Monday, December 22, 2008

My Favorite Scar

I have a lot of scars. There are suture marks on my left ankle. My shins are dotted with old wounds from falling above the crux on overhanging routes. A small line runs along my groin from a vena cavity filter. There are two scars layered on my left elbow from a compound fracture. Like the twelve-inch line on my back, most of my scars have to do with rock climbing. My favorite scar happened when I fell off my bike.

I pedaled down the Squamish Chief’s parking lot, feeling good. I had just sent my boulder problem project and I could rest a day before heading back to California. I balanced on my bike, taking my hands off the handlebars, and adjusting my backpack. That is when I hit a speed bump. I flew over the handlebars. My face met the pavement in a very intense kiss. The North Face sunglasses I wore smashed into my cheek and split my face open. When I stood, there was a hole in the shoulder of my shirt, and ta bleeding gash on my face. People approached me.

“I am okay,” I said. I thought of Monty Python, “It’s only a flesh wound.”
Someone handed me a roll of climbing tape and a bit of tissue. I bandaged my face together.

“You are going to need stitches for sure.” Another passerby good Samitarian said. I groaned. I knew that Canada had universal health care but I was an American and dealing with the bureaucracy of the hospital in a foreign country worried me. I wondered if I could get some help from climbers.

Noah had just finished his residency in emergency medicine and wanted to go bouldering before he got board certified. Siemay was working temporarily in an internal medicine office. She had climbed well in Squamish the summer after her residency ta few years earlier, so the two packed their dog and crash pads. They drove their fifth wheel trailer to Squamish and parked it for a few weeks. Holding my hand to my cheek, I found the couple in the granite boulders below the Chief.

“Uh…” I watched Noah walk down from the top of a difficult boulder problem. “Umm…”

Fuck, I have never known what to say when I need help.

“What happened to your cheek James?” Siemay asked.

“I fell off my bike.” I pulled the gooey bandage off and showed the big wound. “Check it out.”

Noah walked up, and examined it. “Hmm. Looks like you might need a couple of stitches. We are going to finish bouldering then you can come by the trailer. We will stitch you up.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah, stop by around seven. As long as the wound does not sit for more than twelve hours, I can stitch it up.” I smiled and Noah went back to bouldering.

I bounced down from the boulders elated to be getting stitches from a climbing doctor. I grabbed my bike, straightened the handlebars, and rode back to my camp, a small tent I had set up in the woods behind the recreational center.


At seven o’clock, I stood at the door to Noah and Siemay’s fifth wheel trailer. I gave a tentative and wimpy knock.

“Come in,” Siemay said. I opened the door, letting the warm smell of rice drift into the summer air. “I am just cooking dinner. Noah is in the bedroom.”

“Noah. Noah!” She called. “James needs stitches.”

Noah stumbled out of the bedroom. His pants were covered in chalk.
“Let me wash my hands.” Noah stepped around Siemay to the sink. He scrubbed his hands with soap for thirty seconds, rinsed them, and dried them on paper towels. Moving to the dining room table he pulled put on a pair of latex gloves, and examined a set of syringes on the table. After squirting fluid out of one of the syringes, he told me to lay down on the floor.

“This is for the pain. I am going to make your cheek numb so that you will not feel the stitches.” Noah bent over me and slid the needle into my face, slowly releasing the fluid. “Now, we wait for a minute.”

I felt a tingling sensation in my cheek. Arthur Clarke wrote, “Any sufficiently advance technology is indistinguishable from magic.” That’s what happened in the little RV. Magic.

“How’s the rice coming?” Noah asked.

“Fine,” Siemay stirred the pot and continued chopping vegetables. “What sort of thread do we have to stitch him up with?”

“I can’t open the closet door,” Noah held his hands in the air and waved his gloves. “Can you get it?”

Siemay walked over, sorted through the closet, and grabbed some thread. “This is all we got.”

Noah groaned and looked at me. “This thread is bigger than what I would normally use. You are going to have a scar.”

I shrugged. I was happy just to get stitches. Who care’s about scars?

“That’s okay,“ I said.

Noah put a needle through my face, pulled the thread, and stitched me back together. There were six stitches when he was done. My eye was black and blue. I looked like I had just gotten in a bar fight; the pavement had been pretty mean to me.

“Okay,” there you go.

“Thank you so much,” I smiled. I was nervous. They had already given me a lot and I did not have any money or really anything to give in return. “I do not know how to repay you.”

“Dinner’s ready,” Siemay finished the meal. “Here’s a plate James. You can sit down over there.”

“Pull the stitches out in two weeks,” Noah filled his plate with rice and corn and peppers and chicken. “It will be easy. Just give them a little tug while you look in the bathroom mirror.”

And then I ate. Noah, the emergency room doctor, had dealt with my wound and then Siemay, the internal medicine doctor, fed me dinner. I have met hundreds of doctors because of my reckless climbing: neurologists, orthopedic surgeons, physicians, trauma doctors…but these two were the best.



Years later, I was sitting in the house behind the Yosemite medical clinic playing poker with Noah, Siemay, and a few other boulderers. Noah was staring at me. I thought he was trying to figure out how many aces I had in my sleeve. He opened his mouth and said, “That scar is a little big.”

I kept my poker face and never told him that the half moon below my eye is my favorite scar.

1 comment:

Rob said...

Funny... my favorite essay, so far.