This piece was supposed to be published in a magazine and then Covid happened before my contract was signed so, in the end, it is still mine. I decided to put it on my site. The irony here is that I actually have a hernia that I developed after writing this. It sat in my files for a long time before I finally decided to clean it up for sale. I think in the end, it is still valuable because it really is a strong metaphor for life. We live in the open spaces of our lives. At a time when things are so chaotic and people are so vitriolic, we can remind ourselves to look for those open spaces.
Last night, as I lay in my bed trying to fall asleep, I moved and my fingers grazed across one of my many abdominal scars. It reminds me of how sometimes I will be happily knitting and I will pull on my carefully wound balls and out will come a length of tangled yarn. Like life, yarn is like that. I carefully wind balls and they look beautiful and perfect but inside is a terrifying tangle of fear and doubt that will pull out exactly when I need to draw on my resources. I cannot go any further until I untangle it.
Touching scars is my way of feeling out and understanding the realities of what is and what was. After my critical illness, all I know is to run my fingers across the surgical scars like trying to untangle yarn. There isn’t a protocol or method or algorithm. I random pull at strings and see what moves and what can be pulled apart to make a space that is not bound up in the knot. I have to learn to move around some knots and undo others until more and more of the yarn falls into my lap, sometimes a little worse for the wear but still untangled. I live in these undone lengths and open spaces.
Years ago, I had already been through many surgeries when I started to have severe abdominal pain. It was caused by a hernia that bulged out of the place where two different months old surgical incisions intersected. We scheduled surgery and I left the doctor’s office in tears, embarrassed but unable to stop myself.
Three days before surgery, I was out with my husband when I felt a pop. My intestines had slipped into the hole. I went to the ladies room to see a lemon sized bulge in my belly. I hid in the accessible stall and cried and bit my lip and held my breath and pushed but could not get it to go back. I began to panic. I locked the door and laid down in front of the sinks and tried again but still couldn’t. Laying on the bathroom floor, I stared up on the ceiling and felt myself sinking into yet another crisis. My insides were literally knotted and I was unable to untangle them. I forced myself to stand and walk out and get my husband. He practically flew to the hospital and by the time we were there, I was in agony and vomiting violently.
When I was opened, I was riddled with hernias and the surgeons ran out of blue mesh to close them so one hernia would be a tension repair. That hernia was smaller, only 5 centimeters long. He tried to go into this site laparoscopically, like the other two sites that day. Unfortunately, my body resisted, too full of scar tissue from the previous surgeries. They moved their tools for another angle and tried again, then again one last time. Three times they tried and three times they failed.
Finally, he resorted to a full open tension repair. I woke to five sets of laparoscopic incisions and a full open where a total of seven hernias were closed over three sites. My body was a minefield with fifteen small holes, each closed with a single stitch, and two short incisions with only a few and then a longer incision with twelve. My body was neatly held together with bits of string, sewn up like a garment knitted in pieces. While the larger scar that lives where the lemon-sized hernia once was is heavy enough, it is not the one I go to in moments of weakness. It is the open-hernia-repair, the one that carries with it the weight of so many failures. My body resisted healing, perhaps I do not know how to be healed?
“Does this feel worse?” I whisper as I take my husband’s hand and place it over a dimpled scar. I pick up my head off the bed so that if there is a new hernia, he will feel the pressure of my insides trying to force their way out again, death spilling out of the place where life should be, like tangles of yarn falling from my ball of wound yarn.
“No. You are better now.”
I consider this for a moment but then shake my head, “Feel it again.”
He does and then repeats himself, “You are better now. It has been years since your last surgery, more than five. You are better.”
I rest my head against his warm shoulder and take my hand off my belly to place it on his chest. His skin is warm and his breathing is steady but I want to touch the scar again, feel its edges and see what it has to tell me. There is likely nothing it has to say to me anymore but I am afraid of finding otherwise. I slowly pull back my hand but he gently grasps it. He places my hand over his heart where he holds it, and me, steady. He knows. He knows the way that my hands cannot leave these knots, even though it has been five years.
I suddenly realize that this is an open space. As I sat here, grappling with the tangle that I perceived fell out of the center of my ball, I realize that it was an illusion. I can pick up these loops and see that they are perfectly fine. I may have pulled out more than I intended to but there is no harm done. I can return to knitting the fabric of my life, punctuated by the steady breathing of my husband and his hands that hold mine steady.