If you are from a first-world country (you know, where we have so many resources that we get CAN surgery just for fun/vanity), you probably associate “plastic surgery” with nose jobs, breast augmentations, or tummy tucks.
I know I did.
I guess I associated those surgeries (and plastic things) with fakeness. Here, I have a much more comprehensive view of plastic reconstructive surgery, and I have come to understand it as a process that allows our patients to become their true self–physically and emotionally. This is not about covering up their scars, but rather allowing them to work THROUGH the pain of rehabilitation–to take back what has been lost.
I have told my patients many times, “the surgery was important, but unless you apply your lotion (for scar massage) and your exercises, it will be for nothing.”
I know, I know. Still doesn’t answer the question. Why the word plastic? Check this out:
“Plastic is derived from the Latin word plasticus and the Greek word plastikos, both meaning ‘able to be molded, pertaining to molding’. Most likely, Greeks used plastikos to describe unhardened versions of clay.”¹
Clay. Interesting buzzword.
Just now it’s dawning on me–our hearts are not unlike the physical reality of these beautiful patients. Our hearts have be wounded by the troubles and suffering of life and sin. Scabs and scars have formed to stop the bleeding, but sometimes our ability to function is impaired. Another life-event exposes the wound beneath. Stretching reminds us of the pain we have left unresolved.
These patients simply cannot regain function of their arm/leg/hand/neck unless the stiff, hardened scar tissue is released. However, the skin is not the only layer that needs intervention. The muscles and tendons have weakened and tightened from the lack of use. After the skin is released to allow for more movement, that is where the real work begins. Our rehab team of physical therapists, occupational therapists, and hand therapists are hard at work everyday stretching and exercising the patients to the brink of tears (more often OVER the brink). Also, they are responsible for the creation of the beautiful white splints (as you’ll see below) that continue to hold patients extremities in a favorable position.
Gosh, now that I see it, I just can’t stop drawing parallels. What a living illustration right before my eyes.
We have been scarred,
Our function impaired.
BUT GOD, our great Plastic Surgeon,
has given us the gift of salvation.
(Something we could never do for ourselves.)
We are truly a new creation,
but the work is not yet finished.
Christ’s rehab team is made of (wo)men,
to instruct, remind, stretch and bend.
Without salvation, this work is impossible,
but with faith and some rehab we are unstoppable.
I am a terrible poet,
Don’t I know it?
Haha, but seriously. We must work out our faith. That will involve pain, stretching, confessing to other people, and choosing to repeat our exercising every hour of every day…just like our patients. Our work will never negate our need for God. To the contrary, it reminds us that “every hour I need you!”
Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8
I am the same as you in God’s sight; I too am a piece of clay. Job 33:6
You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”? Isaiah 29:16
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 3:2
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds (works) is useless?21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. James 2:20-22
Let me leave you with these two things. They apply to plastics patients of the body AND of the heart:
Work it out.
It will hurt.
Let us continue to work out our faith, trusting the Great Plastic Surgeon to supply all our needs and allowing his rehab team (people!!!) to support us THROUGH the pain of growth.
As you ponder ways that God desires to stretch you, enjoy a bunch of photos of our wonderful plastics patients and only SOME of the crew who have contributed to their treatment and rehabilitation process 🙂
27 October 2016
Today I said goodbye to a patient that has a piece of my heart.* He isn’t going HOME home yet, but being discharged from the hospital to the Hope Center was a big step and long awaited. He received his operation on the first day of plastic surgery and has taken quite a long time to heal.
I first met him out on the dock on a day that I was helping out in the screening tent. I will never forget the sight of his bent over figure gingerly walking over and stepping into the tent. Fully clothed, he looked like he must have something wrong with his legs. In reality he had a burn contracture that stretched from his chest to his thighs, pulling on the surrounding soft tissue (yes, men… including some very sensitive parts).
Here is an account from the Plastics Team Leader, Anne:
“Valentin was burned a year and a half ago by a house fire that started when he was left at home alone and was playing with some matches. His clothing caught on fire and by the time the fire was out the damage was already done. His abdomen, legs, and groin were severely burned. He didn’t receive care for his burns when they happened and as his body tried to heal the open wounds, the scar tissue formed in a way that left Valentin unable to stand up straight. His abdomen and legs were blended together in a scar that restricted his movement and made him the subject of teasing from those around him. He left school after he was burned and hasn’t been back since.
