They say laughter is the best medicine, but what if it hurts to laugh? What if your whole body feels the blows as your gut wiggles and jiggles with every chuckle? When my abdomen was cut open, through skin and fat and muscle and then stitched back together, I finally realized how much I engage my core when I didn’t have a core to engage. I wanted to laugh, I did, but when I started it hurt so much I fought with every ounce of energy I had to stop the jiggling. I felt like Santa in that cartoon when his wife keeps telling him to eat so he’ll fill out the suit and once he’s reached maximum girth he laughs, a jolly ho ho ho, and his barrel chested body presses against his red suit and wide black belt. Perfect he thinks, it fits perfectly.
Crying didn’t feel any better but it was harder to stop once the tears started. My body was bruised and battered from the trauma of surgery, and muscles and tissues I’d taken for granted were all vying for my attention in the form of a burning pain that was only diminished by pain killers, never removed. The memory of that very specific pain is more a memory of an obstacle. A memory of a thing so heavy I couldn’t budge it nor hope to even move it. It wasn’t that it hurt to sit up in bed on my own, I just couldn’t. Messages sent from my brain to my muscles were rerouted or dead on arrival. It’s a weird feeling to be inside a body you know is yours but doesn’t feel like a home anymore, a body that ignores your brain’s instructions.
My body smelled funny too, like cotton and nitrile and bandages. When you leave your house for a while and then return, the smell that hits you when you open the door is supposed to be what everyone else smells, a smell you’ve become scent blind to. I felt like something else inhabited my body while I was unconscious and now I was trying to get it out, to find my smell again. To find myself.
It would take months and in the interim the smell of me would be replaced by alcohol based hand cleansers and anti-bacterial soaps. Harsh and pungent, it masked what I thought I once smelled like, a little musky with a hint of ginger. The laughter came back sooner and if I pressed a pillow against my gut when I started I could keep the jiggling from causing pain, I could mimic my core with pressure from the pillow and my arms. I would hug the pillow for longer than I needed to, after the sutures had dissolved and the nerves were successfully rerouted to the right place. My body would ache after the exertion of a hearty laugh, but it was the good kind of ache, the kind that reminds you are alive and using your body.