Bill, the nurse, took my blood pressure and temperature. He blotted my scars with saline, slathered Lidocaine gel onto two gauze pads, and secured the pads over my wounds. I was used to the routine; I had been going to the Wound Healing Center three times a week since early February. As he worked he said, “Have you had any pain?”
“None in the neck,” I said, but the arm hurt a bit.” He nodded his head in affirmation. He made notes in my chart, then set up the required tools on a metal tray.
“The doctor’s moving fast today,” he said, “It won’t be long.” Two weeks ago the doctor did the last of four minor surgeries. Now he was going to remove the stitches.
There was a quick knock on the door. The doctor strode in with a nurse following behind. The nurse removed the gauze on the back of my neck and the doctor efficiently pealed off the steri-strips. It didn’t hurt, yet when I felt his touch on my skin, I instantly remembered how the neck had been bruised and sore for a week. I hadn’t been able to sleep comfortably or turn my head from one side to the other without it throbbing. How could I have forgotten so quickly? I wasn’t attempting to be brave when the nurse asked if I had experienced any pain; I had sincerely forgotten.
“Looks great, all healed,” he announced before moving confidently to the arm. I felt a pinch as each stitch was plucked out. Vividly I remembered how it felt as my skin was sewn together like fabric. There was no discomfort until the next day when each time I shifted the left shoulder; it felt as if my skin was being ripped. After ten days, I had almost called him to check if this amount of discomfort was to be expected.
My brain forgets pain almost instantaneously once it has ceased, nevertheless my body will help me to remember. These new scars will fade like the others on my skin. I have a scar on each of my wrists. Each is a reminder of a cut made by a doctor when he could not insert a needle into a vein. I can hardly see them myself now that they have been a part of me for about 60 years. For years when I touch the slanting one on my left wrist, I could hear the doctor nervously whistling as he used the scalpel. I can sense his anxiety and feel my mistrust.
I know that my skin will help me remember the places it was cut, the void that was created, the sensation of being sutured, and the postsurgical soreness. From the doctor’s perspective it was “all healed.” However, my body will remind me that there is more healing to be done.