For a few weeks I’ve been working on this post in my head. In that time, I’ve added 3 new scars to my ever-growing collection.
There are different ways to introduce the topic. I could have talked about how we all have scars; some you see and some that are hidden. Way too psycho-babble. Although I suppose we all do have emotional scars.
My Mom was a cutter; another way to start. Too sad for me to remember the pain (and emotional scars) her cutting inflicted on her 3 children and those close to her.
Collecting: another way to start this piece. I’m not really a collector of things, although I could fill a page with flowery prose on the joy my small record collection gives me. Or a shirt by shirt history of my REM t-shirt collection.
One thing that my records and t-shirts have in common: they are both collections to be used and enjoyed. They don’t sit by just being admired for what they are. I do have some excellent records: picture vinyl, colored discs, and some 180 gram heavy beautiful records. Those, along with the .25 cent beat-up Goodwill records, are played with the same frequency. The t-shirts, some bought at concerts, some on ebay, are in the drawer with all my other t-shirts. The kids sleep in them sometimes, I garden, paint, even kill chickens while wearing an REM shirt. In fact I have one on right now; down on the lower right is some yellow paint; the color we re-painted the preschool my children attended.
So scars as a collection? The 12 scars I now have on my torso tell a big part of the story of my life.
Up until 2005, I had very few scars. Even going through childhood in the 70′s with no helmet and plenty of crashes, I only have 1 good long-lasting bike crash scar. With much bravado, I was riding down the street with no hands, waved to a friend and went right over the handlebars. A slender, arrow shaped scar points out from my left knee-cap.
Looking closely at my hands, especially between my fingers, there are many small scars. Hard to believe, but they are from girls basketball. Girls would sharpen their nails before a game, leaving little scratches whenever you fought one for control of the ball. I never had sharpened nails. I chewed mine off.
Although no one would notice it, I have a great scar running between my index and middle finger on my left hand. Coming home from work, I opened the door to be greeted by my giant dog, Maude. She jumped up on me and one of her nails caught between my fingers. Now it just looks like a wrinkle, but it’s a reminder of my sweet, massive Newfie dog.
So, not much until 2005. February 13th, 8:30pm. My first surgical scar; a 6 or so inch incision that my little baby boy was pulled out of. It’s still shocking to think that a 7lb, 7oz baby fit through that little slit in my abdomen. He was so perfect. The odd thing about c-sections: they numb you, but they don’t knock you out. It’s an amazingly odd feeling to know that right behind the sheet, you are cut open, but you can’t feel it. A son is an excellent reason for a scar.
March 2009 – I haven’t written much about my gender transition in my blog. (See post “Mommy, why is that man so fat” for some info.) Through a late season storm, I drove from my home in California to Oregon. It was time to have the boobs gone. The surgeon I chose in Portland to do the deed, charged less than Bay Area surgeons, and I liked the technique he used.
This would be my only elective surgery; and paid for out-of-pocket. Insurance pays for my testosterone, but it doesn’t cover gender reassignment surgeries.
Adrienne flew up to Oregon the next day to meet me. Yancey drove up from Eugene. We went out to sushi, joked about doing things in two’s, and the next morning, a Friday, drove to a plastic surgery center in downtown Portland. By far the strangest of my surgery stories. The lobby/waiting area was quiet and beautiful. There were brochures for Botox, acid peels, and nose jobs. The nurses were funny. It would also be the first of many times Adrienne would wait for me while I was having something removed from my body.
Anesthesia is always strange. The anesthesiologist talks to you and the next thing you know, you are in the lobby of the hotel you left 5 hours earlier. Yep, my double-mastectomy was a day surgery. In and out. It’s still shocking to think that they removed two big D-cup chucks of my chest and sent me on my way. I remember looking down, seeing my shoes on, and wondering how they had gotten magically back on my feet. Adrienne’s favorite line from that day, “Jay, focus… with your eyes open”.
The whole experience felt very third world. The doctor’s assistant came to the hotel and removed the drains. There was blood on the sheets. We cleaned up, packed up, went to Yancey’s, and by Monday night, drank way too much with some friends of mine from grade school.
My Facebook posts from that surgery are funny. My favorite, “I crossed 2 things off my to-do list today.” For friends who didn’t know what was going on this one might have been confusing: “I went to the store to buy 2 melons, but they were sold out.”
The cancer invading my body was steadily growing; although it would be over a year before I was diagnosed. See, “Jay, you have a giant rectal tumor” and “Living with a permanent colostomy” for the details of that surgery.
What I never mentioned about the colostomy surgery was that I dealt with 2 major incisions: the stoma placement and its long snake-like scar that runs past my c-section scar, (front butt, not attractive) and the second, the APR : Abdomino-Perineal Resection. Okay, so my rectum was removed and my ass sewn shut. My surgeon didn’t quite explain to me the sewing shut of the butt thing. It’s been over 2 years and I still haven’t looked at it in the mirror. With that surgery, I spent 8 days in the hospital; although with a morphine button, I don’t remember much of it.
Within this time-frame, I had my first port placed. “VAP” stands for venous access port: a little rubber device placed under your skin about 3 inches below your collar-bone. It’s a half day surgery to be put in and a half day surgery to have it taken out. I’ve had the surgery 3 times: 2 put in and 1 taken out. Matching scars on each side of my upper chest. There will never be a 4th port surgery; it’ll be burnt up with the rest of me when I’m cremated.
As of last Tuesday, in 6 months time, I doubled my scar count. 2 different surgeries to remove cancerous tumors from my lungs. I started this blog right after the first surgery. The first was a “robotic assisted lower left lobe wedge resection”. 3 scars: 1 for the robot, one for the chest tube and one for the tiny video camera. The first lung tumor was at the bottom of my lung, easy access for the surgeon and the robot.
This last surgery was more difficult. The tumor was in my right lung, close to my sternum, and naturally, close to my heart. Generally, before surgery, the surgeon will visit and mark the surgery sites with a marker and initials. When Dr. Kanaan came last week, I assumed he would go through the front of my chest; not the case, they always go in through the back. This surgery wouldn’t involve a robot, just a camera. That’s what I find most amazing; the surgeon is essentially removing small cancerous bits of lung very close to my vena cava by looking at an image on a screen. The part of my chest were the tumor was hurts like hell, but looks perfectly healthy.
Well, that felt a lot like a grocery store list: 6 pack of beer, lung surgery, swiss cheese, Triscuits and colostomy surgery. It’s definently not a collection made by choice. What it is is a record of my blessings. Yea, you heard that right. A baby, the chest I was meant to have, a giant tumor removed from my ass, a baseball sized chuck from one lung and a 4x2cm bit removed from the other. Not all cancer patients have the blessing of having the cancerous beast cut out of them, analyzed and then thrown in the medical incinerator.
When I finally woke up last Wednesday morning, with a breathing tube down my throat and a chest tube collecting lung gunk in a box next to me, I thought, “How many more times can I go through this?”
2 nights later, too sleepy to read to my kids, I laid in bed with them and I heard the answer, “As many times as I can”.