“Ack!” I yelped, as I took my first glance at what appeared to be a huge centipede on my leg.
I knew it was actually an incision made to remove a mole, which my doctor had tied up with 5 neat stitches. Just a moment before, she had told me I wouldn’t freak out if I looked at it. But I did! A foreign body sucking into me, with creepy crawly legs!
Those “legs” were, of course, the stitches. And after another moment, I looked again, and again. I looked closer. And closer.
In the days that have followed, I’ve been marking the progress of that “centipede” with fascination – skin changing color, coming together, swelling, healing. Our skin is an amazing organ.
I can’t help but think of the stitches inside me from an unrelated surgery 8 weeks ago, about how I still have bruises healing that I feel but can’t see. Maybe they look kind of like this?
In fifth grade, we dissected frogs for the first time, and I loved it. Each day, I was fascinated to see what else we’d discover. The layers of skin, the stomach and intestines, the tiny heart – mysteries revealed.
I kept those frog organs in small jars of formaldehyde on a shelf in my room. For years afterwards, I would pull them out and stare at them. I think I grossed out some of my friends.
We studied human anatomy along with the frogs’ anatomy. As we drew, read about, and explored the different organs and systems, we made the invisible more concrete. I could visualize the things inside us that I wanted to see, but couldn’t.
My doctor told me that she could sew the stitches for my mole removal in one of two ways. Option A would give me less of a scar, but had a slight risk of reopening. Option B would have a stronger hold, but also would show more scar.
I chose option B. I don’t need anxiety about a possible reopening of my incision. But I also realized that I WANT to see my scar. And I want other people to be able to see my scar. I want visual proof that this has happened to my body.
With my earlier surgery, the incisions were all either internal or tiny. The stitches all dissolved. The trauma (and healing) was and has been mostly invisible.
How can I prove what I’m going through if I can’t see it? How can I trust my sensations of pain and discomfort if the bruises are all inside? How can I know whether I’m healing if I can’t see a scar?
Sometimes, we want to see the damage so we can see the progress. Sometimes, a wiry set of black centipede legs tied to our skin – along with the red, then yellow and black, then whitening scar – are badges we’ve earned. Sometimes it is exhilarating to watch our bodies work their magic, and watch the healing happen.