Closing The Cut

Thursday, January 30, 2020

"Closing the Cut" earned Hansen Deng third place in the Synapse Storytelling Contest's personal essay category.

With one hand pressed over the gash above my left eye in an effort to provide some hemostasis, I hurriedly walked into the nearest clinic that was open on an early Sunday morning.

The gauze was becoming saturated with blood that traveled down my face and onto my shirt. I walked with a quickened pulse and a heightened sense of clarity and urgency. The simmering panic seemed to have numbed my sensitivity to pain as well.

I became that “healthy adult, who for the first time needed urgent medical care.” It was ironic, and more importantly humbling, having been an indestructible physician-in-training for the past three years, to suddenly crash back to earth and seek medical help from someone else.

I turned the doorknob and entered the closest urgent care, not to mention that this location had four-and-an-half stars on Yelp.

The clerk James greeted me, who saw saw my blood-stained face and at once called over the provider, Janet. I was relieved mainly because I didn’t have to wait. Thirty minutes ago at the local YMCA, I caught an elbow while playing basketball.

I had a 3 cm laceration on the eyelid just below the eyebrow, and Janet explained that she’ll need to place six stitches to stop the bleeding. I scrummaged through my wallet for my Medical insurance card. James took a glance at my card, shook his head, and said I would have to pay out-of-pocket. This included two-hundred and fifty dollars plus any service and equipment fee.

“Our hands are tied here,” he told me. “I’m so sorry.”

There was an uncomfortable pause, likely a cue for me to leave. In a last-ditch effort I implored to Janet. What type of suture would she do? I’m a medical student and I just completed my surgery rotation. I nodded yes, I’m willing to try myself.

“I can numb it up and you try yourself. If you want to come back Wednesday for me to take a look at how it’s healed, I’ll be working on that day. Now, all of this is completely from one medical professional to another.”

I tried to think of the wounds that I had to help repair during medical training: when I sutured close an open calf on the trauma service, a cut on the forehead of an intoxicated man, the scalp of a lady involved in a traffic accident, etc.

Janet led me to the exam room and then irrigated the wound. She injected lidocaine, giving me extra because I had to get home first. It felt like a bee sting from a big bee. When I told her that the sutures that I had were too big for facial wounds, she handed me everything that I needed.

On my way out the door, I thanked Janet and James for all of their kindness.

James asked if I could write a positive review of my visit, to which and I replied most certainly. I scurried out of the clinic before the numbness would wear off.

As I left with a puffy eyelid loaded with anesthesia, several thoughts percolated in my mind. I wished that Janet could’ve fixed my eye, she seemed seemed to be torn by the medical liability that both protected and restrained her.

Regardless, she met me half way because of her compassion to heal, and in the current medical climate, one could even argue that she went too far. Her kindness definitely shaped my medical conscience in more ways than I expected.

At home, I propped up a mirror on my desk and unwrapped the blue kit. I loaded the needle and practiced all of the suturing techniques in reverse.

Rather than pronating the needle driver, I had to supinate. Instead of a forehand to drive the needle through, I backhanded.

Each time that I drove through the skin, blood streaked down my cheek and obscured the field. I was momentarily paralyzed as I looked into the mirror and thought of the momentous task ahead. Almost two hours passed before I finished the sixth and last stitch.

It’s been a year since the harrowing experience and the cut healed quite well. There’s now a barely perceptible line, but what do I still remember about it as I continue my surgical training?

I thought of Janet and James’ gestures of compassion, truly a gift to someone in need, as I was on the receiving end that day. There’s also the guilt I felt when I thanked them. Had I not been a medical professional walking through those doors seeking for help, I would’ve been turned away as were many others before and after me.

The beginning to understanding our responsibility and privilege of being a provider in medicine most importantly starts by being a patient first.