“Never tell them where it hurts. Keep your bullet safe inside.” Richard Buckner, Devotion and Doubt.
I’m a physician’s daughter. Any shred of hypochondria was ridiculed out of me. My dad treated even minor injuries with disrespect.
Dad: “You twisted your ankle? Let me see.” (takes ankle and wrenches it)
Me: (whimpers in pain)
Dad: “Not broken!”
I twisted my ankle a lot on the rock-covered beaches along the Georgian Bay shore. I fell for this re-twisted ankle trick way too many times before I learned that if a limb wasn’t half severed, hanging limply, or obviously disfigured, I shouldn’t bother complaining.
For the most part, I’ve been healthy, so this trained disinterest in my own bumps, bruises, and pain hasn’t been much of a hindrance. When I had a tumor, however, that irritated the nerves in my left hip so much I could no longer walk home a bit over a mile from work, I took way too long to complain loudly enough that the doctors figured out I needed surgery to remove a (completely benign) dermoid tumor the size of a grapefruit. Also, I was really ashamed that my husband needed to pick me up and drive me home when I couldn’t walk. Writing that out sounds pretty ridiculous, but that’s the truth of it. So, I’m working at being a bit kinder to myself.
On the cruise, after a soak in a hot tub on the first night, I was walking back to my towel and shoes when I stepped on something. I reached down to brush a pebble off my foot and I pulled a little wedge of broken ceramic out of the sole of my foot. I tried to walk away, then I noticed I was leaving rather large bloody footprints on the tile. It wasn’t painful, nor was the cut wide, but it was deep and the foot bleeds.
I got the attention of the pool attendant to mop up the circle of bloody prints. She asked if I wanted to go to the medical facility. I thought about it. In the room I had no antiseptic and not even a band aid. She gave me some gauze, and I put it on my foot, got my shoe on and walked down 8 flights of stairs to the medical facility. I had blood all over my right hand and wrist, and I curled my hand so as not to frighten anyone. I think I thought that the elevators would be more “public”.
At the medical facility, the nurses clucked over me, placed my foot into a brown-red soaking liquid and gave me forms to fill out. I gave up my social security number, cabin number, and other numbers. I signed in several places. Yes, I would pay the “after hours” surcharge, yes, I would pay for the doctor visit. A soft spoken doctor arrived, pronounced I didn’t need stitches, taped the wound closed (“do not remove the tape until it falls off, don’t get it wet, shower with a plastic bag over your foot”). He gave me some extra wrapping for my foot, and the next day I got the summary of charges, $173 I could submit to my medical insurance.
I felt grateful for the cleaned and taped up wound, grateful for not having to worry than it was worse than it was, or that neglect would have made it worse than it started out. I felt slightly guilty for the cost, for needing the help. There’s something about the shame and guilt associated with seeking help that makes me secretly wish against my own health – that makes me wish things were worse than they are to merit seeking help. I am getting better at this, I can reason out that seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness, but my emotions have yet to catch up.