Last week I went to one of my routine orthopedic appointments following my knee surgery. These days the appointments are less exciting than they used to be, which is a good sign. After two years of diagnoses, MRIs, physical therapy and both a minor and major surgery, the mundane check ups to see how I’m healing are welcome guests.
My surgeon, who looks like he could be the star of his own Dr. Oz spinoff, asked me to lay down. He grabbed my book and tossed it out of my way with a chuckle. “What a fitting novel,” he laughed. I blushed as I saw him holding “Misery” by Stephen King. I told him that I was happy to fall in love with Stephen King after my injury because I can experience Paul Sheldon’s broken legs at a different sensory level than before my own injury.
After a series of routine tests, he sat down and started typing his notes. “You can start using cream now,” he told me. “For…” I started. “Scarring,” he finished for me.
It was funny. The idea of scar treatment cream didn’t even occur to me. Before my surgery, a few friends offered advice or ideas about preventing scars, but since the surgery the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. I guess focusing on getting by without putting any weight on my leg for two months, relearning how to walk and returning to work without slipping into a deep depression were enough to distract me from the idea of my scar.
I obviously knew it was there. It stared at me each time I put my leg up to watch television. I remember meeting it a week after my surgery. My PA laying me down on the table so I wouldn’t pass out like I almost did after my first surgery. She asked me if I wanted to see my scar before wrapping it up again. I decided that I did, because I didn’t want to crack my head open in the shower seeing it for the first time. I slowly pulled my torso up, took a little peek at it and breathed a sigh of relief. “It’s not too bad,” I said to my mom who was shielding her own eyes. I inherited my disdain for gore from my mother.
In the weeks that followed, I assigned my scar the personality of my recovery. When I was frustrated after being told that I would have to be on crutches a month longer that expected, I posed a photo of it on Instagram with the caption “this bish.” When I accidentally locked my knee and had a wave of pain more intense than anything I ever felt before shoot through my body, I glanced at my scar like it was her fault. I rubbed it occasionally after physical therapy as a reward massage for her hard work.
The truth was, I liked my scar. She’s ugly as hell, but I like her. She’s bright purple, takes up all the real estate of my left knee and messy, resembling more of a serpent than a straight line, but I’ve grown to like her.
I like her like I like all my scars. She tells my story.
My first scar is a raised wedge about three inches long on the left side of my lower back. When I was in seventh grade, I was at my brother’s best friend’s house and his sister turned off the lights in the room we were in. I stood up and tried to navigate to the light switch, only to trip and hit my back on a sharp object. When the lights came on, I saw a table saw lying next to me. I ran into the bathroom and found some bandaids to patch it up and didn’t tell my parents because I was afraid to go to the hospital. Two days later, when it was still bleeding, I mustered up the courage to tell them. Too late for stitches, it was already starting to scar. My parents cleaned and patched it up with some gauze. For the next few weeks, it would reopen as I tossed and tumbled through cheerleading routines. It finally settled into my skin and healed. Whenever I look at it, I think back to the days where we spent hours in Joe’s basement as young teenagers. I remember endless parties with him and my father, who both passed away since then. I laugh at my reluctance to go to the hospital and wonder if the next girl to wear my cheerleading uniform ever noticed the blood at the waist.
My second scar is on my hand. It’s almost impossible to see if you didn’t see it when it was worse. It’s from when I was in 8th grade and the aftermath of my dad’s death. Back then, the new fad was rubbing an eraser against someone’s skin until it started to burn them and tear their skin off. Even before Tide Pods, we found our idiotic ways to wreck havoc on our bodies. I was depressed, but never suicidal. I didn’t want to cut myself or inflict pain in a way that could have greater consequences, but the desire to erase the numbness from my soul was still there. So I would use my erasers and rub off the layers of my skin on the top of my hand. I made two inch marks that resembled an equal sign. Whenever I was feeling particularly depressed, I would take an eraser and rub as fast as I could until I felt pain. It became a bad habit – right before they would start to heal, I would rub them again. It’s not a habit that I’m particularly proud of, but whenever I step out of the shower and can see the redness of the scars coming out, I think back to those days and that tortured teenager. The scars remind me to take time and reflect, to be proud of who I am. Back then, I couldn’t talk to my family about my dad. It wasn’t that they weren’t willing to talk with me, it was that I pushed away the words whenever they came. I was closed off and distant, too numb to emote. It would take me many, many years to get to the place to open up to my family. The scars remind me that I’m no longer alone in my grief. That I flipped that pencil around and found words to use instead.
