Before the Scars

Sometimes I try to remember my life before the scars. It seems like a long time ago, because I guess it was. But there was a time before surgeries and IV lines, when I didn’t have any scars.

I specifically remember the night before my first joint replacement surgery, when I was 15 years old. I spent time staring at my legs because I wanted to remember what it looked like and felt like. The scars would change me, I thought. My body would feel different. I thought if I concentrated enough, that I could remember the before—as if it was a before and after picture that I would be able to compare.

But I don’t remember now. I’m not sure if I ever did. The memory of before my hips and knees were replaced was erased in the fog of anesthesia and months of physical therapy rehab.

After just a year and a half, I had long hip scars and knee scars—plus a bonus doubling scar needed for follow up knee surgery to remove scar tissue. It felt like I went from zero to 60 in the scar race. There was no turning back.

So what do you do when you’re an awkward teenager with a bunch of prominent leg scars? Well, you learn to love them of course! There’s no choice but to be proud about the battle scars of illness!

From there, the subsequent little scars seem negligible. I’m not sure I even noticed the IV scars from the surgeries right away. I was too concerned with healing from surgeries to worry about the small, white pinprick-sized scars on my hands and arms from multiple IV lines.

My knee revision surgery a couple years ago lengthened the scar on my left leg by a few inches. At that time I also acquired a PICC line scar on my arm. While it was one small additional scar about the size of a marker dot, the line was a huge improvement over dealing with IV lines.

I’m not sad when I try to think about my body before the scars. More accurately, it kind of feels like a different person. There was the girl who had painful rheumatoid arthritis. And now there is the woman living with RA who has artificial joints.

I cannot travel in time or visit that person. But parts of her are still with me and her story is mine. She didn’t know what her journey would be, that scars would help map the story of her life. She didn’t understand that scars would not be a marker of pain, but a reminder of survival and endurance.

In future years I expect that I will accumulate more scars. I will have more stories to tell. Each scar represents a part of the journey and together I can tell a story about struggling with a chronic disease, learning to live with physical differences, and working hard to keep as healthy and active as possible.

Before the scars may be a distant memory, but I am glad they are a marker of survival and endurance.

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