My Turn: Learning to love my scars

Published: 5/4/2022 10:52:31 AM
Modified: 5/4/2022 10:50:59 AM

It has taken me almost 23 years to come to terms with my scars — both the physical and metaphorical ones — and to stop hiding behind them.

I was a year and a half old when I was first intubated and had my breathing mimicked by a ventilator. I was 2 years old the first time that a scalpel sliced my porcelain skin to allow surgeons to place a feeding tube in my abdomen because that period of intubation had cost me the ability to effectively swallow food and my saliva.

Through the next 11 years, I would undergo a series of five spinal surgeries, one of which, almost cost me my life. My doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital extubated me far too quickly and my fragile lungs went into shock. They were unable to grasp any tendril of oxygen, causing them to open my airway by other means — by forcefully opening my tracheostomy. Thankfully, it was removed several months later, but I am reminded of that tremendous oversight every time I look in the mirror and see the obtrusive scar at the base of my neck.

For years, I would attempt to cover the scar each time I ventured out in public. Fortunately, that is one of the only perks of wearing a pronounced body brace that encases my entire upper body like a turtle shell and that has an ovular top on the front that hides the base of my neck.

I have been wearing a body brace since I had my first spinal surgery at the age of 5 to prevent the curvature of my back from worsening. And from 5 to 19, I wore the brace for approximately 15 hours a day. Now, if you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to wear a plastic brace for hours on end, you know that it’s far from the most comfortable thing in the world. Upon having my spinal fusion surgery at the age of 13, my orthopedic doctor at the time mentioned that I wouldn’t have to wear the brace once I healed post-operatively.

However, my mom insisted that I wear it for years after because she was afraid that either she or my nurses would accidentally break my ribs while transferring me from one surface to another. As much as my teenage self argued about it incessantly with her over the years, I couldn’t guarantee that my nurses wouldn’t accidentally crush my ribcage while hugging me too tightly to their bodies.

When I was really young, I didn’t mind wearing the brace but that all changed when I became a teenager. I couldn’t differentiate my body image with and without the brace because I had been wearing it for so long. I didn’t know what my body looked like underneath the plastic shell.

I came to detest my reflection for years because of it. Because no one had a body that looked like mine, and while I would never admit it, I was becoming more self-conscious by the day because I had conditioned myself to believe that no boy would ever find me attractive.

My life has always been compromised of having to make sacrifices for the greater good of my physical well-being. In this case, I had to compromise my self-esteem to avoid breaking a bone.

I paid this price in silence for years while I developed an eating disorder. The irony of the situation being that I hadn’t consumed actual food in years. But the concept of eating, or the will not to eat, was not what initially sent me down this slippery slope. It was mainly because I had so little control of how my body functioned and of my surrounding circumstances that I sought to control the avenues that I could — regardless of how unhealthy they were.

This behavior began subconsciously in my early adolescence, when my muscles started to noticeably deteriorate. As I noticed how much more confident I felt the skinnier I was, I recall thinking that if I was going to get weaker I wanted it to be of my own doing.

I have always been adept at hiding my emotions and putting a smile on my face, regardless of what I was feeling inside. My nurses never batted an eye when I asked them to give me more water instead of my feeding formula because I was feeling bloated, even though, my brace was growing looser by the day.

When I was 19, my mom agreed to my not having to wear the brace while I’m in my wheelchair because I got a pressure area on my back that was being exacerbated from rubbing against the plastic. I loved the newfound freedom and movement that it gave me. But more importantly, I loved how thin I looked in the mirror and a small part of me delighted in it.

I remember thinking for the first time in my life, maybe this is a body that could be loved.

I still have days where I feel like I look more bloated and am tempted to limit my caloric intake. There are other days when, if I have an important meeting, I am tempted to cover the scar at the base of my throat with a collared shirt or scarf.

But those days are no longer every day.

It’s a definite work in progress, but I’m slowly coming to terms with my scars. Because, for better or for worse, they are a part of me.

Columnist Joanna Buoniconti is a freelance writer and an editorial intern at INCLUDAS Publishing.


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