We See Mostly What We Look For
Ever convince yourself of something, only to find out you are wrong? I figure I am probably in good company here. I think it’s probably some sort of evolutionary coping skill that didn’t work out quite like we hoped for, like the appendix for example. Because much like how that little hanging bit off of your large intestine remains ignored until all hell is breaking loose in there, the difference between what we see and what we look for is typically of no merit. Until it is.
A quick look back at my Twitter feed shows me two things. 1) I tweet a lot. And 2) on March 10th, I tweeted about a collection of spider bites that were driving me cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs.
Within minutes I was being asked if I wasn’t sure that the little itchy bumps weren’t in actuality flea bites.
My Twitter folk weren’t questioning my insect-bite detective skills; they were just being helpful. But since they didn’t look like flea bites and they were in three clusters on my belly/side, I looked for more evidence that the red bumps making me an itchy mess were actually spider bites.
And sure enough, there on the carpet of my bedroom, near where I had tossed my shirt from the day before (and which I had hurriedly pulled on in order to walk the kiddos to the bus stop in something other than my skull and cross bones pajamas), I found what looked to be the remains of a spider. Smallish, more leggy than body, but spiderish. Poof, I had proof. More importantly, I had more fodder for my heightened abhorrence of all things spidery. (Yes, I am frightened of spiders, mostly the kind that scurry. Daddy Longlegs don’t bug me.)
Days passed and I kept unconsciously scratching. And scratching. And the bites, all 26 of them, alternated between hurting like a crazy ouchie-you-know-what and itching to beat the band. Mister Soandso noticed I was itching even other parts of my left side and decided it looked like I might also have a bit of a rash. Which I filed away as a reaction to the spider venom obviously coursing through my poor system. (This isn’t as weird as it might sound. I react badly to insect bites, as my posts about mosquito bites and Jamaican sand fleas attest.) But then, this odd thing started, as if the itching and the aching wasn’t weird enough. It started to feel like the skin around the bites was crawling.
Yes, crawling skin. There was something underneath my skin wanting to come out. As you might imagine, this did not help things. The skin below my bra strap to my waist line, from sternum to spine is a wriggling, itching, and painful mess. Or perhaps I am the mess from all that wriggling, itching and aching.
Now a normal person might be collecting all these bits and pieces of information and say to themselves, “Hmm. This does not compute.”
But remember, I found a spider. I had red bumps in three clumps across my midriff and dang-it if I couldn’t even make out wee little marks on them that looked to my eye to be puncture marks. (Oh, why didn’t I take a picture of the dang things? They were mightily impressive.)
However, it turns out, to the folks who know such things, I probably have shingles.
Not spider bites.
In my defense, I never ran a fever nor did the red bumps blister. So they never looked non-insect bite like. And if you don’t see enough evidence to point you in a different direction, why would you ever question what you believe to be true?
It’s been 11-ish days since that first unconscious scratch across my itchy belly. It’s too late to see a doctor for any anti-virals and even if it weren’t, I’d probably balk at paying the $300 dollars since I’m not contagious. And besides, on a good day I only spend about an hour caring for myself and that includes all meals, showering, dressing and visiting the potty. I simply don’t have time to take myself to the doctor. After all, this whole thing started at the height of the stress over Littlest’s pneumonia and kidney infection. All trips across town to the doctor have his name on them these days.
Even if I had questioned my deduction, I would have probably turned away from any explanation that challenged my spider bite theory.
Because what we look for is usually what we see most easily. In order to see what was really going on, I would have had to stop worrying about my son and start worrying about myself. And faced with his daily blood draws and urinalysis, my itchy red bumps didn’t matter.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve taken a look at the data I’ve collected and saw it not for what it was, but for what I was looking for.
High school relationships, toxic work environments, unhealthy coping skills, they are all too easily misidentified and then acted upon accordingly.
It is so hard to see not what we are looking for, but instead what is really there — especially if what is really there requires us to do things differently than we want to.
I suppose that is why we call some folks “visionary” — because they are able to see not only what they are looking for, but what can only be dreamed of by most folks.