Thursday, May 28, 2009


When I heard about the girl, the first thing I thought of was Schwarzkogler. I don’t know why. The infection probably.

The girl turned up at the doctor's office with a bladder infection. Her mother told the doctor the girl had been having them since the surgeries, botched jobs that led to peritonitis, and then to the recurring infections. I imagine the doctor, searching through the girl’s medical history for the surgeries and not finding them, because the operations were performed somewhere else and there was no record of them at his office.

The child had stabbed herself in the stomach with a kitchen knife, an unusual act for a girl I hear. Boys use knives and guns. Girls who try to kill themselves usually use drugs.

When the doctor examined the girl, he found what had started as a small puncture of her belly had, through one failed surgery after another, become a disfiguring jumble of deep, crisscrossing scars. Then he saw the scars on her arms. Some of them were recent, and they were infected.

I saw scars like that on a woman’s arms in Austin a long time ago. I thought she’d tried to kill herself and failed. Now I think she may have been cutting herself. I don’t know why.

What are kids who cut themselves up to? What are they after? And what can the doctors who deal with the children’s bodies while other doctors try to understand the children’s minds do about the infections and the scars?

I imagine the doctor, explaining sterile technique to the girl. Before you cut yourself, you have to wipe the place you are going to cut with alcohol and clean the blade of your knife.


Antepilani said...

Sadly, I have some experience with this. A good friend of mine used to do this as well. He was a bit older however and it was never an earnest attempt to kill himself.

It went on for years and I would see multiple new scars on his inner thigh and wrists. He was in denial about the severity of the emotional problems that made him do this to himself.

Many years later, he did in fact kill himself by hanging. Looking back on it, those self mutilating episodes where cries for help at a minimum. Maybe he was testing his pain tolerance and opted for another route. He was a tortured soul ultimately and drug use played into his depression. While he was with me during the summer months I was on vacation he seemed to do better. Not that I was a soothing influence on him, but I was a companion that perhaps took his mind off this troubles.

This young girl needs immediate and deep psyche therapy, but I do strongly believe that some people are just beyond help and they are chemically and emotionally unable to live normal lives.

Billy Glad said...

The Mayo Clinic lumps self-mutilation in with eating disorders.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Something that has troubled me greatly over the years is the lack of awareness of those of us who teach, to deal with young people who have all varieties of mental health issues. I went digging online just for the hell of it, and came across this interesting article. I think all professionals who have the possibility to come in contact with young folks suffering from a wide variety of disorders should have access to something like the guidelines on page four. It's amazing how ill equipped many people are to cope with such situations.

I also found the distinctions mentioned under "Definition of self injury" very insightful.

Antepilani, it seems to me that you must have provided great relief to your friend's otherwise deeply troubled and painful life. It's too bad he didn't get the kind of professional help he needed. But as you say, sometimes the pain runs too deep and nothing and no one can intervene.

Reminds me of thinking twice the next time I want to complain about anything as trivial as too much work, or not getting the french fries I ordered at the fast food drive in.

Miguel del Monte Jones said...

I spend some time at a chimpanzee rescue operation which has one particular chimp who mutilates his left arm, seemingly continually, and severely. These chimps were used by the air force and others in some ugly experiments and kept in inhumane conditions. The speculation is that he has some phantom pain that causes him to bite his flesh. He's been on a series of medications, which have helped for the most part, although there was one particular antipsychotic that eventually backfired dramatically. Why does he, or a human kid mutilate themselves? Don't know. I speculate, that by producing a physical pain they are able to distract themselves from some much more terrible psychological pain. There's a line in a song written by a fellow who has undergone his own share of psychological hardship, that reads, "Sometimes I make burns on my arms, to remove the feelings from my heart to my arms" and goes on to describe connecting the dots between triads of stars in the sky till the mosaic of triangles "surround the world in their crystalline ache". There's a lot of pain out there.

Tom Manoff said...

They are after a strange sense of momentary "peace" and non-thinking.