Vulnerability. Submission. Trust.
Those are the messages my little rescue foster dog sends when she lays on her back and shows her tummy. And I am gentle and I smile and I rub her tummy and tell her she is a good girl. And she is rewarded for her trust.

How different I felt thinking about laying on my back and showing my tummy when I was scheduled for abdominal surgery for cancer. Vulnerable, yes. Submissive, yes. Trusting--kind of. Violated--totally.

Even after spending many years working in the operating room, it felt so uncomfortable and scary to know it was my turn. It's not like I wear a two-piece swimsuit or show off my abdomen (of jello, not steel), so just having it exposed is a little embarrassing. But, then to have it cut open, to have all the things that are supposed to be inside taken out and evaluated and handled, and some of it removed, and then everything put back felt scary and more than vulnerable, it felt violating. Strangers would know more about me, would have seen more of me than those closest to me--than even ME! There would be no hiding behind clothing to look better, no masks to wear, or stories to tell. These people would be able to see me to my very core. And, it wasn't that I didn't trust the doctors and the team to know what they were doing. I did. But, I wouldn't be there to see if they accepted my offer of submission, if they could accept my tummy with a smile and a message that I am ok.
And, it has affected me since the surgery. The piece of me that read the operative report and saw the words "obese", the piece that recognized the extra steps necessary during surgery to make sure I was ok in spite of complicating factors, all those parts of me just wanted to know that I was ok, that I was a "good girl", that my trust was rewarded with caring and acceptance.
And then I came across a wonderful book that documents a woman's journey with a type of abdominal cancer that required major abdominal surgery. A passage in that book so moved me and so opened the door to understanding the vulnerability and reward that goes with the trust that it brought tears to my eyes and heart.
On page 131 in Between Me and the River: Living Beyond Cancer: A Memoir by Carrie Host, she writes: (
"I'm telling him, 'I'm just really scared, I feel like they're just going to slice me open like a fish. It will be so violating, in every way. My solar plexus...well..I'll just be lying there, cut wide open, totally exposed in the worst way.'...As usual Dr. Gottlieb is not in a hurry to rush for words... Calmly, he proceeds to describe surgery for me, as only he could.
'Actually, during a surgery where they are working to save a person's life, it can be spiritual in many ways. The operating room itself is bright, clean, and quiet. There is light everywhere. Your body will be meticulously draped to cover everything but the area that they will be working on. Every tool and necessary object is in its place, waiting to be used. The doctors and nurses are standing in a kind of circle around you, with the anesthesiologist at your head, all focused on the same goal. It is a powerful and moving sight. I invite you to imagine that when Dr. Nagorney opens your abdomen, it will then be flooded with light. Then still more lights will be added to that. I have observed a number of surgeries and many of them are really beautiful.'"
And I remembered my experiences working in the operating room. How reverent and non-judgemental we felt, how focused on making things right we were. It really is a healing circle, bringing in healing light.
I have come to realize that I was vulnerable and I trusted that I would be safe at a time I couldn't trust my own body to keep me safe. And, I got the smile and tummy rub and "good girl". My surgeons created a way for light to enter my body---healing bright white light. What a gift. So, thank you to the surgeons and surgical teams that understand the power of bringing light to those vulnerable areas shrouded in darkness, to smile and rub our tummy and let us know we are safe in our vulnerability, that is was right to trust.

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