A friend once told me that my body was evidence of what I had gone through. I wouldn’t need to tell someone, because they could see it in my scars. I rejected it then because I didn’t care who knew my story. Five years later and I am able to look at some of the scars as marks of bravery and strength, and others are painful reminders when I don’t need to be reminded.
A few heart surgeries mean a zipper scar and two tiny scars beneath the long line down my chest. Dozens of brain surgeries mean I have to keep my hair a certain length to cover the scars on my head (hair does not grow on scars) so I’ll never have super short hair or anything daring (so much for considering a pixie cut) and two ghastly scars on my stomach, which is where the tubing to my shunt goes to. A scar on my chest and neck from the port I had in 2009 and 2010 for dialysis and chemo. And the inside of my left arm, elbow to wrist is one gigantic scar (from when they were worried I would have to lose my arm due to trauma sustained) and a few other scars here and there due to fractures or miscellaneous surgeries.
When I was an RA in college, at RA boot camp (oh yeah, we had to go to camp) an icebreaker they played was called ‘Scar Wars’ where we told the tales of the scars on our bodies. The winner either had the most bizarre scars and stories, or just the most scars. I always won on both counts. When it comes to all of my scars, I forget about some of them until they’re in my face for some reason. Others I don’t think about because they’re covered with clothes and still others, even clothed, bother me.
The scars on my head don’t bother me because my hair covers them to the extent that I forget they are there. I only have to remember if I consider chopping off my fiery locks. The scar from my port I see as strength as well as nearly every other miscellaneous surgical scar on my body. My zipper scar and the scars on my stomach I am self conscious about, but only when exposing skin. For this reason, even when I go swimming I make sure I stay covered, which usually means wearing a shirt that just weighs me down in the water. The scar on my left wrist I am used to and feel is unfortunate, but I wouldn’t say it bothers me.
As far as the scars on my left arm, wrist to elbow I feel a mix. To me they look hideous and are hard to miss. And in hot weather I am not going to cover up with a long-sleeve shirt, so I have to deal with it. It reminds me of almost losing it and of my arm’s limitations today. I don’t need that, but I also spent weeks wondering if I would lose it completely when doctors were considering amputation. I remember the inner turmoil and fear I felt, and steely reserve I had, and it reminds me I am brave. Then I remember the grueling months of physical therapy and how my surgeon thought it was a waste of time. I should accept my arm at 20% function, unable to move it at all at my wrist or elbow. It hurt like hell – every nerve felt as if they were being ripped apart over and over again – and I do mean Every Single One. But I powered through it. I bit my tongue until it bled to keep the sounds inside and today my arm is almost completely functional, at least over 90%. It is still difficult to write (and time consuming, a single paragraph takes about twenty minutes and then I need a break) or do certain things like carrying heavy loads. It still hurts every now and then, but I can use it, it is mine. And I do – when I write messages on birthday or holiday cards my husband always offers to do it for me, but I have to do it. I fought long and hard for the ability to do so, and even if it hurts I relish being able to do what I can with it. Strength.
There is an adjustment period for every new scar I get. For example, I am nearly over the newest medical scar on my right arm, courtesy of my blood treatments I go to every few weeks (the next one is this afternoon actually). The equipment they have to use leaves me with a nice track mark. At least for now the scar is a light pink, and it is one I can shake off. Not just because it is subtle, since these treatments will be for the rest of my life, so the scar is sure to get darker, but because I couldn’t have prevented it and it is also isolated. The blood treatments themselves are nowhere near the worst experiences of my life, so its reminder doesn’t sting as much as others.
