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Grey Sparrow Journal and Press, as of January 31, 2018 will move to

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Packing the Wound

by Ben Leib



After the surgery, Mirabelle played nursemaid to me for a few months straight.   I’d had a pilonidal cyst removed, which is as revolting as it sounds.   The surgery left me with a hole in the divot of my back three inches long and over an inch deep.   It was a slot of removed flesh, and that wound was "productive" as the doctors told me, making it sound like an operational assembly line.


Because the wound was productive, I needed to tamp it with gauze, and because the gauze would get saturated, the padding needed to be changed several times a day.   This responsibility fell to Mirabelle.   I could sense her glee as she pushed my naked body towards our bed, coaxed me onto my belly, and proceeded to enact our little medical procedure, which involved packing the wound and dressing it.   "How long did you do the sitz bath for?" Mirabelle asked as she tweezed endless gauze into the hole in my back.   The sitz bath was a plastic bucket I filled with warm water.   It fit into the toilet bowl.   So, to take my sitz bath, I essentially had to relax on the can for twenty minutes or so, pumping warm water from the bucket into the wound.


"I was in there for twenty minutes," I replied.


"Good.   It looks like things are getting better back here," she narrated what she saw, "the scar’s getting longer, so the wound is healing."   She ran fingers across the places where I was healed.


"I know.   I should be back to normal soon."


"You’ve never been normal."

Done with the packing, Mirabelle slapped an oversized gauze pad onto my lower back and taped it into place.   She patted me on the ass with a little giggle and told me something about how much she liked seeing me so submissive, which was meant to be a joke but bespoke some deep truth about Mirabelle’s, about everybody’s, need to be needed.




Mirabelle once caught me trying to pack my own wound.   She walked into the bedroom while I was bent over in front of the full length mirror, trying to peer at my own backside, navigating a band of gauze with one hand and a set of tweezers with the other.   "What the hell are you doing?" Mirabelle asked.


I shot upright with the abrupt movements of a man with a guilty conscience, and stood there, naked, gauze dangling from my fingers as I extended my arms in a declaration of innocence.   "Nothing," I told her.


"Why are you trying to do that yourself?" she asked, "I’m just in the other room."


"I didn’t want to bother you."


"You promised to let me make the decisions, and that includes how to take care of you.   You can’t do this yourself."


"I know, you’re right," I told her, holding out the strand of gauze, "I couldn’t do it without you."   The truth is, I was doing exactly what she feared.   I was trying to determine if I, in fact, could do this myself.   If I was alone in the world, would I be able to treat my own injuries?   Could I be totally self-sufficient?  And I did not have time to answer these questions satisfactorily.


"Don’t pull that shit again," she said, snatching the gauze from my hand.  "Now get onto the bed so that I can do this right.   Otherwise this thing won’t heal properly."




Pilonidal cysts are generally an ailment plaguing hirsute men.   They occur in the same place on anybody who develops one.   Other cysts:  abscesses, boils, sebaceous cysts; these all have their places on the human body, but a pilonidal cyst only occurs in that divot of the lower back.   This phenomenon was explained to me by the friendly doctor who originally lanced my enormous sore.   Before some evolutionary turn, humans had tails, the doctor explained, and we human beings still possess a physical trace of where our tails once had been.   That tail-marker exists as a small cavity in the lower back, and the cavity is particularly prone to infection.   The hairier the human being, the more likely he (or she) is to develop a pilonidal cyst, the reason being that the hair acts as a sort of bacteria trapper, holding harmful microbes against the skin, where they get into the vestigial tail-cavity and incubate.   The bacteria cause an infection, which produces cottage cheese-like pus, which pressurizes under the skin, which bubbles up creating an excruciating sore.   I was mortified, hearing the doctor describe this process.   He declared that the most common bacterium was fecal, possibly implying that I had a problem wiping my own ass or worse.   I took pride in my hygiene, and shuddered to think of the various bacteria populating the folds and creases of my body.


The sore only took a couple of days to really ripen, though there had been a month or two of discomfort preceding its appearance.   Once it arrived, it was so painful that I didn’t immediately recognize it as a cyst.   I interpreted the discomfort as internal.   Because I was at work at the time, I couldn’t get a good look at it on my backside, and I thought that I had a problem with my spine that was causing swelling.   I thought maybe I was experiencing some previously unknown form of sciatica.   But when I got home from work, barely able to walk, Mirabelle took a closer look.


"You’ve got a big sore back here," she said, "Holy shit, it’s stretching the skin so much that it looks like it might just break open.   I mean, I wish you could see this.   It’s actually pulling your skin apart."


"What color is it?" I asked.


"It’s purple," she said.




Mirabelle brought the camera with us when I went to my first doctor’s appointment.   We were only going to be there for about half an hour–just long enough for me to take off my clothes, for the doctor to cut open the sore on my back and to squeeze all the puss out of it.   Mirabelle thought that it was an experience that deserved documentation.   She snapped a shot of me taking off my shoes, taking off my pants, taking off my shirt, lying naked under a paper sheet.


