No one would willingly ask for a scar. Such defacement is considered as ugly as the word. Hard and cold, it can only be uttered with a sneer. But the scar across my belly carries none of this ugliness. I have no hard feelings about it. I am even willing to wear a two-piece bathing suit in summer, ensuring public exposure. When I shower each morning, my soapy hands do not stop to pause on the six-inch raised line. As I stand before the mirror, desperately searching for an outfit appropriate for whatever my particular mood that day, my eyes never land on it. It goes unnoticed. In fact, the only time I am reminded of it is when someone catches a glimpse of it and recoils, wondering what happened! Then I begin the story revealing the circumstances surrounding my “disfigurement.”
I was 29 weeks pregnant with my second child. A boy. The pregnancy had been, thankfully, uneventful, much like my first. Besides my insatiable appetite for raw beef and grapefruit juice, and my inability to stay awake for long stretches of time, my pregnancy hardly affected my life at all. But suddenly, home alone with my three-year-old daughter, I fell to the floor, doubled over in pain. I had her get me the cordless phone, and I dialed Grandma and Papa. I could not lift my head off the floor and could barely speak. When my husband wandered in with the carry out Kung Pao chicken he had gone to pick up, he found me on the living room floor, crying into the phone. He rushed me to the emergency room.
By the time we arrived, the pain had subsided. The doctors agreed that I must have had some strange sort of contraction, I believe they dubbed it a “grand mal contraction,” and they sent me home. Four hours later, I hovered over the toilet, getting rid of dinner and in even worse pain than before. We went back to emergency.
This time, the doctors realized that something must be terribly wrong. However, tests showed the baby was doing great, and I was having no contractions. The diagnosis? Maybe I had appendicitis. The greatest challenge of performing an appendectomy on a woman 29-weeks pregnant is that the doctors cannot be sure exactly just where the appendix is.
I had no choice. The pain was too much. I went ahead and signed the papers acknowledging that I could go in labor and that the baby was at risk and could die as a result of the surgery. But what choice did I have?
As it turned out, when the surgeon first sliced into the taut skin covering my growing baby, blood poured out of me; I was bleeding internally. He knew immediately that I did not have appendicitis. But now he had to find the source of the bleeding. As it was later described to me, cut a little more and pulled out nearby organs for inspection. He cut again to examine other organs. One of those was my uterus. Apparently the surgeon held my son, tucked inside the placenta in his hand. And thankfully, he was fine and not in any distress. It wasn’t until the doctor had to cut from my right side all of the way over to my belly button, a distance on my stretched skin that spanned 12 inches, before he located the source – a ruptured ovarian cyst, a very rare condition in a pregnant woman.
When I woke from my anesthetic slumber, the baby was sleeping comfortably in my womb, and my swollen stomach was held together with staples.
The resulting scar could be nothing short of life affirming. In another time, in another place, I would be dead.
Without this scar, I would have bled into my abdomen until I had drained my veins of all life. Without this scar, my son, dependent on me for his life, would have died. My three-year-old daughter would have grown up without her mother.
This scar represents the tremendous luck that got me to the emergency room on time, it represents the skill and ability of the doctors and the wondrous miracles of modern science, and it represents the gift that is my life.
More often than not, I forget about the scar and no longer “see” it when I dress or shower. But when I do catch a glimpse of it, I do not see disfigurement, defacement, deformity, defect. I see love. It is a reminder of the struggles we all experience and our ability to fight our way through. And I am better for those struggles.
Life is good.
Cassandra’s Daughter by Vickie Oddino