The story begins in this way, I was driving down the road, Bobbie was in the passenger seat when she burst out, “Bottoms up!” We laughed. We both knew. Wounds heal from the bottom up. This was the first time we could laugh about an experience that was not laughable. “Bottoms up” became a metaphor to move to many different places where changes take place from the bottom up.
Wounds heal from the bottom up. I now know. I have seen this with my own eyes. I watched a sizable abdominal wound heal from the bottom up. Bobbie had an incision biopsy wound to determine her kind of cancer in 2004. The wound took eight months to heal, from April to November. I was the wound dresser for seven months after training from the Visiting Nurse. I started with high anxiety. Certification to be a chaplain had not included this. Bobbie’s earlier infection in the wound site made me doubly worried that it could happen again. We both persevered. In the middle of November the wound closed, healing from the bottom up, just in time for our Thanksgiving trip to California. We were doubly thankful.
Aha! We lived grass roots health care. We are all on the front lines of the health care delivery system. All health issues from prevention to chronic conditions are out in the community. The change from acute illness to chronic illness dominating makes this truth, which was always there, more apparent.
In the language of Bobbie, “bottoms up” and inside out will be the way many changes take place in health care and society at large with what ever wound we have. Perhaps changes are more lasting and remembered from the bottom up and the inside out. Our chronic conditions and our social and economic ills are intertwined as we move to be a mutual benefit, mobilizing for the common good and healthy communities. We are all called to be wound dressers in our respective locations wherever we are and whatever we are doing.
My adventure in learning about wounds had an earlier beginning with our oldest son’s science project. He was seeing how natural remedies as lemon juice, sugar, garlic, honey, etc., slowed the growth of bacteria. A pathologist at the hospital provided some assistance allowing Michael to test these everyday items with various bacteria in the petri dish. A book for background reading was on the History of the Wound. The two sets of cells for healing were explained. One set fights the infection caused by bacteria and the other set helps the wound knit leaving a scar. The name for the second cells, “connective tissue.” I like the metaphor since connect is one of our deep metaphors.
Catharsis is the name for the cleansing action in the psychological wound. As a person names the pain in a personal grief the cleansing takes place. Energy is needed for this work. When healing takes places and less energy is needed to express the pain, a person has more energy to invest in other life activities. Thus you have renewal called decatharsis. The grief literature rightly starts with catharsis but seems to write less about decatharsis. What do I do with my life now? When you read individual stories one usually finds a purpose for living returns, renewed energy, even a new mission in life. As people heal they make new connections for living. Bobbie found her creative juices in all kinds of crafts.
The Spiritual wound brings us to confession, repentance, on the one hand and Absolution, forgiveness, and transformation on the other. Or as in the Lament Psalms there is the complaint, protest, and through the process a coming to a new place. WE give voice to our pain for renewal. Our Faith and worshipping communities, a soul friend, a spiritual director, a confessor, a midwife, are names for those who assist in the process.
To be continued,
Marlin Whitmer, retired hospital chaplain
Founder of the Befrienders (1966), called ones alongside for the recovery of community to change the culture “one story at a time” as story listeners.