‘Hold on,’ I said, finally looking up from my work iPad and paying attention to the nurse I’d been following, ‘this isn’t a consultation room.’
‘Of course not,’ she replied and behind her the four other people, all dressed in light blue scrubs, gathered at the table, ‘we’re going to operate. Remove your shirt please.’
Despite my surprise, I complied, more worried about whether I’d be able to ride my bike home from the hospital than anything else. Given the long drawn out process, the eighteen months of confusion, to get to this point it would have been churlish to demand a more convenient, or at least forewarned, slot. Moments later I felt the needle slide into my skin and knew the local anaesthetic was being driven into the nerves around the lump in my back. I continued to feel the hands prod and probe as they tested the waters and then the gentlest pressure as the scalpel began to slice my body apart.
There was a tugging and gouging as fingers dug under the skin, as blades separated muscle and flesh from the lump. It’d been there a long time and had become embedded in me; had bound itself to me. It struggled, refusing to give up its home easily. I imagined the scalpel snatching through individual sinews, watching them ping back limply, as each one fell the lump was prised a little further. It was uncomfortable and unusual, the feeling of fingers inside me, but not painful.
The consultant chattered away, explaining what he was doing to the registrar, prompting the nurses. I may as well have not been there. I couldn’t see anyone’s face, just the tray of instruments in front of me and, if I glanced down my body, an array of legs. No-one even warned me when I saw him adjust his pose, brace himself and there was the distinct feeling of frustrated pulling. When all the muscle and flesh pinning the lump in place had been cut away and still it refused to budge, the last option was to wrench it out.
A grunt, a final tug and a silent rush as air filled the cavity.
A surgical gloved hand dropped a white quivering blob stained violent red down right in front my eyes. It sat and shuddered there, amongst the gleaming silver of the various tools and prongs, like a shell-less egg finally forced out. It was surprisingly big; much larger than the raised patch of skin would have suggested. It must have gone deep, deep into my back.
‘All done Mr Marston,’ said the consultant. ‘My colleague just needs to stitch you back up.’ The gloves scooped up the bloody egg and popped it in a piece of Tupperware, the sort of thing I’d use for some left-over soup. Meanwhile, I was tugged again. I could feel my skin being dragged together, two edges pulled to meet and persuaded to knit back into a single piece covering my body. ‘I am certain this is a cyst, but we’ll send it off to be tested to be on the safe side. Otherwise, there are no problems. Maybe you will have a little scarring, but nothing major.’
More scar tissue. I’m acquiring quite a lot these days. My knuckles, shin and forearm still show the marks of my run-in with a four by four last year; my knees the tumble the previous February; my lower back shows an ill-conceived tangle with a rose bush when I was eight. Fading and barely visible are the patchwork from a thousand other encounters; the end of my fingers from sloppy vegetable chopping, childhood fights and scrapes, long completed operations, scolds, bites, scratches and skids, a mesh of a life lived. In the near future, there will be one across my toe where a nail fell off and regrew into the skin and had to then be hacked out.
And then there are the ones below the surface; the ones which never can be seen. Both those that were done to me and those which I did to myself. You can trace each one and say here is where I won, here is where I fell, this was me, that was her, that one was him. They are a map, a map to the man I have become.
‘You’ve bled on the sheets again,’ my wife told me one morning when my back was stubbornly refusing to heal. Mainly this was to do with its position running onto my side. Every time it looked as though the dressing could come off, as though it had bound itself up properly, I rolled onto it in my sleep and the pressure opened the wound slightly. I left little memories of myself on the sheets, on my shirts; tiny droplets of blood marking a trail away from the crime to the perpetrator.
Scar tissue tells a story, but as it fades the story becomes blurred.
My back itches.