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Scars - What Story Does Yours Tell?

2015-02-10 Posted By Jenna

Over my lifetime, as a professional patient, I have accumulated 9 sizeable scars (more if you let me count the measly ones achieved via laparoscopic surgery). To be clear, I’ve had more surgeries than scars on my body, but so many of them have been repeats and the docs are so good at keeping them in the same place, that I only get sympathy for the ones that can be seen. I'm just saying...

So, because of what I feel is my vast experience on the subject, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my scars. I see most of mine every single day. Every time I get dressed. Every time I shower. There’s no escaping them.

I know that there are people worse off than I am in the scar department and, of course, in life, but I’ve become fascinated by the psychology of the scar. I’m fascinated by how people come to terms with this mark on their body that can tell the world of a great tragedy, an epic battle, or that a new life has come into the world. There’s a lot our scars have to say and, just like in life, there may be more than one side to the scar - I mean - story.

Let's take my body for instance, and what it has to say through my scars. I had spinal surgery as soon as I was born, and brain surgery three days after that (you can’t get too spoiled on your birthday). Within my first year, I had surgery on both feet and then more brain surgery. Sensing a pattern? But I can’t cash in on your sympathy for the ones from my first year, I don’t remember them. I mean the memories are probably back there somewhere if I tried really hard…nope, they’re not coming to me.

When I was six I had a cecostomoy tube put in. *Graphic Content Alert* A cecostomy tube is a tube (duh) that is put into your cecum if your bowels think they’re all that, and won’t move without a big to-do (not to be confused with doo-doo - that would have actually been helpful). Basically, the tube allows for a more dignified way to have regular enemas. (I can’t believe I’m sharing this!)

Now, there’s a surgery I remember! This probably has something to do with the fact that I wasn’t under general anaesthetic…but also because that surgery would leave me with a scar that I’d crawl out of my skin to get away from - if I could. The tube came out after ten years. Ten years of infections that made me allergic to all adhesive tape because I always had a dressing on it. Ten years of enemas. Ten years of another reason why I had to be dependent on someone else. Ten years of the reminder that I had very little control of my own body. And one itty bitty incident of near blood poisoning that almost killed me.

When it finally came out, I was ecstatic! I was free! And to some extent, I was and am still grateful. But to another extent - I’m still haunted by those ten years when I look down at my stomach. Free? Maybe not… It has obviously become less of a psychological trigger over the years, but there are still times that I’ll get a flash of that life, when I see the scar.

The loathing process started off naively, in that, I just thought it looked ugly. I begged to be able to get a tattoo over it, an orchid which has extreme sentimental value to me. My argument was simple: I wanted turn an ugly scar, that represented an agonizing time in my life, and turn into something beautiful and meaningful. My argument didn’t fly with my mom, who is against tattoos (as beautiful as she can see them being). She did, however, offer to get me a temporary tattoo every day for the rest of my life but, alas, it wasn’t the same. I wanted something permanent to prove to my scar that I had won. And then when I turned 18 and could get a tattoo without permission…I chickened out. I saw the irony in it, by being on this mission to get it covered up still meant that it had a hold of me. Talk about a catch 22!

The brain surgeries that followed the ones at the beginning also didn’t help. I mean they helped in the sense that they provided me with the shunt that I needed to live, but every time I went in for that surgery I had to have some of my hair shaved. Not fun for a teenage girl whose hair is a lot of her identity, but hair grew back (if not in the weird ways) so I can’t even see those scars.

But that scar on my stomach really got to me! This was made a tad worse when I had a colon rupture. In the exact same place the tube used to be.

So now, it was a double whammy looking down! Some of you might be able to understand not being able to look at a part of your body, because you’re mad at it. You feel betrayed by it. That’s how I felt for a loooooong time.

But something changed for me recently. I was at my wit’s end with another element of my health that I was rolling the dice on having surgery to hopefully help me. Actually, the dice was more of a prop than anything, because I wasn’t going to be able to live with myself if I didn’t do the surgery. They told me that I was going to have a scar in the same place a woman would have a Cesarian scar, and basically the same size. I thought to myself, “Oh great, another big scar!” But like with all my other surgeries, there really was no other option to address the issue, so I went in.

Yes, the scar was as big as I thought it would be, and probably my biggest one yet. But it was the result of a surgery that would the start of a new life. The issue I was dealing with is almost completely gone. This meant being more social, getting to be my fiercest in physical activities, and it represented releasing a secret shame I had been harbouring most of my life. Now that I think about it, it basically mirrors what it meant to have the tube taken out…funny how that happens.

But this time, I smile when I see my new scar. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up, or something. But I’m leaning towards thinking that my perspective has changed - now I look at what the surgery that put the scar there gave me, instead of what a dire situation I was in leading up to it was trying to take from me.

I haven’t gotten there with my tube scar, but it gives me hope. Hope that I can forgive my body, and what it’s put me through - hope that I can appreciate what it’s giving me now. Hope that the next scar I get has a really cool story attached to it, that has nothing to do with my Spina Bifida. Maybe something to do with…skydiving?…

P.S. Yes, you can have a P.S. in a blog post.

P.P.S. I’ve just seen that they’re now making a doll that you can add (among other things) stickers of scars to! What a game changer this could've been for me as a girl! I will admit, I MAY have had a Barbie “problem" back in the day, boasting a collection of probably 200. However, none of them normalized my scars that I was embarrassed by for decades. Now, not only can a child get one of these dolls and add scars like their own, but their peers can start seeing scars normalized. Two birds - one doll!

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Uta Hagen
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