Ellen Romer Niemiec
2020 began for me with what I believed to be a clogged duct from breastfeeding. A painful occurrence to be sure, and that eventually landed me in the ER. What I thought would be a brief visit ultimately culminated in a 4 night hospital stay for surgery to remove a softball-sized abscess in my breast. I didn’t even realize how much pain I was in until I was given pain medication and finally had relief. I had no idea what all of this would mean, I just wanted it out. I needed it to stop hurting. The morning after my surgery, a man named Jeremiah walked into my room and introduced himself as my wound care nurse. I didn’t even know that such a thing existed. When Jeremiah took the bandage off and began to remove the gauze packed into my wound, I thought I was going to be sick, the pain was so intense. I could barely breathe. He paused, rested his hand on my shoulder, and gently called the nurse to ask for more pain meds. He offered silence to my tears as we waited. When I asked about how he became a wound care nurse to pass the time, he shared beautifully and openly about his story. And while I was in a lot of pain, I wasn’t alone.
After a bucket of lidocaine and some morphine, it finally was out. He measured the depth of my wound - 9 centimeters. He then began to explain what the healing process would be like and that it would take about 4 weeks - and that would be quick. I would need to have a wound vac attached to me 24/7 and changed out twice a week. I needed to eat more protein and little sugar. I had antibiotics to keep taking beyond what I had been given by IV for days. It was an all day and every day endeavor. I could hardly believe that was what lay ahead. But you can’t simply cover up a deep and festering wound like that - it would likely just come back. I had to heal from the inside out, before my skin could knit itself back together to cover up my still recovering wound.
There has been a lot of talk about and calling for ‘unity’. For me at least, it rings hollow and seems too quick and easy. Do we mean healing? Or do we mean covering up? What is being called ‘unity’ seems to bypass what is required to fully mend the wounds inflicted. God created us with the remarkable ability to heal. I continue to marvel at how deep a wound I had and yet still nursed my baby with only a minor setback in supply. We are so capable of healing and giving life to those around us - they need not be mutually exclusive. But it is not smooth and it is not without cost. It requires vulnerability. Having a personal part of my body regularly exposed to other people is not my go-to but it is what I had to do. Carrying a wound vac around at work took a divot out of my dignity - the sputtering noises it made are not cute. Figuring out how to dress myself appropriately to accommodate my wound vac was a daily challenge. I would occasionally forget about the vac and stand up to walk away without it. The sharp pull I’d feel when I reached the end of the tether brought me back to the reality that this was my life right now, whether I liked it or not.
Asking for healing and unity is a much easier act than committing to and following through on it. It takes a lot more to look into the wound and see how deep it really goes, to do the painful work necessary to keep it from raging its way back into our collective body. And healing hurts. It took pain meds, a lot of lidocaine and many tears and hand squeezes from kind nurses to get through my twice weekly appointments. It is, however, the way through. Gratefully, it is one I did not have to walk alone.
My wound was a fluke - it was not anyone’s fault and was just lousy luck. That is not the case for many who have wounds inflicted on them over and over, whether unintentionally or with bone-chilling malice. We need to dig deep for our honesty and humility. To name what is causing these wounds - not just the end result but how we got here to begin with. That at the core of it, there is a willingness to deny the basic human dignity of others in favor of our own comfort and stability. That racism is like the bacteria that took hold in my body - starting small and then growing intensely until you can hardly imagine how terrible it really is. Except many have never had to imagine. Our BIPOC brothers and sisters have suffered this wound before, in different places and different depths. Far too many have lost their lives because of it. For those who don’t - the scars still live beyond the healing. I see mine every day when I get dressed and my daughter still wants to look at my ‘owie’ that, while faded, will likely remain on me forever.
We can’t undo the wounds nor erase the scars. But we can commit to the painful work of healing. Of walking with our wounded brothers and sisters of color in their pain and discomfort. Of sitting quietly and listening. And most importantly, of eradicating the invasive poison of racism in the Body of Christ to keep the wounds from raging back again.