It’s summer again and time to unwrap the long sleeves and high necks and reveal skin. I am not averse to baring skin – but with it come a bevy of stares and questions. Already, children in my daughter’s pre-k class are pointing at the long red scar that dissects my chest and asking what it is.
A scar, I say, or a boo boo that is healing. They look uneasy at the response, I guess because that boo boo is pretty red and jagged. It begins just below my collarbones with a nubbly mass that has formed a keloid and continues down my chest, resembling exactly what it is: a knife cut. To top it off and make it even more sensitive, the keloid has formed on top of a bump, which is a cluster of wires used to fuse my bones post surgery.
The scar is almost four years old now, and the result of emergency open-heart surgery to remove an aortic aneurysm and replace a faulty heart valve with a mechanical one. Sadly, I found out the hard way, that I am prone to keloid scars, which are not only unattractive to look at but incredibly sensitive to touch.
There are days when my 5 year-old jumps on me, thrusting her head at my chest in loving play, and I shriek in agony as she swipes my scar. Or I bump it as I open a drawer or remove jewelry, and it brings tears to my eyes from the throbbing pain. Even just being exposed to sun can be agonizing as the skin sort of dries and contracts, no matter how much sunblock I smother on it, resulting in a uncomfortable, sunburn-like itch.
Of course, there are things you can do to minimize such scars, I’ve been told repeatedly by well-meaning friends and doctors. So, a few weeks back, I went in search of one of these magic solutions. I made an appointment with a cosmetic dermatologist on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The doctor came with a great reputation, swanky rooms and a staff of sweet, leggy blondes of indeterminate age. Sitting in the waiting room, you could feel women looking at each other wondering what each was ”having done.”
I was assured the good doctor could help me out with all sorts of non-invasive treatments, including lasers and other scar-zapping devices. But nothing is ever so easy. During a consultation (ka-ching), the doctor informed me that there were indeed great solutions for my scar but first we had to deal with the keloid and the only way to do that was to inject cortisone into the swollen, angry-looking mass.
I had this exact procedure once before in 2008 when I was visiting Australia, and it was the most mind-numbingly painful thing I had ever experienced. After some back and forth though, I agreed to give it another shot (literally!).
The doctor tossed her blonde locks reassuringly and swabbed my scar with liquid nitrogen to help freeze the location and hopefully ease the pain. It didn’t.
Scared + Scarred
I am pretty pain tolerant but the pinch of the needle sliding in and out of the scar had me clawing the bed, knuckles white and eyes watering until I broke down into full-blown sobbing and begged her to stop. I bore two children with no medication, and this, I told the doctor, was more grueling.
The poor doctor wanted so desperately to help me; and my sobbing unnerved her. I paid my hefty bill and left the offices in a pained daze. As I walked across town toward Central Park to gather my thoughts, I kept wondering why I had put myself through the procedure again knowing how much I loathed it. I tried in vain to ring my husband, fearing that I may just pass out in front of Bergdorf Goodman and be trampled by hoardes of fanny-pack-wearing tourists.
Would I come back in three weeks or so for another treatment, the doctor had asked before I left. She wanted to see how the scar responded and hopefully take another well-intentioned jab at it. Well, three weeks is up and I am in limbo. Admittedly the scar looks a tad better and is not as sore, but can I take another round with a steroid-filled needle?