The scars I have the hardest time with fall into two categories. The first category includes most of my ‘scars’. They’re not really scars, they’re marks, but to me they look like burn scars because they are very different from most ‘marks’. By marks, I am referring to stretch marks. I have always been petite (I’m short too, under 5 foot 4) and at my heaviest when I was going through intense weight training and trying to build some serious muscle (in college – doesn’t everyone do this for like a semester?) I weighed in at 115. Besides that time, my actual weight before and after (I couldn’t keep the pounds on) was 105. (And yes, I had unhealthy eating habits, namely I ate everything I wanted to, like 30 wings in one sitting or a gallon of ice cream, blame it on my crazy heart problems for keeping me thin. With kidney and other issues, my diet is much more restrictive now.) When my kidneys failed, however, it was very sudden, the diagnosis descended after a biopsy, but the disease just worked too quickly. At the time I was 92 pounds because I had not been able to keep anything down for weeks (the reason I was hospitalized in the first place – the kidney thing was found by accident) before I blew up with fluid. In less than two hours I went from 92 pounds to 166 pounds. My body exploded and these marks are not typical stretch marks. My skin was practically ripped open. It took two more weeks in the hospital to get most of the fluid off using more extreme ways to do so. But I am left with the marks, on my legs, thighs, ankles, feet, stomach, chest, back, sides and upper arms. I always wear pants, no matter how hot it is and when I swim I am always fast to get to my towel once I am out of the water. These marks are the scars I can’t seem to get over or feel okay with. They remind me and the memory is too much.
The second category is what I see as preventable or gratuitous, which almost always means nonmedical. I am careful and my husband is overly protective of me, so it isn’t that I get injured often, but it does happen. In the last few years almost all of these have come from our cat (as if I didn’t already need a reason to have issues adjusting to her). Last Thursday, possibly the worst incident to date occurred. We were dog sitting and one of the dogs was nestled between me and the corner of our couch, sleeping. Moxy, our cat, came across the room and jumped on my lap, sniffing the sleeping dog. Now we have taken care of these dogs several times, so they are not strangers to Moxy. Yet for some reason she (the cat) went ballistic on the dog. We’re taking teeth and claws and the dog was still sleeping! So, I reacted quickly and pulled her away from the dog, before she could touch him. This meant that my hand, wrist and side suffered the consequences and she let me know just what she thought of it with her back claws and teeth.
Had it been our dog, Angel, I just would have hissed or done something that I am pretty sure would at least make her pause, and Angel can hold her own so she would either bat at Moxy, growl (which always makes Moxy run off) or jump over the side of the couch to get away. But the dog in question is older and has trouble getting up onto the couch in the first place, so getting away when Moxy was blocking his only viable exit was not possible. I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t think all this over in my head, and I didn’t think I might be left with a new scar. The claw mark several inches long on my side won’t scar – it wasn’t very deep (probably because I was wearing a shirt, I don’t make a habit of being shirtless just because). My wounds on my wrist are questionable, but also small. But I have a long mark on top of my hand, from my ring finger knuckle to the right side of my wrist (oh yeah, that big). I am pretty sure at least some of it will scar, but I am not sure how much of it (and hoping none of it or some very faint part of it that is hard to see). I have been making sure to use my hand/wrist as little as possible so I don’t pull on the skin, while keeping it tightly bandaged with globs of Neosporin to keep it moist (I change said bandages twice a day and wash it when I change them). I did this as soon as it happened when my husband made an emergency run to Walgreens.
In the next week or two I’ll probably know what I am left with, but it bothered me so much, which surprised me. It was as if this scar was the end of the world – okay not really. I have done the end of the world before; I know what that looks like. But the whole thing made me so upset and I just kept thinking, ‘I can’t scar. I can’t scar.’ This is an example of that second category of scars that are harder to deal with. When I look at it in a few weeks or months or years, I won’t feel strong or brave, but just remember how our cat went crazy for no reason on a defenseless (sleeping!) small dog. Maybe that is why it upsets me. I know that is at least one of the reasons. Another is that I already have too many scars. I don’t need them to tell my story for me (that is why I am writing a book 😛 ). And quite frankly, my body is already so touched, enough is enough. Big picture it doesn’t change anything. I don’t hate the cat, I don’t wallow in what I could have done differently (there wasn’t anything else to do, she lunged, my husband wouldn’t get to her fast enough and the dog couldn’t get away, I would do it again) and even if the entire length of my hand is scarred it doesn’t even rank in my top five largest or most gnarly scars. It just got me thinking, about my scars and their stories. I’ll never run out of stories, but if life could hold the physical scars for awhile that would be great. I have enough to last me a lifetime, and I would prefer to focus on what really matters without being distracted by the stories in my skin.