broadsideblog

Life After Stitches (or Staples)

In Medicine on July 21, 2009 at 2:20 pm
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Image by Andy G via Flickr

One of the best writers at The New York Times, I think, is Dana Jennings, an editor there, who has been writing about his brutal and exhausting battle with prostate cancer. Unlike much Times’ copy, which can be polite, accurate but bloodless, Jennings’ personal essays on this subject practically jump off the page and grab you by the throat. They’re not always fun, but they remind me, anyway, what great writing is about.

In today’s Times’ column, Cases, a weekly, long-running feature about the personal experience of illness or healthcare (open to all writers, I’ve written two of them), he writes eloquently about the many scars his body now carries, from childhood mishaps to major abdominal surgery to acne scars on his back. His honesty is extraordinary, and, I think refreshing.

“For all the potential tales of woe they suggest, scars are also signposts of optimism. If your body is game enough to knit itself back together after a hard physical lesson, that means you’re still alive, means you’re on the path toward healing…The scars remind me, too, that in this vain culture our vanity needs to be punctured and deflated — and that’s not such a bad thing. To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, better to be scarred and living than a dead lion.”

As someone with coconut knees (tiny indentations on the top of each, like a coconut, from one arthroscopy apiece) and two scars on the inside of each wrist — one, a half-inch souvenir of a motorbike ride in Thailand gone awry and the other from scraping against a wet wire during a gale-force wind while sailboat racing off Long Island Sound — I value my scars as well. Like Jennings reminds us, they’re the roadmap of our lives, reminding us, and those who get close enough to see them, of some of the best, and worst, places we’ve been.

  1. Great post by a wonderful writer about a wonderful writer. Made me think about life after adolescence. Recent research shows about 10% of female adolescents (at least in Finland and Japan) have a history of “cutting.” I wonder about the eventual roadmap of their lives, how they’ll come to value, or not, their scars.

  2. Due to crohns disease I’ve had quite a few colon surgeries, no one ever asks to see my scars. Go figure!

  3. Todd, cutting is a terrifying habit. Not sure I could ever understand it, sort of a micro-suicide.
    Glad you liked this.

    Brian, some scars are scarier than others!

  4. I have a close family member sadly who’s a self mutilator, I don’t think it’s suicidal at all. Actually it’s a coping mechanism which unfortunately she still resorts to at times of great stress in her life.

  5. Brian, I’m sorry to hear this. I hope she can find a good physician to help her somehow. No medication is useful?

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