*WARNING* There is a graphic photograph of my leg in this post from the hospital. I hope everyone is comfortable with viewing this picture, as it is an important part of my story.
I have taken the past three weeks to reconnect with some family members, explore the east coast, start a new chapter with my boyfriend, prepare for my sixth and final year of University, and ponder about this project. I was inspired by a woman, Sophie Mayanne, who I find enhances the beauty and uniqueness of scars, while making the world comfortable with them. Her Instagram (@sophiemayanne) reveals photos of diverse individuals, exposing their scars and the story that comes along with them. As someone who has many scars and over a dozen stories to tell, I believe that these scars have now become a part of me. For so long they felt foreign, and when others would stare and make faces or assumptions it increased not only my awareness of the scarring, but my discomfort with exposing them to the world. With time, I began to become comfortable with these parts of my body. Through her work, I feel as though Sophie Mayanne is not only making those who she photographs at peace with their scars, but also making her viewers comfortable with all forms of scarring. With the help of a friend and very talented photographer, Vanessa Paterson, I have decided to expose my scars and tell my stories. I have touched on a few of these stories in my past posts; however, there is much more to say.
Thank you, Sophie and Vanessa. Xo.
My left thigh has been a conversation starter ever since the crash, a thing for others to look at and question, and a constant discomfort for myself. The discomfort, however, is no longer from the way my thigh looks. When my mother and I were hit by a drunk driver, the air bag on my side of the small, Toyota Corolla we were driving, exploded. Air bags are normally filled with a chemical gas that helps them deploy, and while the bag saved me from severe facial damage, the impact was more than it could take and the chemicals poured out, through my pants, and onto my skin. The chemical is so strong that it also burnt through my muscle, resulting in a significant amount of muscle loss. I was unaware of this for weeks, until one day a nurse with the wrong instructions entered my room. She informed me that my “wounds” needed to be cleaned, and since I had many wounds, I consented. However, when she began to touch my leg I became uncomfortable. I asked her what wound, and when she informed me, I sat up to look. Eventually the aesthetics of the burn distressed me, but first I dealt with the pain. I began to scream and cry as the nurse began to take off the bandage, and all I could think to myself was “Something is wrong. I am on so much medication, I can barely feel my broken bones. So why does this hurt so much?”. I started to see the burn underneath, which caused even more pain. While the nurse tried to comfort me, I believe she too was confused as to why I was in so much pain.
She went onto the next wound, which was located on the side of my left thigh. She informed me that this is where they took the skin to do the skin graft for my thigh burn. I thought the first bandage removal was painful, and yet, I had more pain to come. When both bandages were removed, the nurse cleaned the wound, and for weeks this routine continued. Over time, I began to notice a change with these wounds. A very negative change. More pain, discolouration, and signs of infection. While I know little about skin grafts, I knew my body. I constantly would tell the nurses that there was an issue, but they told me that it was all part of the healing process. When the occasional doctor would visit, I would ask for the plastic surgeon who treated me to come look. For anyone who has been in the hospital for some time, you know how long it may take for your request to be processed. Sometimes it would take weeks to see a specialist, even when there was an emergency.
One morning, I smelt the infection. I was still told that the scabbing, fluids, and colour was due to the healing process. Finally, a new plastic surgeon came to visit me. Pure anger covered his face when he saw my graft, and even yelled at the nurses “Who gave you the order to do this?!”. I then was informed that those bandages that were ripped off weeks ago, were adhesive and meant to stay on for 3 months. The nurse literally was ripping off the freshly grafted skin that day. Mistakes happen, even in the hospital, and I do not blame anyone for this. However, I will say this (and will continue to say this many times throughout this blog): never stop speaking up, even when you are told you are wrong. It may save your life.
I began therapy at the burn clinic, where I was submerged in salt water and picked at. The leg never healed the way it should have because of this. For so long I could not wear certain clothes or touch it with my own fingers. The graft looked and felt like snake skin, and the section of my thigh where they took the skin has not healed (there was suppose to be minimal to no scarring). I rarely would wear anything that would expose the scars. When people would stare and make faces, a wave of emotions would flood over me. One day, at the local Save on Foods in Nelson, BC, a child turned around, looked at my leg in awe, and stroked my scar. The mother was so embarrassed, and apologized several times. While I felt uneasy for a moment, I realized that her son was just curious, like so many of us. I told him it was a burn, and asked him if he thought it was cool. He smiled at me and continued on with his day. While the nerve and muscle pain is an ongoing issue, I started to become more comfortable with telling the story behind the scar, and with time, I became more comfortable exposing it. This is the only body I have, and although it is significantly different than the one I had four years ago, it is still mine.