A battle scar

And a reminder of grace

In order for Dr. Rizzo and his team to perform the vascular surgery, they had to create a very long incision down Jeff’s abdomen. During those first days in the Cardiac Surgery ICU, the incision was bandaged up, so we didn’t know what it actually looked like… yet. After a few days, they removed the bandage, and there it was, a 20-inch scar. I was surprised to see that they used metal staples to hold the skin together at the surface level. I don’t really know what else I was expecting.

For a long time, we had to tiptoe around it and couldn’t do normal things. At first, he couldn’t use his ab muscles at all so he couldn’t even move an inch without wincing. But he kept sliding down the hospital bed! So they had to move him around with the sheet that was underneath him. He couldn’t sleep on his side. He also couldn’t cough or sneeze – the staff gave us a firm, pillow-sized and -shaped block, which I would push against his abdomen to support and stabilize his incision. I was so scared to put any pressure on his tummy, but I quickly learned that I needed to put nearly all my weight down to counter the force as he cleared his lungs. After a while, we had a routine down: Jeff would suddenly sit up “I’m gonna cough!” and I would shoot up from the chair, run to the bed with the “pillow” and put all my weight down. But the worst of all was that Jeff couldn’t laugh very hard… at his own jokes. He was really disappointed.

The incision was healing beautifully, but the staples had to be in for about a month. It was uncomfortable for Jeff even after he came home and was able to do regular activities because the incision site was very tender (still is two months later), and the metal pieces bothered him. Wearing a seatbelt was very unpleasant because the belt would dig into the staples. Sometimes, a sheet or a blanket would get caught on the staples and cause discomfort. I examined it from time to time to make sure that there was no infection or anything suspicious, but I could tell they were really bothering him. One night, I decided, well, maybe we just need to embrace the staples – I said “they aren’t going to be in forever, so let’s get to know them before they come out. We’re counting the staples!” I counted them one by one, all the way to forty. Wow, 40 staples. “This is your battle scar.” Then Jeff opened up about it and told me that he dreaded seeing his incision for the first time. He thought “oh God, it’s going to be so ugly.” But then he said, “but I would rather have this ugly scar than the alternative.” Yes, a thousand times YES! This is his battle scar and a reminder of the grace of God that was showered on us through that most valuable clot, the temporary plug that held everything together for just the right amount of time. It represents the time when we felt God’s hand firmly in our lives.

Near the end of April, it was time to get those staples removed! While we were waiting for Dr. Rizzo, a really kind nurse came in. I remember her Russian accent and her beautiful hair… not everyone can pull off side-swept bangs! She was so seasoned – she saw that there were quite a few staples so she made small talk with Jeff. Oh, it was so easy, small movements with the staple remover. Jeff later said that it was mostly painless except for a few that felt like bug bites. And before he knew it, she looked up and said, “I am done!”

Everything looked great to Dr. Rizzo, and we were cleared to go home again. I brought a list of questions to ask, like a taskmaster. He probably found me annoying! Among a string of questions, the one that made me most happy was “Will he be able to go on TCO’s European tour late summer?” to which he replied, “oh yeah.” This made me really happy for Jeff – back to normal life if he can manage all the stresses of a European tour! The one that made Jeff most happy was “When can he play golf?” to which Dr. Rizzo said, “I’m okay with mid to late May.” We both left the doctor’s office really happy, even if for different reasons.

Removing the metal staples was a really big deal. Jeff was able to move around comfortably and not be in fear of the healing incision. That evening, I saw a familiar expression come over his face, one that I have seen thousands of times since we met in 2007. It was one of mischief – I knew that he had a joke coming, and it was going to be epic. “I had 40 staples… now I have 80 holes!” Then he went on to laugh and cackle at his own joke, just like old times.

Jeff and Maris pretending to be giants descending upon the Christmas Village people
Jeff pretending to be a freshly hatched baby dinosaur (Tucson Zoo)