Friday, March 20, 2009

Talisman Ear: Anatomic Knitting

"That yarn is really nice, Mama."
"Yes, that's sort of the problem...I like the yarn so much that nothing I make from it will be good enough."
This is likely not an uncommon conversation in knitting households with children. What made this conversation differ from others was that my son (with whom I was having the conversation) was lying on our couch, recovering from minor surgery. While out playing football on the playground at school, he was running-keeping his eye on the ball- when he collided with a sign post. The post bisected his ear, slicing through the cartilage and into the ear canal. As my medical specialization is emergency medicine, I have cared for all manner of lacerations sustained by my three boys over the past nine years and thus far have never had anything exceeding my capacity to manage at home with local anaesthetic and dermabond or steri-strips, but this was different. It was immediately evident that, without the aid of a general anaesthetic and a talented surgeon, my son would henceforth spend every Halloween dressed as Vincent Van Gogh.

In the Emergency Department, I remained objectively interested in the repair plan and emotionally cool, but left the procedure room to allow the surgeon his privacy...and to shield him from the possibility that I might seize the instruments from his hand and attempt a coup should anything begin to go wrong. Clairvoyant, I brought along a simple stockinette knitting project in cashmere...perfect for soothing my eager hands while waiting for what turned out (when the extent and depth of the injury were revealed) to be a surprisingly long wait. The longer we waited, the more evident it became that there were complications - the faster I knit. I was the picture of relaxation.

Owing to the expertise of the ER physician, the plastics surgeon, and the very talented nursing staff at Children's Hospital, my son emerged intact - albeit groggy. I carried him to my car and drove him home and then sat with him, as much to satisfy my need to hold him as his need to hold me. At home I again took out a yarn I had been struggling with for a seemed the appropriate yarn for my challenging psychic moment. The yarn ("Wupatki") is a hand spun wool, grounded in the softest of tan-brown, with bright natural color accents throughout. It is lovingly spun by Kerry at RepoRebo Yarns on Etsy/Ravelry. I was thinking that I would make it into an Easter basket, but the project struck me as so pedestrian for a yarn I had elevated in my mind as representative of the great rock formations of the desert southwest. I was further stymied by the short supply- only one short hank.

So when my son expressed his appreciation for the yarn, and I replied as I always do, I was suddenly struck by the realization that the only thing that I really held in as high esteem as I did this yarn was my baby's ear. My entire being was, at that moment, focused on internally repairing his ear. As I had just spent hours repressing my desire to step back into doctor mode and sew by baby back together myself, my hands almost reflexively began frogging the basket progress and casting on for what was soon to be ... his ear.

Many cultures across the world have traditions of utilizing talismans to aid the faithful in connecting the divine with the material world. Terracotta foot and nose talismans can be found in digs throughout the ancient world. There is a tradition of linking prayer (in its many forms) and healing, embodied in such arts. To this most basic need spanning cultures and eras, I add my knit talisman ear - sculpture in fiber.

As my career background is in medicine, I have been collecting photos of knit anatomical body parts just as a curiosity. Sadly, I was not careful about documenting the knitters/photographers, but would love to share their names if anyone wants to claim them. So, today I share with you this odd, but oddly understandable, collection of anatomical knits: I love the precision of the heart...but am humbled by the size of the intestine you know how long your intestine is when stretched all the way out?!?
Anyhow, at first (standard 9-year-old-boy response to ANYTHING his mother does) my son said, "that's a little weird, Mom" to my compulsion to recreate his ear (I did after all create the first one). I am happy to announce, however, that later that night, when I checked on him in his bed, he was cuddling the soft felted ear for comfort...He's still my little boy.