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by Abigail Van Buren

Surgeon's Wife Surprised by His Covert Operation

DEAR ABBY: My husband is a well-known surgeon, and we have two beautiful children together. One morning we awoke and made love.

Then he went off to the hospital and I left to do some errands. When I returned later in the day I was shocked to find that our house had been burglarized -- the furniture, artwork, electronic equipment had all been taken.

I called my husband's office to tell him the bad news, and his receptionist told me my husband was not available and gave me the number of his attorney. When I called the lawyer, I was told to come to the office to sign some settlement papers -- there was a check for $20,000 waiting for me that I could have if I agreed to give up custody of the children. When I called my husband's parents, who are prominent people in this community, they urged me to take it and leave the state so my husband could have a happy life with a new wife. Needless to say, I was in shock.

When I tried to hire a lawyer to represent me, I discovered that my credit cards had been revoked and our bank accounts had been cleaned out.

Abby, I never saw this coming. Do you think I'm right to stay and fight for my children? -- IN SHOCK AND HEARTBROKEN

DEAR IN SHOCK AND HEARTBROKEN: You have my respect for deciding to fight for your children against such odds, and I hope you prevail. Your husband must be a brilliant surgeon to have amputated a beating heart and left the subject viable enough for a custody battle.

Your unfortunate predicament demonstrates how important it is for a married woman to have credit and sole access to a sum of money to tide her over in case of the sudden death of a spouse or, God forbid, desertion. It's one of today's realities.

DEAR ABBY: "R.I.P'd Off in Walla Walla, Wash." complained that his father's grave has only a military marker and no gravestone. He also stated that the marker was sinking. He felt the fact that his father didn't have a gravestone was a sign of disrespect, but was unsure about approaching his mother about it.

Abby, the bronze marker he referred to was provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Those markers are attractive. When my mother passed away, we purchased a bronze marker for her that matches those of my father and brother -- both veterans.

If the marker is indeed sinking, he should contact the caretakers of the cemetery. They are responsible for assuring that the grounds and markers within the cemetery are properly cared for. When a marker is out of adjustment, it is their job to reset it properly. Sign me ... A VETERAN IN ARIZONA

DEAR VETERAN: A number of veterans wrote to tell me that the bronze marker provided by the VA is a type of gravestone, and one which "R.I.P'd Off" should be proud to have adorn his father's final resting place. Thank you for pointing out that the responsibility for maintaining the gravesite belongs to the cemetery caretakers, including resetting the markers when necessary.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600