Archives for posts with tag: cruelty

Part 1

TRIGGER ALERT: This article is the first in a series that contains graphic descriptions of violence the author experienced as a small child. Sensitive readers – especially those with a history of childhood abuse – may find the following content disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.

With businesslike precision, the sandy-haired doctor explains the basic structures and functions of the sinuses. He is aided by a series of full-color illustrations attached to the door of his office showing the structures in cross-section: red for mucus membranes, porous white for bony structures, blue for cartilage. He has given this same explanation so many times to so many patients during his years in practice that he has refined his presentation to its briefest, most crucial and most vivid elements.

He turns to a black-and-white transparency clipped to the light screen. “Now let’s talk about your CAT scan,” he says, gesturing toward the ghostly negative of a skull, eye sockets gaping, every tooth visible in jaws that are clamped shut to avoid movement while the camera captures the image. Aside from these obvious facial features, the image is mottled and streaked by white, grey and black blobs, striations and amorphous formations, the significance of which Dr. Mohs (pronounced MOZE) carefully explains.

The grey blobs are of particular interest. These show substantial infection in the sinus cavities, cheekbones, ears, eyes and forehead – the result of massive collections of mucus that fails to drain properly, becomes trapped within any interior cavity it can find, and becomes severely infected.

Dr. Mohs points to two thin black lines on either side of the septum, the bony structure that separates the two nostrils. The lines are so narrow it’s difficult to make them out at first.

“That’s the problem right there,” he says. “The reason the mucus isn’t draining properly is because the nasal passages are abnormally narrow. When you catch a virus, these passages become inflamed and swollen, which makes them even more narrow. That’s why so much mucus and fluid is collecting in the structures of your face and head.


An old wound, revealed

“Look over here on your left side,” he continues. “It’s completely closed off. You can see why: The septum visibly bends to the left, which makes that passage even narrower than the other one. Any swelling there will block that passage entirely.”

He goes on to explain how the blockage on that side means that I have only one minuscule passageway to drain an entire flu season’s worth of infected mucus, and that single inflamed passage quickly becomes overwhelmed. The result is what I have often described, after weathering many winters of these massive sinus infections, as feeling as though my entire head has burst into flames.

The bend in the septum is not a major disfigurement from a medical perspective, Dr. Mohs assures me, and will not be the focus of the surgical procedures he is proposing. The nasal passages themselves will be widened.

An unseen ghost …

But by this time I am only half-listening. What he doesn’t know – what he couldn’t possibly suspect – is that there is one more person in that office with us. He can’t see her, but she is there, behind the face of the grown woman nodding calmly and taking it all in. She is someone from another time and place, from a moment that is forever bound in the permafrost of memory. She is seldom visible but always present. And to her, the source of that medically insignificant disfigurement is the only thing that truly matters.

… and an untold secret

From the doctor’s perspective, this story begins in another doctor’s office several weeks ago. After a prolonged winter illness that included months of congestion, a violent cough, fluid in my lungs, and a sinus infection that required several rounds of antibiotics, my primary physician ordered a battery of tests to determine the underlying cause. The resulting chest X-rays and sinus scans prompted her to refer me to the ear, nose and throat specialist in whose office I am now sitting.

But from my perspective, this story begins not in a doctor’s office in 2018, but in the basement of a distant relative’s house many decades ago, at a time when no one talked about the isolated preschooler who might be experiencing rather more than the usual number of injuries. Indeed, in this particular instance, no doctor was ever consulted at all.

Even if anyone had thought to consult one, however, times were such, and my middle-class white family was such, that it’s unlikely any doctor would have noticed anything amiss. Most likely he or she would have done what they all did, unquestioningly accepting my mother’s explanation of how the injury happened.

Which, like all of her other explanations over the years, would have been a lie.

No, the real story of my sinus surgery begins many years ago with a bowling pin. Several of them, in fact, being swung tauntingly, threateningly, in my face by the three older kids surrounding me, the bowling pins drawing closer and ever closer while I struggle with my one free hand to protect my face from the blows.

(to be continued)

*The New Oxford American Dictionary defines dialectics as the art of investigating or discussing the truth of opinions. It adds:  “The ancient Greeks used the term dialectic to refer to various methods of reasoning and discussion in order to discover the truth.”

Copyright 2018 Ann Graham Price. All rights reserved.