Valentin’s father heard about Mercy Ships from some people who had gone to the screening center and they told him to bring Valentin to see if we could help him. I can only imagine what must have been going through Valentin’s papa’s head as he waited in the long line with his youngest child. Valentin was selected for surgeon screening on the dock which is where I first met him. I remember seeing him limp into the room and seeing the scars that were hidden beneath his clothing as he was examined; it was shocking to see how this injury had affected his body. Valentin’s father came with him to the screening day, obviously carrying the weight of his son’s injury with him. He looked tired, as if he didn’t even have the strength to hope that something could be done or maybe he didn’t want to hope only to be let down.”
Valentin’s face which was also scarred on the left cheek from the burn, was pained and stern–too much so for a child his age. But the dark look on his father’s face could make a grown man cry. He was guarded, serious, worried…and desperate. When I started to ask a few general health questions to complete the the screening form, Papa Valentin started quickly removing enough of Valentin’s clothes to expose his scars. In a culture that is generally pretty modest, especially around strangers, removing your clothes without even being asked is a vulnerable act–and from what my heart could see, it was an act of desperation. “Please, please help my son.” Papa Valentin would do ANYTHING for his son, but he had come to the end of himself. He had no other solution and nothing else to offer.
Just picture most husbands and fathers you know. The protector of his family. The fixer. The provider. The one who doesn’t like asking for directions. Well THAT man…He was stumped. And in humility, he came asking for help.
I don’t remember if that first meeting I had was the day we gave out surgery dates, but that week they did happily receive an appointment card to receive surgery on the first day Dr. Tertius would operate.
The journey for the first week postop was harrowing for Valentin and his Papa. The bandages were tight around his ribcage and legs. He was not allowed to bend at the waist or hips. He was not allowed to stand. We turned him frequently–each time was painful, but he just grimaced and was such a little toughie. His brow was often furrowed–again, too serious of a face for a little boy.
As a member of the dressings team, I am usually not present for little moments of triumph of the wards, but since Valentin was one of the first patients, the dressings team was not yet in action. Typically these dressings are left in place for the first 7 days and patients are on bedrest for a few days simply to limit their activity and the friction that may occur as a result. That first week is crucial. When a skin graft is placed over a raw wound bed, skin cells must grow and attach between them. Any excessive drainage, friction, or malnutrition can seriously inhibit that process. [P.s Science is so cool! Like how do cells know to do that?! Amazing.]
So, for the first week of surgery I got the privilege of caring for Valentin most days. On the day his bedrest restriction was lifted, I got to help Michelle, a lovely PT friend, get him out of bed and standing with the help of the walker. He teared up. It was painful and his body was weak, but he stood! Unfortunately I noticed that the dressings on one of his legs had slipped down a bit–so I happily got busy being a dressings nurse and a ward nurse at the same time 🙂 As soon as I got his dressing all patched up, back into bed he went. His poor little body was shaking from the first physical activity he’d experienced in several days.
As painful as it was to watch, encouragements of “bravo, Valentin, bravo” quietly echoed through the ward. His progress from then on was steady and the entire ward was rooting for him.
Fast forward to his first dressing change a few days later. Now his bandages aren’t as tight. Now he is allowed (and able) to stand for longer periods (though still not allowed to climb stairs or sit as that would require hip flexion). Also, after the monumental first dressing change, our patients are allowed to go to deck 7 for the first time!
The only tricky thing is that since he couldn’t bend at the hips, he couldn’t ride a bike or lounge in a red wagon. However, I was determined for him to LOVE his first visit to the outside. (Cue the music, “Hello from the other siiiide.”) Then it dawned on me: “I’ll ride the big tricycle and he’ll stand on the bar on the back!” We had such a fun time up there. Moments like those aren’t often captured on camera–and even if they were, their significance simply can’t be communicated in a still image. This was a monument along the journey. A marker to signify progress. An altar to the Lord. A moment I’ll treasure.
Soon after that, I started working on the Dressings Team again. [Call me gross, but I love wound care so much!] There are lots of little moments I get to enjoy with dozens of patients that often go undocumented in the small dressings room, but I don’t really care. The quality time I get to spend with my patients is well worth it. Here are some photos from moments that I missed while I was in the dressings room:
Some weeks later, I was able to sneak up to deck 7 in the afternoon after a full day of dressing changes. And who do I run into but a hoard of my patients including the man himself, Dr. Valentin (so-called because he started to follow the team around each morning for rounds). Since it was now weeks after his surgery, Valentin’s skin grafts were very well adhered, and he was allowed more range of motion at the hips. In other words, climbing stairs, sitting, and RIDING THE BIKES ON DECK 7!!!
This time, I got to stand on the back while my plastics patients drove me around. Heartwarming and slightly terrifying.
*Valentin and his story has won over the heart of many of the crew here on board. I certainly cannot take credit for his outcomes or the changes in his deamenor. His treatment has been a team effort between all of us and God himself.*