All together I had 20 surgeries, according to my mom’s count, to repair my birth defects. Every summer, like clockwork, I had to have another surgery, which meant I would go in to have the surgery, stay at the hospital for a week or two to endure shots, hourly interruptions from the nurses so they could do their duties, and early wakeup calls, and then go home with my face usually still swollen from the operation. This made it very difficult for me to go outside and play with my friends, knowing the inevitable questions would arise. Questions like “Why do you look like you do?”, or, “Did you just get in a fight?” I never got used to those questions as it seemed to cut me deep inside. While I loved summertime, I simultaneously disliked it because I knew what was ahead.
Since the surgeries frightened me so much, I didn’t like to go to the hospital. There was something about being in the hospital that struck fear, even when I wasn’t the patient.
When I did go in for surgery, there were two things that instilled in me a level of fear that was almost unbearable. This first was the shot they gave me while they were prepping me for surgery. The nurse assigned to me gave me this shot right before the person arrived who was assigned to be the one to wheel me to the operating room. There were times before several of my surgeries when the doctors and nurses had to hold me down, so the nurse could give me the shot. The fear consumed me. Many times I begged my mom and doctor with tears not to give me the shot, yet, it had to be done. From the vantage point of a nine-year-old boy, though, this seemed, at the time, immense cruelty.
The same level of fear overcame me whenever I entered the operating room lying on the bed, staring at the lights, with the medicinal smell of alcohol lingering the air. This aroma triggered something in my mind which caused me to grip the sheets beside me and clutch them with all my might. I didn’t understand my fear at the time, but the smell of alcohol caused me to harken back in my mind to previous surgeries I had experienced. I intuitively knew that when I woke from the surgery the experience was going to be painful. I knew difficult times were ahead and the smell of alcohol subconsciously warned me ahead of time. Since these hospital experiences happened yearly, it created deep traumatic experiences for me as a young boy.
The nurses were wonderful, to be sure, but were of little comfort to a boy whose heart was consumed with fear. These experiences, I believe, created neurotic emotions that God later healed. In all this, God had a plan. He was there. He looked upon these events knowing what was ahead. He didn’t act, but He did protect. He gave me an inner fortitude that didn’t allow me to be overcome. He didn’t act because He knew the trauma would one day be healed, allowing Him to glorify Himself. I also believe He was developing something in me to make me a uniquely designed father for Faith.
One unfortunate childhood experience came by way of being in the burn unit following one of my operations. I shared the room with a teenaged young man, who, at the time, was a few years older than I was and was burned over much of his body. One night a team of three nurses came to give him a bath and redress his wounds. To shield me from seeing what was taking place, one of the nurses pulled the curtains shut tightly that encircled his bed. Regrettably, the curtains couldn’t shield me from the screams the teenage boy let out as the nurses administered care to his wounds. I could only imagine what was taking place. It terrified me as I was laying just a few feet away, alone, in the dark, hearing everything that was going on.
Still lying in my bed, I reacted by squeezing the blankets that were draped over me as I was trying to deal with what was taking place. Then suddenly, one of the nurses had to leave the bedside of the young man and attend to something else in the next room. When she did, she pulled the curtain back a little wider than she should have, and I saw that young man’s burned body. It was too much to process at my young age. As she pulled the curtain back to shut it, I closed my eyes as tightly as I could in an attempt to remove that horrible image from my mind. The screams that I heard coming from the young men next to me, coupled with the images I saw, bothered me all night, and troubled me for years after that.