I found my soul mate of a dog, Emmie, in 2000 at the pound. Four years later, she picked out her partner in life and crime, Cosmo, at an adoption fair. As in all wonderful, long-term relationships, Emmie and Cosmo formed their own routines and rituals; they chose one another over any other possible playmate in the park; they each found their own role in their relationship and our family. And they also had their occasional moments of discord which, with two dogs, meant dander up, teeth bared, and posturing that was mighty hard to discern from full-on fighting.
During one particularly fierce dust up, I reached in to grab a collar and instead grabbed a mouth that sunk down around my hand leaving three bloody puncture wounds. To this day, I’m not sure if Emmie’s week of sullen penance was because it was her teeth that entered my hand or just because she was always the more conscientious of the two.
For the next two weeks, I soaked my hand in a juice pitcher filled with an Epsom salt soak three times a day as my doctor prescribed. Sew the punctures up, she said, and she was likely to also close infection-causing bacteria into the wounds. The healthier choice was third intention healing where the wounds are left open so that they might heal from the inside out and, in that way, avoid sealing in any toxins.
Only, my doctor didn’t use the words “third intention healing.” I didn’t hear those words until years later when I was sitting in a coffee shop early one Saturday morning across from Mary Margaret Tuthill, a nurse practitioner I had come to know as trustworthy, kind, impish, and so very wise. She and I were not talking about physical wounds, though. We were talking about emotional ones, the kinds of scars that we can all too easily bake into our relationships as we follow our knee-jerk impulse to move through discord as quickly as possible and, in that way, leave things unsaid and unexplored, the kinds of things that can fester like bacteria inside a sutured wound.
Last week, I returned to the oral surgeon who performed the extraction during my Great Tooth Trauma of 2018. The nerve was so badly impacted by the cracked tooth that I still have numbness in my chin and lip over three months later. As part of his exam, he poked around the area with one of those sharp little hooks which, of course, wasn’t much of a problem in the numb area but felt pretty harsh elsewhere. That bit of discomfort, though, led to a whole bunch of relief for me as he informed me of the progress he was seeing.
Last week, I also extended an apology that was long in the making. It was received with openness and kindness and yet with a wound that old and deep, it was only one step in a healing process over which my only control is my willingness to be in that discomfort and to offer my best to those I wronged.
In both cases, trying to rush the healing would be futile at best and damaging at worst. Instead, I will trust that the scar that is inevitably left by third intention healing will act as a reminder of the profound education and growth that can come from injury when those wounds are tended with patience and care.