, not yet on her face. Machines beeped; a surgical tool clanked.
Lydia looked up at me, eyes wild with worry. “I’m scared, Mommy. I’m scared of the mask.”
I brushed her cheek with my hand, and leaned in close, squeezing her hand. I drew in one long breath, looked her in the eye and asked:
“So, how about we hold it together?”
Then, she and I picked up the mask, and I felt her body relax as we held it there together. And on the count of three, she closed her eyes, and she took the leap of faith.
“Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7
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