Every scar tells a story. Some stories are more interesting than others; some more intense. Some people have very obvious marks of trauma that can be seen without effort while others are well hidden, under the surface, without a visible reminder. While a scar from an extra vicious mosquito bite or rollerblades that didn’t fit properly (both me) won’t require a lot of emotional processing, other scars can be quite different. And I have found that the obvious scars heal a lot faster than the invisible ones.
Before my accident I never broke a bone or done any serious damage to my body. I had a few stitches on my foot once after I walked into some sheet metal (very sharp stuff). Evidently I subscribed to the ‘go big or go home’ mentality with my first real injury. Until my accident, the only sizeable scar I had was from my three C-Sections and it wasn’t exactly in a location easily seen by the masses and it definitely didn’t have negative memories attached to it. I had all kinds of experience with the invisible scars of mental illness but I had no real understanding of what it was like to have a permanent marker on my body that holds such a massive and painful memory. And now, well now I have this little line down my back which really doesn’t look like much at all. If anything, it doesn’t seem significant enough to represent the injury I sustained or the substantial change it brought to my life. However, it is a reminder nonetheless; reminder of everything from my accident to the rods and screws stabilizing my body, to the ongoing process of healing.
What I find a bit strange is that my actual accident didn’t leave me with much more than a few scrapes on the outside. All of the damage was internal: a shattered vertebra, broken ribs, a jarred wrist, permanent paralysis and the mental weight of a massive life change. This 6″ scar down my spine is really the battle scar of my surgeon because without him and his abilities, I wouldn’t have a scar but I also wouldn’t have a battle to fight. His battle was fought in a few hours with meticulous skill all stitched up into a small, clean line. If there was a scar to represent the healing process since and all of the physical and internal battles I have faced (and will continue to face) I fear it would not look so simple, straight and well healed.
Like so many accidents, mine only took a second. I never thought I would spend so much time processing one quick second of my life. Replaying it over in my head as I lay in bed this morning was enough to make me feel sick. It happened so fast, yet I can still feel that moment of helplessness as I fell through the air. I can still feel the force with which I hit the ground. Thinking of that exact moment of contact still takes my breath away. I feel like the scar on my back doesn’t even accurately portray the trauma from this one second of my life – let alone everything that happened after. But, again, it reminds me.
If only everything could heal as quickly and easily as an incision. Even when I’m doing well, I still notice that I avoid so much. It’s easier to transfer over to bed and write or distract myself and play the piano than it is to watch my family do something in which I can’t participate. And it makes me think that the internal scars will never fully heal. Even if some days it is just a sense of missing-out or the heightened anxiety and frustrations I feel when I watch people participating in dangerous activities with a ‘nothing bad can happen to me’ mentality. Even then, there will be a piece of those internal wounds that aren’t quite closed. Yes, I imagine there will always be something.
I have read about other people who have a spinal cord injury feeling self-conscious of their scars and how they are hesitant to show them in any way. I can’t say I feel like that. I remember putting on a bathing suit for the first time and asking my husband if it was okay to show my scar. I was more worried that it would make people feel uncomfortable than I actually was embarrassed by it. I’m not even sure he gave me an answer but more looked at me like he couldn’t believe I would even ask such a silly question. I wore the bathing suit.
Now I look at scars on other people in a vastly different light than I used to. I find myself curious of what they represent and I wonder if the person feels insecure because of the lasting mark on their body. My wish is that nobody would be embarrassed of a scar on their body that proves they survived something. Because for every story of a survivor with a scar, there is a story of someone who didn’t survive at all.
This one battle scar on my back is not exactly pretty but it has one hell of a story behind it. It holds the story of my real battle scars inside. The ones that are large and jagged and come from a path to healing that is messy and ongoing. Over and over they come close to a point of closure only to be gashed open again with a bladder leak or when I drive past a house in the stages of framing or I watch my children climb a rope structure at the park that is obviously higher than the mere 10 feet that sealed my own fate (I could go on). The real scars are not neat and tidy like the scar down my spine. I hope I don’t ever portray that my healing process has been straight and narrow as that line. Grief and recovery are complicated and it doesn’t matter how long it takes; it just matters that you keep trying. However big the scar becomes – however jagged – isn’t important because it is your story of survival and healing and nobody knows how that unfolds except you and stories held within your battle scars.