The doctor had his scalpel in hand when he asked me if I was ready.   I gave him the thumbs up, and Mirabelle snapped a shot of that as well.   He lowered the knife, and, with just a bit of pressure, the cyst exploded.   I felt the warm spatter of pressurized seepage across my lower back.   I felt the flow of blood and watery pus running between my legs.   The smell of that semi-solid and rarely dealt with bodily secretion produced within an infected cyst, well, it’s unique to say the least.   It has the distinction of being unmistakably human, like the odor of a deep belly button, or of recently clipped toenails that were allowed to grow too long, or of a kidney stone, all of which are simultaneously repulsive and oddly familiar.   The expectorant itself, inseparable from the blood that it erodes, seems like tiny, pale yellow subterranean flows.   It’s not the gooey plasma that one typically associates with the word "pus," but, rather, is more solid, chunkier, almost fatty, so that, when the doctor squeezed the contents from my lower back, it exploded from the cyst in large pasty globs.   "How much are you getting?" I asked him, as Mirabelle moaned and blasphemed.   The doctor would show me what he was wiping away from my wound, and it rivaled any grotesquery I’d experienced up to that point.


When he was done, the doctor slapped on some gauze dressing, which was immediately saturated in purple, red, and pus colored excretions, and he told me that he had effectively lanced my cyst.   He then left the room so that I could get dressed.   When I hoisted myself onto my knees the paper sheet fell off of me, so that I knelt there on the examination table, my back arched in mild pain, hirsute ass pointed toward the heavens, defiled gauze taped in place, and Mirabelle clicked one last picture of me and the glorious results of my busted cyst.




But lancing the pustule wasn’t enough, for there was still an infection in my tail-hole, threatening to once again blow up into a back rending cyst.   The real surgery would be the removal of that infection, which had to be carved out of the small of my back.   The doctors had to put me out for the procedure.   Mirabelle, her mother, and her stepfather kept me company in the examination room while I awaited my dope-induced oblivion.   Finally a nurse came in and retrieved me.   And then, in the operating room, they plugged my vein with drugs and I was unconscious instantly.


A friend, who'd also had a pilonidal cyst, explained to me ahead of time that, in exceptional cases, weird things can grow in the tail-cavity.   


"Like what?" I asked him.


"You know, like teeth, toe nails, balls of hair, that type of thing."


My biggest fear was that my body had chosen to grow something of this sort.   I saw the nurse standing over me when I first reopened my eyes.   "Did you guys find anything weird back there?" I asked her.


"What do you mean?"


"Hair or toe nails, anything like that?"




I hadn’t felt an ounce of pain during the previous afternoon or evening, but, after a night’s sleep, during which the lingering effects of anesthesia vanished, I awoke feeling like a man who’d just had three inches of flesh cut out of his back side.   We were going to our first aftercare appointment.   The nurse handled me more roughly than I was used to being handled by nurses, and was therefore not delicate at all when she yanked a yard or two of saturated dressing out of my back.   I started to bleed.   "Oh my," the nurse said, "you’re bleeding."


She was quick to refill the wound with gauze, trying to staunch the flow that, from what I could gather, was mildly alarming.   "Do you see how it’s done?" the nurse asked Mirabelle, who was learning how to take care of me at home.


"Yeah," Mirabelle said, "will he bleed like that every time?"


"No.   Remember that his surgery was only yesterday.   He’ll be healing up quickly."





When we arrived back at the apartment, I discovered that I’d bled, not only through the packing and the dressing, but through my underwear, my jeans, and onto the seat of Mirabelle’s car.   But even then, I was unalarmed.   It was a surgery, after all.


"It’s not supposed to be doing that," Mirabelle said.


"Don’t worry," I told her, "this will be your first time packing the wound.   We’ll get some fresh gauze back there, and then we’ll get a burrito for my recovery lunch."


Mirabelle rolled her eyes.   She spread several towels over the foot of the bed, instructed me to take my pants off and lay on my stomach, and then she got to work.   "This is soaked through with blood," she said.   "Oh my God, you’re still bleeding so much.   This isn’t right."


"It’s okay; just get that gauze in there so it all gets soaked up."


"No, I don’t think you understand—something’s wrong.   The blood . . . it’s like gushing out of you.   I don’t even think I can do this right with all that blood."


"It’s easy," I assured her, "Just pack that gauze in there.   The blood will stop."




Less than ten minutes later, I stood in the bathroom, my sweatpants at my ankles, and, when I peeled all of that fabric from my backside, I could have wrung the blood out of it.   I knelt there, with the door open, kind of crouching so that the unrelenting stream of blood dripped onto the linoleum floor rather than into my pants.   "Get me a roll of paper towels," I instructed Mirabelle, who was sitting at the foot of our bed, watching me.


When she came back with the roll, she asked, "What do you expect to do with this?"


"I’m just gonna try to sop some of it up."


"That’s it," Mirabelle said abruptly, "I’m gonna call your dad."


"Wait, why call him?  We don’t need to worry my parents."


