Written In Fingernails

The story is written in my fingernails. If I turn my thumb just-so in the light, I can see the ridges. That same light reveals the wavy edge as the nail is brittle and flakes have torn off. The ridges smooth out toward the cuticle. Evidence in keratin of the medial changes three months ago, when I stopped taking a medicine I’d been on for years. When I changed the food I ate. I like to believe the lack of brittle ridges is a sign that I’m headed in the right direction for my health. But the more important thing is the reminder to approach my health with patience. I would like to hurry and find solutions, flip the switch and make things better. My fingernails tell me that this is a long slow game. It will be six or eight months before the last ridges are trimmed away. Other systems, other portions of my body need time to heal as well.

I wanted to fix it fast, be done and move on, but I need to listen to my fingernails. They are the historians of my health.

There is a book called The Body Keeps the Score, which I have never read, but the title felt like a blow when I first heard it. Ever since I’ve carried with me the idea that bodies remember trauma even when we’re not consciously aware that we’re carrying it. I’ve cried far more tears over my current medical choices than a mild chronic condition really merits. An outlandish quantity of tears, that has spilled in embarrassingly public ways. An appointment in a wrong location should be an annoyance, not something that makes me sob at the poor admin trying to do her scheduling job. I like to think of myself as an emotionally stable and rational person, but evidence accumulates that in this case, with this medical adventure, I am neither. I am like the Marina District in San Francisco where all the structures were built well, but the ground they stood on was fill rather than bedrock. When the earthquake came in 1989, everything collapsed because of ground amplification.

I did not realize I had faults in my ground. Fissures left by my experiences of surgery and radiation therapy twenty-five years ago. Medical trauma that I thought I was done with, but which is being stirred up now. This is one of the sources of emotional amplification. I can show up for a scoping, chat with the nurses, be cooperative and personable with the person stabbing my arm for an IV. For them it is all routine, they had similar patients before me, and the rest of their day will be exactly this. I pretend it is routine for me as well. “Oh yes, this is my third scoping. I know how it goes.” A veneer of cooperative normality. I even try to pretend to myself. Almost successfully. Except if any information is unexpected, I am upside down, flailing for balance, emotional. Knocked flat by an unexpected amplification from a trauma by body remembers and wants to protect me from.  Trauma I didn’t even realize I had.

I began to see it on the day Howard and I watched a show where a medical person had to do an emergency intubation and camera down a patient’s throat. I jumped out of my seat and left the room, unable to watch without feeling that it was me. My throat with tubes and cameras. When I was out of the room, waiting for the scene to be over, I puzzled at the odd, instantness of the reaction. It was not rational. It was a trauma response and I couldn’t unknow that I’d just reacted to trauma I was carrying.

Trauma is not written in my fingernails. There are no ridges where I can track the moment I began healing. I wonder if it would be easier if trauma healing could have a progress bar or graphs. Instead what I had was the day after I cried at the poor desk clerk. The day I realized all my emotions were overwrought, and that my emotional state was actively interfering with my ability to collaborate with my doctors about a chronic medical condition. That was the day I recognized I had to stop trying to hurry. I had to find ways to create stability and prevent emotional amplification.

It began with a meditation. Possibly the first real, deep meditation of my life. It was only eight minutes by the clock, but felt much shorter. I breathed and then formed clear thoughts and intentions about my grief and how I wanted to interact with my doctors going forward. (Less crying. A lot less crying.) I visualized a rock in the waves, a rock in deep water. The ocean is vast, it can absorb anything. So I pictured my own calmness as vast as the ocean, as firm as the rock within it. I went deep into the muffled calm of being underwater.

And then I prayed. I gave thanks for this body that is trying its best to protect me. All my troubles are protective systems gone out of bounds (this is the core irony of autoimmune illnesses). I thanked my throat for it’s service. I handed over my long-term fate to God and asked God to carry it for me. If I put the future in God’s hands, I don’t have to live in an endless branching contingency tree with plans for all the twigs at the end of numerous branches, connected to possible trunks. My mind is too small to carry so much. The strain of carrying it adds to the tears. While I was at it, I handed over my daughter’s pregnancy health and the coming baby. I handed over financial concerns as well. Both of which were amplifying factors.

Prayer pulled me out of the deep. I rose up brown rather than blue. Light instead of compressed. And then the time was gone.

I’ve no illusion I am all healed, trauma is not so easily resolved, but the next day I did not cry at my doctor’s appointment. Then I was able to catch up with a friend and tell the story of my throat without crying. So something has shifted. If there were fingernails for trauma, would that be the beginning of ridges smoothing out?

I have to be patient. I have to let things grow. Eventually I will be able to see. This is a long slow corrective process, body, mind, soul. Recognizing the slowness is the beginning.

1 thought on “Written In Fingernails”

  1. The book “The Body Keeps Score” is a good book, I found helpful insight for my own trauma. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve shifted to viewing life as a marathon instead of a sprint and accepting that I will be a bit slower than I used to be. It sounds like you are finding similiar strategies for coping with all the rough bits that life throws at us. I start with a reminder to focus only on today, for I don’t know what tomorrow will bring and I cannot go back to what has already happened. I also remind myself to be kind to myself, a hard thing to do at times.

    I saw that you are close to being a grandmother, I hope things go well for your daughter and your grandchild. And I hope that you are well and continuing to find ways to move thru your medical and other problems.

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