Type the name “Karen Klein” into any search engine, and you’ll instantly find literally millions of news stories, tweets and videos (372,000,000 on Google Search alone, to be exact, as of 1:50 p.m. on June 24, 2012) about the soft-spoken grandmother who less than a week ago was virtually unknown outside the small town of Greece, N.Y.

Millions and millions of stories about an event that took place on a typical afternoon on a typical school bus involving typical kids in a typical town.

A grey-haired, bespectacled woman being mercilessly intimidated, insulted, harassed and humiliated. On and on it went, for more than 10 agonizing minutes that feel like an eternity. Brutal, hateful words being hurled by a pack of sniggering teenagers with no clear motive save one: their sadistic pleasure.

A bullying incident caught live and uncensored on the cell phone camera of one of the bullies.

It was a defining moment that was witnessed by viewers all over the world.

A defining moment in Klein’s life, certainly. Possibly (but by no means certainly) a defining moment in the lives of her tormentors. And a defining moment in the ever-expanding world of the Internet.

The story demonstrates the power of the Internet generally, and social media specifically, to dramatize issues of public significance. The sheer number of shares, comments and posts on the subject has helped to put a human face, for millions of viewers, on a subject that has increasingly been in the spotlight.

And that’s obviously a good thing in many respects. The video sparked sufficient outrage to bring about several undeniably positive outcomes.

Some of the boys involved in the incident apologized (if somewhat spuriously).

A fundraising web site was founded to raise cash that would send Klein on a much-deserved vacation.

And once again, people got involved in a discussion of a topic that touches virtually everyone everywhere. They’ve written about it, commented on it, discussed it among themselves. All of which means that they’re thinking about it. That is always a good thing.

I applaud these defining moments. These are the stuff of which social change is made, and we need them.

Still, I wonder.

I wonder if Klein will at some point regret becoming the unwitting poster child of bullying — of being defined, now and for all time in the public eye at least, by one 10-minute slice of a life that encompasses so many other experiences as well.

Her joys. Her triumphs. Her dignity.

I wonder because it is a question I have long asked myself as I pondered the wisdom of starting this blog to tell my own story about bullying. It’s a question that takes on a particular urgency in light of the power of the Internet to create instant celebrity.

Do I really want to be the poster child of sibling bullying?

The question involves a whole lot more than just my personal feelings about it. Other people are involved — lots of other people. Some are completely innocent. Some are guilty as sin.

And quite a few of them — most of them, in fact — are mere onlookers. They are friends, colleagues, acquaintances who are in a position to interact with me, to befriend me, to hire me, to work with me, to learn from me. And some of them, I haven’t even met yet. They are the people I will meet someday, in the future, under circumstances that have nothing whatever to do with bullying.

Is this how I want them to define me?

On the one hand, I know that because I grew up with my bullies, and because I have unusually vivid recall of events going back very early in life, I have an abundance of first-hand knowledge that could probably be very useful to an awful lot of people.

On the other hand, I don’t want the overriding image people have of me to be that of perpetual victim. I am so much more than that: wife, mother, friend, professional.

The bullying and violence I experienced while growing up most certainly left its mark — so much so that I spent many years as a young adult sorting through the painful aftermath. At one time in my life, it undoubtedly was one of the most pressing issues I had on my plate. It preoccupied my waking thoughts and invaded my dreams at night. It shaped my responses to the world and gave me a distinctive vocabulary that was rooted in pain.

But I did not want my role as victim to be the one thing that would define me for life. And so I undertook the slow, agonizing process of sorting through painful memory after painful memory with the goal of emerging, on the other side, as a person who was fully healed and whole.

And I did it. I went on to find my voice, choose a vocation, earn a graduate degree, choose a life mate. I have raised two strong, confident daughters who are completely free of the shadows that haunted my childhood. I have made friends and worked with colleagues who have no idea I was ever anything but what I am today: a successful, competent human being with as rich and varied a story to tell as everyone else I know.

This is who I am now. This is how I want people to think of me. And it’s a sacred enough personal achievement that even now … even as I write these words, knowing that somewhere out there, someone is just beginning a very painful journey of which I have intimate knowledge that could possibly help them … I wonder if I am truly ready to face the consequences.

And I wonder if Karen Klein would say the same thing.

© 2012 by Ann Graham Price. All rights reserved.

Your turn

OK, readers. It’s your turn. Have there been times in your life when you knew you had something important to say, but withheld it because you feared the potential fallout of being in the spotlight, perhaps in a negative way? Conversely, have there times when you have come forward? If you had it to do over, would you do it again? Please share your experiences in the comment area below.