My third scar is about two centimeters long on the tip of my index finger. If you didn’t know about it, you might think it was just a fold in my skin. When I was a freshman in college, I was trying to fix a pin with a pair of scissors. The scissors slipped on the pin and lodged themselves into my index finger. I pulled them out and panicked at the sight of the blood gushing out. I ran into my dorm bathroom and ran water over the injury, which only caused more blood. I felt light headed and started to pass out. I grabbed at my shower curtain and fell into the bathtub. I pulled myself out and steadied myself on my wall then sunk down to the tile floor to gather my thoughts. I wrapped some toilet paper around the cut and starting making my way down the hall to my RA’s room. Since it was spring break, no one was really around, and he was the only resource I had. By the time I got to him, I was covered in blood and he freaked out. Our public safety car drove me to the hospital, where I sat in the waiting room alone. I looked around at mostly drunk people with swollen eyes from bar fights and started sobbing. This was the first time I was in a hospital since my dad died, aside from visiting babies, and I was terrified. Eventually I saw a doctor who glued my finger back together. Whenever my finger throbs in pain from sun exposure, I laugh thinking about how my roommate, when I returned, thought I cut myself shaving. There were bloody handprints lining our hallway, bathroom and room. It looked like a horror movie. Yet she thought I cut myself shaving. It reminds me of one of the best years of my life.
So here I am with my fourth scar. Or, more accurately, fourth through seventh. Three tiny, almost invisible, scars from my first surgery, and one giant one running down my knee from my open knee surgery. This is just one more chapter in the story of my life. It reminds me of the show I was rehearsing for when I broke it. How devastating it was to have to cancel the show. It took three days until I finally found myself sobbing with my writing partner by my side and my director on Facetime, both holding my hand while I was the last to come to the conclusion that doing the show in a wheelchair was not the best idea. It reminds me of the extra months my writing partner and I gained to create the show, and how that show was the single best piece of art I ever made. I threw every single piece of myself into it – both physically and mentally – and the payoff came. It reminds me of our trip to San Fransisco to perform the show, and how I appreciated every single step I took in the city, knowing that my first surgery a week later would keep me from performing, or walking, any time soon. It reminds me of the long walk I took with my mom the day before my second surgery, both of us knowing that we wouldn’t be able to take another walk together for a long time. It reminds me of facing my biggest fear, which was general anesthesia, and the anesthesiologist who cracked jokes while giving me my medicine so I would feel more at ease.
It reminds me of my physical therapy team and how excellent they are. How resilient I was through the three times I had to relearn how to walk. It reminds me of walking into physical therapy after each Eagles playoff, and super bowl, win and celebrating because the whole staff was also cheering for my birds. It reminds me of watching both the summer and winter olympics while trying to build enough strength to tackle stairs. It reminds me of my perseverance. Of finding ways to make it work and learning how to live in a wheel chair for a couple months. It reminds me of my mom boxing my sister in my boxing ring and of my brother pushing me around the Field Museum. I think back to learning how to improvise without using my body between surgeries. Of the last show I did before my major surgery, and how hard I cried myself to sleep that night knowing that I had just performed for the last time in the foreseeable future. It reminds me of how I had to put my dreams and goals on pause for two years while I got better. Of the cupcakes, care packages and time spent with friends and family recovering.
I’m not someone who loves every part of her body. As much as I try to stay body positive, I have my demons. I hate myself when I gain too much weight and would do anything for calves small enough to fit into boots. I despise this wrinkle that is growing between my eyebrows because of the way I scrunch my face when I concentrate and spent hundreds of dollars on creams to reduce the acne and redness in my face. But one thing that I will always love are my scars. Each one tells the story of a stage in my life that contributed to the person I am today.
So you can keep your fancy scar creams. I’ll keep this ugly, crooked scar. Most of my peers will have one in fifty years anyways… I’m just ahead of the trend.