I don't always notice it when I'm looking in the mirror. But every so often, it stands out in stark contrast to my pale skin.
I run my fingers along the red-rimmed, slightly crooked valley it left on my chest…and I thank God again for staying steadfastly by my side—through what I blithely refer to as my 2008 “health crisis.”
The valley is created by a combination of two overlapping scars. One is a misshapened, round dent in my throat where a tracheotomy was once performed to help me breathe. The other is a narrow scar that runs from my throat, down along my breast bone to the top of my ribcage. That's from the heart valve replacement.
It's hard for me to believe, but I've had these scars for over a year and a half now. The heart surgery dates back to Christmastime, 2008. I had an infection that destroyed my mitral valve. Bits of infection broke off and floated to my brain, causing a stroke.
The trach came later--sometime in January or February. I was having trouble catching my breath and kept passing out when my breathing stopped altogether. I couldn't talk for a long time and was on a feeding tube at one point.
There was a time where I felt virtually no emotion. I couldn’t write, couldn’t pray, couldn’t laugh or cry. It concerned me; I wondered if I would ever feel again, ever love again, if I would ever be passionate about anything again. But somehow, I persevered and eventually broke through my flat affect.
I kept a journal in the hospital. My handwriting is shaky and I chose the wrong words sometimes. But on Feb. 5, 2009, I wrote, “I’m crying finally….I’m also talking to God again. ‘Hello, God. It’s me, Arlene. I’ve missed you.’”
It has been a slow, arduous recovery, and I still have setbacks from time to time, but it’s mostly behind me, now. When I look at these scars—unsightly as they are—I am not inclined to cover them up. I don’t feel self-conscious about them, nor am I embarrassed by how they look.
I wear these scars like a badge of courage, a gold star of achievement, an emblem of the journey from near-death back to full life. To me, they are beautiful.
They are my battle scars…reminding me of the journey home, with all its bumps, detours and turn backs; all its straight climbs and sharp curves, and all the falls and get-back-ups, too. These scars call out to me—“You are a survivor!”