I got cut by an elbow in the first round of my most recent fight at Kalare Stadium. It happened at about 1:20 when I had my opponent’s back to the ropes and I over turned on a right cross and she countered with a right elbow; my head was turned a little and her elbow landed on the right side of my head, cutting my scalp open just at the hairline. A few seconds later she noticed the blood while we were being pulled apart from the clinch and I could see she was surprised, not knowing she’d cut me. The fight ended in a draw and I got stitched up (seven stitches) just 10 feet away from the ring while the rest of the fight card went on.
These are my first stitches. I’ve had small cuts before but the first time I got glued shut because one of my seconds was an ER doctor and had only those medical supplies at her apartment and the second time would have only been one stitch o my nose and didn’t seem worth the bother. I have to say, I was pretty proud to be getting stitched up beside the ring. I’ve watched other fighters (none I know) getting stitches after fights and I’ve seen some fighters (who I do know) from our gym walking around on successive days after getting stitches and it feels like I’ve been legitimized in some way.
Some folks (only westerners) at the gym when they’re surprised by how much I fight will kind of rationalize it as that because I’m small I don’t get hurt. This is a crap rationalization. I don’t get hurt because of how hard I train and because a lot of my opponents take a defensive approach to fighting me, so the bangs I get from fights are generally shins or black eyes, which I can easily train around. If you don’t cry about it and call it an injury, then you’re not injured. But when you’ve got stitches poking out of an area of your hairline that was shaved so you look like a medical test subject and your husband affectionately calls you “zipper head,” there’s not a question about whether or not your fight was weighty enough to cause damage.
Wet or Dry Stitches? – The Wait
The downside of this – the serious bummer for me – is that my trainers don’t want my stitches to get wet at all. This means I can’t sweat on them, which in Thailand is pretty hard to do if you’re moving around with any vigor. I’d looked up the science behind keeping stitches dry and found research that had not concluded anything significant, but had demonstrated that in humid climates where it’s hard to keep sutures dry even just walking around, the dry vs. not-perfectly-dry sutures were the same in terms of infection risk. On the way home from the fights, literally 30 minutes after I’d received the stitches, a fellow in the back of Daeng’s truck who happens to be a doctor told me it’s okay to sweat on the sutures, so I felt confident that I would be able to keep training after 48 hours of letting the sutures… I don’t know, “set”?
So the next week was a soft battle between me and Den about my training. He wanted me to take it super easy and not sweat on my sutures. He’d let me hit the bag and hold pads for me for maybe two rounds, then hold my head between his hands and inspect my stitches before telling me to go dry them off and stop training. I wasn’t into this at all, but I was happy to come see him first-thing upon entering the gym to have the stitches inspected and let him see how everything is going. Everything seemed fine.
On Thursday I asked if I could come to the fights on Friday in order to ask the doctor to take my stitches out. Den looked at them and told me, “no, maybe 2, 3 more days.” I honestly felt that they could come out but deferred to Den and tried to be good. I’d been feeling a bit of pain in the area recently and figured it might be from tying my hair back so much and not letting it down between training as I was trying to keep it out of the stitches.
When I came in on Saturday, a week and a day after getting the stitches, Den looked at them, made an unhappy sound and then called Daeng over to look. They spoke in Thai to each other and I started to feel worried. The night before one of the knots seemed to have come off (I can’ t be sure; it was weird and the wound didn’t open and the thread is still in place) and I considered that it might be evident. Den then told me that his concern was that it was taking so long to heal. “Usually 4 or 5 days you can take out,” he said, but these looked like they needed more time. He very gently, in a very non-confrontational Thai manner, asked me if I’d sweat on them. He’s been watching me sweat on them for a full week, telling me to cut it out the whole time! So I promised that today I will not sweat, tomorrow I have to do a border run so I will not get them wet at all then either and then Monday maybe they’ll be okay. He agreed that if I do that, by Monday he could take them out.
So here’s my thing: I was looking into this whole question of sweating on stitches as a matter of infection. But I hadn’t considered at all that the issue might actually be healing time and the sooner I get these damn stitches out the sooner I can train normally. It’s annoying too because I’ve noted many times that cuts and scrapes I get out here take much longer to heal because of the “tropical” climate than in the States, even in the humidity of New York summers. The scab doesn’t dry out much and then the sogginess makes the wound take forever to heal. But when faced with the option of taking a week off – I mean really off with no sweating at all – I couldn’t even conceive of it. I’ve stopped running and just shadowed and hit the bag with very little padwork, so it felt like I was taking it easy, but even though I’m not pressing my body to get stronger and go harder as I try to do in regular training, I was still letting my sutures be wet from sweat for several hours every day. It’s like being taken down by a bee sting!
I’ve been in a bad mood from not being able to train but I have been conscious of working on things that I otherwise don’t – like really slowing down movements for form. I’m not sure that I could have had the stitches out sooner – I’ll never know, unless I take a different approach with my next set of sutures – but I am absolutely committed to two full days of bone-dry scalp protection. I really, really hope it’s sufficient. And this experience is reason enough for me to ensure that I do more damage than I take, ’cause enduring recovery time is not my forte.