She walked into our office with her two grandchildren in tow. She was wearing the traditional Spanish-influenced turn of the 20th century garb, the saya. We don’t see those too often anymore. The light lace-edged cream-colored top with its starched panuelo (shawl) added some bulk to her delicate frame. The azure print of her long skirt danced gracefully around her legs. She was put together like the proper well-heeled woman of her time, from the top of her neatly coiffed french knot to her embroidered sandals. Her grandchildren flanked her on each side. It was obvious they revered the dowager of their family.
They had traveled into the city for over two hours to see us because their grandmother had been nursing a lump on the right side of her abdomen below her breast for the past year. They spoke quietly and discreetly, all the time being careful to describe the problem delicately and respectfully. The lump was discovered a month ago by a new caregiver, who had promptly reported the matter to their parents.
We asked to see this lump. The young ones looked to their grandmother for her response. She waved her agreement at them. We all helped her raise her top. The lump was the size of a slightly deflated tennis ball. It had a gray cast. On palpation, it was soft and cystic. She winced and looked away. Her eyes welled up.
Has she had any fevers? Has she been feeling fatigued lately, more easily tired or lacking in energy? Did this start out as a raging angry boil? Did it try to drain only to close and reform? Yes to all the questions.
We recommended more tests. However, we thought it was mostly likely a carbuncle, and a chronic one too. It would need to be incised and drained properly in order for the skin to heal adequately and completely.
The woman nodded sadly. She admitted resignedly she knew it had to be done. But she had put off seeking medical treatment because the mere thought of the pain the excision would bring frightened her so much that she hid the malady from her own children all these months.
She was fortunate that for someone of her advanced age (pushing 80 and all that!), this had not resulted in a more systemic infection. We admonished her that she must have endured several flare ups of fever and pain. She agreed that indeed this was the case. She sighed, looked at her grandchildren, and then towards us, she quietly gave permission for us to proceed with a more definitive treatment.
We all have carbuncles in our lives. And I don’t mean this to be exclusively a physical affliction. They start out as small pimples (folliculitis). Left untreated, they enlarge and spread. We suffer through the discomfort. We postpone getting rid of the problem. Thoughts of conclusive solutions fill us with clammy dread and sleepless tossing. Instead, we wallow in the pain and anxiety. We nurse the lump and cater to its whims by modifying our daily activities. It saps us of our energy and zest for doing a lot of things. It may even take over our lives, coloring our judgment, our outlook, even dampening our aspirations and passions. Or, it may hang around us like an unpleasant visitor who refuses to leave. Oh, the pain, the pain, we would lament silently. The indecisions are like shackles on our ankles, weighing us down, preventing us from the more enjoyable, more fulfilling journey we could take our lives to.
Unsaid words. Unresolved conflicts. Unforgiven debts. Uncollected obligations. Untold truths. Unapologized deeds. Unsevered ties. Unconfessed transgressions. Many more.
And yet, it’s amazing how once it’s done, life seems to take on a brighter turn. Why do people keep putting it off? It’s a mystery to me.
P.S. I think this post does qualify for the Ben Huberman’s Daily Prompt: Baggage Check.