“You’ve paid some dues in your life, haven’t you?”
He was just trying to make conversation, but it still was a bit awkward. After all, I was laying face down on a table and he was carving on my butt with an x-acto-knife at the time (he would call it a scalpel).
It’s not a situation that lends itself to casual conversation.
I had a raging infection…that started as a small cyst they initially tried to treat with a minor round of antibiotics. This was a mistake, and I even thought so at the time…I could *feel* it had spread much further, but I’m just a patient and seldom actually listened to. When I came back 5 days later they dropped what they were doing and starting carving.
I kept humming, “Three Blind Mice.” Especially the part about cutting off my tail with a carving knife. I felt stupid, weak, and ashamed. Apparently illness is not something I do gracefully.
I swallowed. The activity was making me queasy. The local anesthetic they’d administered was numbing the pain, but I could feel the tug and resistance of the instrument as it sliced. I could *tell* when it was cutting. It was taking a large chunk of my concentration not to leap up and dismember somebody.
Sweat dripping from my forehead, I said through a suddenly dry mouth, “I suppose I have. Probably not done yet though.”
Life is expensive. I’ve found that one of the currencies widely accepted in order to continue it…is pain.
“What’s this?” His gloved finger traced a larger scar. Goosebumps crawled all over me. Tug and pressure vs actual touch. Dead-to-the-touch scar tissue vs the oversensitive skin around it. Distinct lines. It was really, really creepy…what I could and couldn’t feel.
I grinned, though he wouldn’t see, and replied, “A flaming Bultaco”.
They have good drugs…but not good enough methinks. I’d have rather been out cold for this. The conversation was actually helping though. Maybe he knew what he was doing after all. Certainly I was much less likely to rip his arms out of his sockets at the moment. I briefly wondered if doctors, like veterinarians, are prepared, or even expecting, their patients to turn and bite them at any time. A strange thought, yes…but that’s exactly what I wanted to do at that moment.
He chuckled, “Sounds like a great band name…or a bad burrito…but what’s it mean?”
“It’s a motorcycle. One of the first I rode. It burst into flames at speed and I had to decide when to stop burning and start sliding on the pavement instead. That decision netted the scars lower on my leg.”
“Ah,” he paused, “and what’s this one?” he traced another. Funny…I always thought it was chicks that dig scars.
“Electrical job long ago. A piece of conduit dropped from a few stories up and stabbed me. Went pretty deep.”
Deep was an understatement. Damn near went clean through my left buttock, entering near my spine and going nearly to my leg. I was 50 feet up on a scaffold at the time. Almost took me over the rail. I had to cut the extra off with a hack saw (I tried, but could not pull it out) and climb down myself. A coworker pulled it out for me. I only went to the hospital three days later. Stupid. I know. I was young then.
Motorcycle riding is one of the least dangerous things I’ve done in my lifetime.
“This will sting a bit.” he says as he jabs some more painkiller in my butt, and then, higher in my back. “The infection has followed the scar tissue, underneath it. We’re going to have to cut a little more out.”
“Holy crap!” I grunted. I could feel the deadened area spreading and *that* was triggering a very intense ‘fight or flight’ response. “Can you give me a couple minutes?” Queasy again. Vomiting while laying face down as some guy fillets your butt just seems so…not manly…somehow. I was desperate to avoid the vomiting part.
“Sure. The anesthetic needs a few anyway.” He puts a folded, wet, cold towel on the back of my neck. That is surprisingly effective.
Shortly he starts carving again. I can feel fluid…it’s warm, so it’s blood…or worse…running down over my back and around my hip. The smell is terrible.
He grunts. Or maybe he gagged. Hard to tell, in my position. “If it goes much deeper I’ll have to admit you to the hospital.” I groaned…I just wanted to get this over with.
Then, “Ah, better. But you’re going to lose some of these scars.”
“What do you mean?”
“The infection is behind the scar tissue and I’m taking it off. Then we’ll flush it with antibiotics. There’s plenty of skin and fat here to sew you up like new. Should be very little scarring left, and I expect no significant lingering pain.”
Score one for the fat guy. Something many folks don’t realize about scars…is they often hurt. Perhaps not that tissue itself, but you never lose the feeling as other, more pliable skin, moves freely and the damaged tissue doesn’t.
“This looks like a knife wound?” he was discussing another scar. I struggled to keep up.
“Nah. Piece of glass. Stupid fight. Saved somebody’s life though.” I was breathing hard now. For not hurting…this stuff sure has an impact on the body’s reactions.
“This one, you’ll keep.” He touches another, outside of the deadened area, and I flinch. If I could simply wish them away, this is the one I would “vanishify” like it never happened. With extreme prejudice. And probably some screams. Not mine though. Not this time.
“You want to tell me about it?”
“No doc. Not that one. There are stories I won’t tell until everybody involved is long dead.”
It is a mark of my control that some of those people live at all.
We don’t talk much after that. Or rather, he talks but I’m not up to answering. Doesn’t seem to bother him though. When he’s done he shows me the damage in a mirror. It’s surprisingly superficial now…despite the drain. It’ll be out in a couple days anyway.
“Damn. My ass has never looked better.” It was seriously starting to hurt though.
That earned a chuckle. ‘Body Image’ has never been something I get hung up on. I’d had some very ugly scars.
Today, healed and healthy, many of those scars have been replaced by a much less obtrusive one…a long thin line. But they’re really still there. The skin is just the cover. The soul is what’s marred.
But yes, there are stories I won’t tell…or face. But perhaps I should. They tend to fade from awareness until something brings them forward…and it always surprises me when I’m affected by them…again…and how strongly. I always feel I’ve lost something. Or failed.
And I don’t like to lose.
Scars on top of scars.
Some days I just hope they mean something.
I’ll see you on the road.