I had a scar removed for the second time yesterday. It’s one of those things that you never expect to experience twice, like getting married or being a fourth grader, but I guess we all have to take our turns being uncommonly unfortunate.
Five months ago, I came into the surgeon’s office ready to get rid of a scar that had been an unsightly companion of mine for nearly seven years. Looking back, I was far too optimistic in assuming that anything that had spent so long being a part of me would let go without a fight or, at the very least, a spectacular going away party. It was that morning that I discovered the kind of sensations one can have when overwhelming pain is taken out of the equation. I assume the pain of an anesthesia-free surgery would have been worse, but I think it was the newness of the feelings that stressed me so.
Fast forward to the fourth of January. Lives had been lived, plans had changed, and the scar had returned. This second edition was less three-dimensional than the scar it replaced, but it compensated with surface area and the ability to bloom at a pace many times its predecessor’s. The procedures would be roughly the same, only more: more scar tissue to be removed, more stretching as the remaining skin was stitched together, more radiation to guard against reoccurrence, and much more trepidation about the outcome. Something about being in the losing 5 percent of a procedure with a 95 percent success rate really takes a hit on one’s confidence.
I was worried about the surgery in the weeks leading up to it. I remember the mantra “never again” consoling me after August’s surgery and now found its falseness somewhat offensive. I replayed the old sensations in my mind often and, upon awakening yesterday morning, hoped that I had been exaggerating the whole thing.
I had not.
I felt comparatively little terror this time, but the sheer disgust at what I was feeling was identical. The doctor walked in and just as before, I shut my eyes, set my jaw, turned up the volume in my headphones, and thought of serenity.
The numbing cream doesn’t work. It never works. They sometimes used numbing cream when they attempted to shrink my scar with steroids, but it felt the same every time: like tiny little razors dancing a tiny little tango on my sternum. Steroids, however, are nothing compared to the injections for the local anesthetic. Every prick feels as though it is being made with an unnecessary amount of force, but who am I to tell a doctor how to use a needle? I begin to think of these injections as little lessons taught to the injectee: “See how much worse it could be? I’m doing you a favor and it hurts you so much you can’t help but cringe. Look how weak you are. You couldn’t handle this without me. You can hardly even handle me.”
I try to keep the film reel of golden-hued beaches and sunny meadows playing for as long as possible, but as soon as I am aware of the first cut from the scalpel, the film cuts to a highly graphic and probably inaccurate imagination of the action going on inches below my tightly closed eyelids.
The long cuts around the perimeter of the scar don’t seem so bad, even though the frequency with which they are dabbing the cuts with gauze suggest I’ve sprung a pretty substantial leak.
The hacking that is done to the flesh beneath the scar is worse. His tongs hold the released portion of my scar almost comically high as he slices at the tissue still holding it to my chest. Some cuts feel productive, others as though he is taking swipes at me with a butter knife. I can’t tell whether the scar is cooperative, but I am already anticipating the moment when scar and Katherine are no longer one.
It happens. This scar, however ugly, was doing a fine job of connecting top to bottom and left to right and I can feel my remaining skin exhale, leaving a wide, shallow hole where there was once an uncomfortable conversation topic. He places my scar, like an expertly butterflied earthworm, in a shiny steel bowl next to the tongs, the bloody scalpel, and the needle.
The cauterizing begins; the room is filled with the smell of cooking flesh, but nothing about it is remotely appetizing. A song comes on that references fireworks and the room is filled with tiny starbursts shooting from my burning chest. My jaw unclenches and I smile.
The stitches, once again, take longer than I anticipate, but I let the surgeon take his time cleaning up the mess he made of me. The tugs on the thread return my thoughts to visions of my skin being stretched inches from my body and the scissors seem almost uselessly dull as they snap through each knotted off stitch. Sometimes I catch the feeling of the thread being drawn through me. I am little more than a rag doll with uneven stuffing and twenty years’ worth of stains and a tear that was hastily repaired with a few bent safety pins and I am here to be patched up. The safety pins are out and after a long fifteen minutes of being taken apart, I am being put back together. It’s still gross, but everything feels a little sunnier without the pins.
The surgeon stands up to bandage my wound and as I reach to turn off my music, I suddenly become aware of how tense every muscle in my body is. I relax as my mind is filled with images of the real world, but I do not turn back to look at the cart with the tools and my scar. This doctor is simply going to throw that little lump of me away instead of offering it as a sort of morbid souvenir like dentists do with molars. I’m thankful for that. As I stand, I find that I am shaking. The last half hour has clearly been traumatic, but at least I am done.
Never again, right?