Suture Spit and a Peek at my Surgeon

Today I had my first follow-up with my surgeon, three weeks to the day since my total hip replacement. Not a moment too soon, since it turns out that a part of my incision is infected. Luckily it’s superficial, meaning it’s in the skin layers outside the deeper sutures, but important to catch it quickly so that it doesn’t track deeper. This kind of infection has a nickname, suture spit, named after the discharge that gets spit out of this localized spot. Suture spit. My poet likes that phrase.

It turns out that the aching and burning skin pain on my lateral thigh is one of the rare complications that can happen with the anterior placement type of hip surgery. In some people, the cutaneous nerve that runs past the incision and gets stretched and moved during the surgery gets irritated with intense residual effects. I can try to desensitize the skin with massage and pinching (hello TheraGun!) but the surgeon said it takes time to lessen and in many cases goes away eventually.

It hasn’t been the easiest day. I feel powerless in the face of this news about the irritated nerve. Like I can do all these things toward recovering as well as possible (outlined in this post) and be felled by something totally out of my control: a hyper-reactive nerve.

I notice there’s the kind of powerlessness that leads to despondency and wallowing in victim, which I feel myself dipping into at times today. Thoughts like Why me?, or, Of course I’m one of the fewer than 1% of people who get this nerve pain. This always happens to me, are signs that my victim has the floor.

However there’s another kind of powerlessness that leads to surrender, an acceptance of things as they are that breeds resourcefulness and courage. Thoughts like, Even if I don’t like it, I trust what’s happening, or choosing to pray the Serenity Prayer in order to remember to focus what I can change and accept what I can’t, are signs that my inner master has the floor instead of my victim.

There’s a more radical view that I dip into in moments when I’m praying with a friend in the style of affirmative prayer. I feel that place where I’m whole, complete and already healed, regardless of what’s happening with my body. It’s a felt sense awareness that emerges as the prayer unspools. It may last a while afterwards or it may disappear with the amen, but regardless of how long it lasts, I’ve touched that awareness and that’s what matters.

I don’t know what the lesson in this pain is yet, but I have a sense that it has to do with being willing to make a different choice than to dwell in my victim. Perhaps it’s to let go of the ways I try to control outcomes by being good. I don’t mean to stop doing my rehab exercises or stop using the hyperbaric chamber. I mean something more subtle and insidious, like the idea that because I do all this work to help my body heal well I’m entitled to have an easy recovery and to be pain-free. That kind of thinking is self-involved, reward-based, and deeply flawed.

Far more growth-producing is the idea that no matter what happens in my life or body, my job at every moment is to trust life/God/universe/insert-your-favorite-word-here and attune my listening to that deeper, quieter place in me in order to hear its suggestions and act on them instead of letting my victim keep the floor. As long as I can keep my attention on how I show up to meet whatever happens moment by moment, I can stay open to life as it unfolds without trying to manipulate it to prop up my teetering sense of self-worth.

Here’s my talented (and hot!) surgeon at our visit today. He’s the only one of four local Kaiser hip surgeons who’s trained in the anterior approach. I’m grateful for his skill and his no-nonsense explanations. And for the new phrase he taught me today: suture spit.

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