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On the evening following Krista’s heart surgery, Dad comes home and draws a diagram of her heart, showing the kids how the hole is in the aorta.
Phil puts his pointer finger on the outline’s aorta. “How did the doctor get in there to sew it up?” He presses a fist against his ribs. “All of those squishy parts inside of us are covered by bones.”
As Mom hands around bowls of ice cream, she and Daddy exchange an amused look.
“Squishy parts?” Daddy asks.
“Yeah, the heart, the liver, the stomach. There’s a bunch of others, too. We watched a filmstrip in health class.”
The horror in Mom’s voice matches the expression on her face. “They showed you photos of real hearts in health class? You’re only in third grade!”
“No,” he scoffs. “The filmstrip just showed drawings. Better than Dad’s.”
Daddy throws him a fake glare, and Phil snorts a laugh.
Mom is still fishing for the culprit who exposed her little boy to the ugliness of our insides. “So how do you know hearts and livers are squishy?”
“I watch you cook the turkey every Thanksgiving.” He raises his hands in a confused, what-is-the-problem-here gesture. “You pull the guts out of the turkey, put ’em in a pot, and make gravy. You always show me the liver and the heart and the gizzard. They’re squishy.”
Daddy laughs so hard he has to hold his hand over his mouth so he doesn’t spit out melted ice cream. He swallows, coughs, and then wipes his mouth with a napkin. “No one to blame but yourself for the over-education of your son, my dear.”
“You’re terrible.” She steals a spoonful of ice cream from his bowl and then gives him a butterscotch smooch.
“So how did the doctor get inside there to sew up her heart?” Phil is still waiting for an answer to his question.
“Oh.” Dad returns to his drawing. “The surgeon made an incision—a cut—from the center of her chest, around her left side, and almost halfway across her back to the wing bone.”
He pulls Wayne to his feet, who giggles from tickles as Daddy’s finger skims around his middle from front to back.
I can’t take another bite of ice cream. “You mean the doctor had to cut Krista almost in half?”
Mom sucks in a short, sharp breath, and Daddy’s hand drops.
Wayne’s laugh disappears. “The doctor could have killed her!” He points an accusing finger at Daddy, and his eyes begin to fill with tears.
Daddy makes a line of little x’s part way around the outline’s middle before he lifts his gaze to meet mine. “Every operation on our squishy parts, as Phil so accurately puts it, requires the surgeon to slice into the body. When you think about it, it’s hideous.”
He taps the outline with his pencil. “But people in medicine have learned how to do it without killing the patient. So don’t look at the doctor as if he were a criminal, Debbie. Wayne.” He glances across the table at my brothers. “Instead, thank God that we live at a time when man has learned to do the miraculous. Dr. Arnold saved Krista’s life.”
I stare into my lap and shake my head. “I know that, but… it looks so painful.” I try to hold back the tears. “How can Krista stand it?”
“They’ve given her medicine for the pain,” Mom assures me. “And the same medicine helps her to sleep a lot.”
“Which is why both of us came home tonight,” Daddy adds. “Once we knew she was out of danger, we decided to get a good night’s sleep ourselves.”
If Krista is sleeping right this minute, then she isn’t in pain.