UR SON ISAAC WAS BORN WITH A BILATERAL CLEFT LIP AND PALATE. HIS lip was repaired when he was 3 months old, and his palate was repaired at 10 months. While stressful for us, at this young age Isaac had no worries before these surgeries. He has no real memories of them now, except for the surgery photo album we look through occasionally. Shortly after he turned 5, however, Isaac had a third surgery on his nose. This time he knew it was coming—and it was a whole different story.
We began trying to prepare Isaac for this next surgery several months before it was to happen. When we told him his next surgery was going to be on his nose, he said, “Why do I have to have a surgery on my nose?” The confusion in his eyes was obvious. He saw nothing wrong with his nose and had no idea that it needed fixing. We struggled to answer the question tactfully in ways a 5-year-old would understand, but I don’t think he ever really understood.
As the surgery date approached, Isaac became more nervous. He really didn’t understand why he had to go through something that he knew was going to hurt. But he trusted us. We were his parents, and we hadn’t let him down yet.
His nervousness was high the night before surgery. The day had been full with a series of pre-op appointments and a wonderfully distracting afternoon at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. In the hotel room my wife, Debbie, read him a bedtime story. (I had stayed home to take care of our 2-year-old.) Isaac was thoughtful, pensive. She prayed with him, then he softly said, “I’m just scared, Mama.” Debbie did her best to reassure him. Finished with the good-night hugs and kisses, it was hard to hold back her tears until after the door was closed.
The hardest moment came the next morning in the pre-op waiting area at UCSF Children’s Hospital. Isaac hadn’t eaten that morning, but that didn’t seem to bother him. He and Debbie had been waiting for well over an hour for the medical staff to take him to surgery. Isaac just sat quietly and colored. This was not like our son. The waiting was tough for both of them.
Finally, they were called upstairs to get ready. The gown and the identification bracelet were put on. The “sleepy medicine” was taken. They waited for it to take effect. Then the moment of truth came. The nurses had come to take him away. Isaac’s eyes filled with tears. In almost a whisper he said again, “I’m scared, Mommy.” But he was so brave. He didn’t panic. He didn’t throw a fit. He let them take him without a fight. He trusted us. He really didn’t understand why this was happening, but he trusted us. Debbie managed to hold her emotions in check until Isaac was gone—then she cried.
They were the tears of one who knows that life is not always fair to children. They were the tears of one who knows that a beloved child simply does not understand the pain and the fear they feel. They were the tears of a proud parent whose child clings to trust through an unknown future. They were the tears of God.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5).
Rick Nelson teaches grades 7 and 8 and is principal at Chico Oaks Adventist School in Chico, California. He and his wife keep very busy raising their three children: Charity, Isaac, and Micah.