Mirabelle was already running off to the living room to grab her phone.   She had it to her ear when she reappeared.   I'd spun off a good ten yards of paper towels, crumpled them into an oversized wad, and was pressing them to my rear with one hand while I attempted to clean the floor with the second half of the roll.   "Hey Arthur," Mirabelle said, "It’s Mirabelle… Yeah, everything went fine, but we’re having a bit of a problem right now …"  She explained the situation, and then passed the phone back to me.


"Hey Pop."


"You need to go back to the hospital," my dad said.


"I don’t know if it’s the right place to go," I told him, "they don’t have an ER there."


"It doesn’t matter.   They’ll know what to do.   Just get back there.   You shouldn’t be bleeding like this."


"Okay, Pop, we’ll do that."


Mirabelle had her arms crossed and gave me a voodoo stare from the corners of her eyes.   "What’d he say?" she asked.

"We need to drive back to the hospital."




I stood, facing Mirabelle, in the same examination room where she’d learned how to pack a wound just hours earlier.   We’d been led in there by the receptionist while unseen staff members tracked down the nurse who’d treated me.   I chose to remain standing, for I knew what a mess I would potentially make just sitting on the examination table.   The nurse rushed in, panting.   "Would you mind," I asked her, "if I took off my pants?"


"No," she said, "no, please, take them off and lay down on the table."


When I pulled my sweats down to my ankles, the wad of paper towels flew from the waistband, where it had been held in place, and flopped onto the middle of the floor.   Blood splashed everywhere.   As I climbed, face down, onto the table, the nurse began frantically cleaning the linoleum like some murderess, flung into a remorseful frenzy after the fact.


Because I was lying passively on the examination table, pondering the faultless shame of my current degradation, I was unprepared for the surprise when the nurse suddenly decided to shove two fingers into my surgical wound and press them against the wall of my exposed flesh in a strange attempt to staunch the blood flow.




Mirabelle’s mother had arrived and was standing beside her by the time that Dr. Woo ran into the examination room.   "Sorry it took me a moment," he said, "I was actually in the OR when I got the message.   I have to say, I didn’t expect to see you so soon."

"I didn’t expect to be bleeding so much."

"You know," he told me, "if this ever happens again, you’re fully covered for emergency room visits."


Dr. Woo began digging through the trench in my back.   I hadn’t been given any anesthetic and I was clinging to the examination table for dear life.   "It’s a mess back here," he said, "It’s tough to see just where you’re bleeding from.   There’s a lot of coagulation.   When were you here this morning?"




"So you’ve been bleeding for over two hours."


"Yes," I answered.


Dr.   Woo turned toward Miriam.   "Was he bleeding before he arrived here this morning?" he asked.


"No," Mirabelle said.


"And yesterday afternoon or last night, after the operation?"


"No, it wasn’t until this morning."


"Okay, just checking.   So ..."  Dr.   Woo turned his attention to me, "I think I’ve isolated where you’re bleeding from, and it looks like we’re going to have to stitch you up back here.   Probably just two or three stitches will do the job."


"All right," I gave him the okay, "do what you need to do."


I guess that I expected some kind of local anesthetic, a little shot of something in the back to numb things up a bit.   That in mind, I was taken completely by surprise when Dr.   Woo threaded up a needle and got to work.   I grabbed that wax papered table in a bear hug.   Mirabelle squealed and Joanne put an arm around her shoulder.


It wasn’t until after the doctor finished stitching me up that he gave me a shot and numbed up my backside.   I couldn’t figure out why he'd waited, and I wouldn’t be able to say why I hadn’t requested something to stay the pain.   I was fatigued.   I was ready to get back home and allow myself to be taken care of.




Mirabelle seemed traumatized, and was still crying as we drove back to the apartment.   "I told you," she said, "I told you that it was serious."


"What can I say?  You were right."


"You were bleeding all over the place and you needed your dad to tell you to go to the hospital.   I was saying that all along."


"I know, I should have listened."


"I need you to promise me something.   We’re committed to each other, and I need to hear that you’re going to listen to me.   I need to know that you’re going to take me seriously."


"I do take you seriously."


"That’s not what I’m fucking talking about.   I need to know that, when I’m serious about something, you’re going to hear me and you’re going to do what I say," Mirabelle said.  "Now you have to promise."


"I promise."


"You promise what?"


"I promise not to be stubborn, to recognize when you’re serious about something, and to do what you say—especially when it comes to these types of emergencies."


"And you have to promise to let me make the decisions as long as you’re still recovering."


"You make the medical decisions," I announced.


Mirabelle smiled, "Now I want you to promise to always do what I say."


"I promise to always do what you say."


"Promise that you’ll always do the dishes and make the bed . . . oh, and you also have to pay the bills."


"I promise to make the bed, do the dishes, and pay the bills."  I reached over and gave her thigh a squeeze as she drove.


"Oh, and clean the shower."


"And clean the shower."


"And to let me tickle you when I’m bored.   And also to beat you up . . . "


So I didn’t argue with Mirabelle almost at all during the following weeks, during the endless sitz baths and cleaning and packing and dressing.   I did almost everything she asked, capitulated without protest.   I let Mirabelle take care of her man and almost took it for granted that she would always be there to do so.   I miss her.