Stories beneath the scars
Scars. We all have scars. Some are visible to all, some are hidden behind our clothes, some are only found in the deepest recesses of our heart. Some people perceive them as an embarrassment or a time of hardship better left in the closet. But I see scars as a badge of honor, representing a battle fought and won, and a moment of strength and resiliency.

When I see patients, especially for the first time, there is only so much information I can garner through forms they fill out and our conversation before their physical exam. The limited time I have with each patient makes these channels even less revealing. Then there’s the fact that some patients either don’t remember parts of their history or don’t consider the importance of telling me this information. And so I find, in the privacy of the exam room, as their body is revealed to me, sometimes so are their scars.

STORY 1
Yesterday, I met you for the first time. You wore your oxygen tubing like a fancy necklace, taking sips of oxygen as if it were hot tea. Beside you was your walker, a carriage for the oxygen tank. You were dressed beautifully in a bright red sweater, lipstick to match and a shiny gold necklace with matching earrings to finish off the look. You weren’t quite sure why you were seeing me in the office, your stories were a little jumbled in your head. You had some records from a nurse practitioner that sent you to me, but you didn’t know what they said. You were a mystery to me, perfectly dressed with your equally imperfect memory. Your history was nearly a blank slate as we exited my office and entered an exam room.

And so, in the exam room with you undressed, I read your history by looking at the scars on your body. The hard, puckering scar on your right breast revealed to me your battle with breast cancer. The dot in the center of your chest, that you also needed radiation to conquer the cancer fully. The long, oblique scar on the right side of your belly revealed that you had your appendix out, probably as a child, since it is rare nowadays to have such a big incision. Despite your memory loss, between the scars and the oxygen, I began putting together the story of your life. Since you were here alone today, I wondered who accompanied you through your breast cancer journey and the challenges it presented to you. And when you were a child, which of your parents carried you to the doctor knowing something was gravely wrong? But for today, as you sipped on your oxygen, unaware of times past, your body told me what your mind had forgotten.

STORY 2
I also have a scar. It is hidden. I am not ashamed or embarrassed, but it is not something I want to show off. My firstborn was breech the entire pregnancy. “They” say breech babies want to be closer to their mama’s heart, so I suppose, I should have been glad she sat upright like that. But, in reality, I was disappointed. I had hoped for a natural delivery. I even imagined I was so strong, I wouldn’t need any pain medication. I couldn’t wait to tell people my glorious story of strength. And so, I went through an external version, an attempt to turn my baby from breech to head down. I declined any pain medications and with her bottom wedged in my pelvis, I ended up bruised and battered with my breech baby unmoved. I still hoped she would flip on her own, but as the c-section date approached, I knew my fate was sealed.

I insisted on watching my c-section and the birth of my baby, so the staff set up a mirror for me. As I saw her feet being pulled out, and finally, “a girl!” and I cried with a happiness I have never known before. I will never forget the moment I saw her, held up by my doctor above the surgical drape, crying, still attached to me with the umbilical cord. Finally, when I was able to hold her, the disappointment of having a c-section melted away. I didn’t care how she came out of me, she was here and mine. I was still a mother and nothing else mattered. The scar is my reminder of the glorious day I became a mother.

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Scars are only the tip of the iceberg, of a bigger story that lies beneath. Scars may hold secrets, fears, triumphs, and embarrassments. Emotional scars may be unseen by the naked eye, but only seen if we truly look into someone’s heart. In the end, scars make us stronger. I have the privilege of not only seeing other’s scars, but also acknowledging their importance in a patient’s life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Andrea Eisenberg has been an obstetrician/gynecologist in the Metro Detroit area for nearly 25 years. Through her many years in women’s health, she has shared in countless intimate moments of her patients, and shared in their joys, heartaches, secrets, losses and victories. In her writing, she captures the human side of medicine and what doctors think and feel in caring for patients. She has documented these stories on her blog. She has been a contributor in Intima, A Journal of Narrative Medicine and Pulse, Voices From the Heart of Medicine. Andrea is also a guest rotating blogger on KevinMD and Doximity, and a contributing author for BBN Times.

Read the full blog on 'Stories Beneath the Scars' here: https://www.mommd.com/blogs/stories-beneath-the-scars.shtml
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