70: A Scar Is Born

70: A Scar Is Born

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

A Scar Is Born

Scars are just another kind of memory.

~M.L. Stedman, The Light Between Oceans

They followed me like a pack of wolves hunting for prey under the moonlight. As it turns out it wasn’t nighttime and it wasn’t a pack of wolves. It was just three kids who looked to be about seven years old. I was a kid myself and I had just turned twelve. These kids were practically stalking me in the bright sunshine of a brilliant June day. It was summer vacation and I was trying to enjoy a day at the swimming pool.

I wanted to splash with my friends, speed down the water slide and jump off the diving boards without any worries or hassles. The possibility of that happening was being hindered by these three kids who continued to follow me around. You may be asking yourself what was so interesting to them.

It seems these kids were enthralled by two large and rather gruesome scars that I had received courtesy of my heart surgeon at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. The scars made a lower case letter T across my upper and lower chest. The scars were less than a year old so they were still various shades of purple, red and blue. They were jagged and long because back in those days surgeons had to be more invasive when they cut into you. The surgeons had not only saved my life, they had made me into a novelty

As the kids followed me and gawked and whispered, I felt like a circus sideshow. I was embarrassed and thought maybe I should go and put on a T-shirt. I didn’t really want to wear a shirt at the swimming pool as it was fairly warm out and also once those shirts get wet they cling to you like plastic wrap clings to meat.

So I tried to lose the kids. A couple of times they lost track of me, but they always found me. It was useless. I had a fan club.

Finally, one of them got up the nerve to ask me, “What happened to you”? I could have told the truth and tried to explain the intricacies of open-heart surgery to three seven-year-olds. I could have told them it was none of their business and to leave me alone. But they would have walked away disappointed and I thought maybe I should make this scar thing a bit more interesting for them and myself.

So I blurted out something really outrageous. Something I knew would grab their attention. I told them that I had been attacked by a shark. This was just weeks after the movie Jaws had come out. Sharks were on the minds of everyone across America. To be a shark attack survivor sounded way cooler than to be a heart surgery survivor. The three kids agreed. Their jaws (no pun intended) dropped. One kid uttered, “Wow!” The other two looked at me like I was some type of superhero.

I proceeded to make up an entire story about how I was attacked on vacation, fought off the shark and had to be rushed to the hospital. I told them I barely survived and was on the news. I even capped off the story by telling them I had one of the shark’s teeth on my dresser at home. The kids ate it up and told me how lucky and brave I was. Then I watched as they rushed over to their mothers and pointed to me and explained about my shark attack.

Until that day at the pool I had looked upon my scars as embarrassing. After all, when my family and friends first saw them they cringed. Scars are pretty ugly. You usually see them in horror movies or hospital dramas and your first reaction is to turn away. No one wishes for scars, but sometimes they are a fact of life. On that day I took lemons and made them into lemonade. To those three seven-year-olds, I went from freak show to superhero and it was great!

After that I used my scars in all types of situations. I got out of long distance running and strenuous activities in gym class by showing my scars to Physical Education teachers. I won bets by daring others to show a larger scar than mine. I asked girls if they wanted to see or touch my scars. Then I told them about all of the emotional and physical trauma I went through during my heart surgery and hospital stay. They ate it up and felt sorry for me. It created an immediate connection.

People have asked me if I would have my scars removed if it were possible. I think about it briefly and then I say “no.” My scars are about survival. They are a reminder of how I fought a battle for life and won. They remind me of kids I met in the hospital who were not as lucky as me and who died. Though I knew some of these kids only briefly, I will remember them always and cherish our brief connection. The scars remind me of all the doctors and nurses who cared for me and how miraculous science and medicine can be.

Scars are a part of life. Some scars are physical and transparent; others are emotional and hidden. We all have scars of some sort. My scars are smaller now; they are faded and less gruesome. They do not attract as much attention but they remain. Some days after showering I look in the mirror and see those scars and think what life would have been like without them. Then I remember that it is because of them that I have life.

~David Warren

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