Scurvy is a disease caused by a dietary deficiency of vitamin C (ascorbic acid). The disease has occurred with regular frequency throughout human history and prehistory in populations lacking fresh foods … Deficiency of the vitamin causes a breakdown in the binding function of these tissues, producing a series of characteristic signs and symptoms: weakness, lethargy, irritability, anemia, purple spongy gums which bleed freely, loosening teeth, the reopening of healed scars … and hemorrhaging in the mucous membranes and skin. In severe cases the mortality rate is high.Up until then, I’d believed that scars were stronger than regular skin. When in fact they're weaker. Maybe this was something most everybody else knew, but it really shook me up. The mantra “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is so satisfying. “What doesn’t kill you leaves a scar that may weaken and rupture again if stressed” is kind of scary.
I got to thinking about this recently when I was doing a computer search to see if a paper I’d had published recently was showing up yet. Only one other person with my last name is published in the medical literature, so it was quickest to type in just my last name to look for my papers.
But it turns out that they’ve been slowly working backward in time to put medical articles into the citation system. Which is why the last time I entered my name into PubMed, two articles written by my father appeared.
My father was a statistician who collaborated with medical researchers, so it’s not surprising that he had some papers published under his name. But he died when I was five, and all I knew about his job is that it had something to do with computers. Seeing his name pop up without warning like that was painful; a reminder that he’s not here, and of how much he has missed. I had never even thought about the fact that we could have talked about my work.
People often say that you never get over a loved one’s death. When I was much younger, I hated to hear this. I spent a long time trying to convince myself that my father’s death didn’t really have an effect on me. It happened when I was so young, after all. But things did sneak up on me. When I was driving down a street one day I caught sight of a little girl learning to ride a bicycle, her father running behind her, his hand on the back of her seat. Suddenly I was so upset I had to pull over to the side of the road. Then I remembered that my father had just started teaching me how to ride a bike the summer he died. After he was gone I had to do it myself: there was a big pothole in our driveway, and if I climbed on the bike at the top of it and rolled down, there was just enough momentum to get me started. I did it over and over again until I had it.
Once glimpsed, the knowledge that a person who loves you and takes care of you can disappear in an instant never goes away. It can teach you to appreciate people, but it also makes you very wary.
The truth about what happens when something wounds you is that first there is pain and bleeding. Then you start to heal, and a scar forms. A scar is vastly better than nothing; at least the acute pain goes away, and you don’t bleed to death. But it’s never the same as it was.
I think that human interaction is like vitamin C for the soul: get too little, and your psychic wounds can reopen.
I guess that’s why I keep blogging.