16 Jul Embracing our aging, scars and all
I am standing naked in front of the full length bathroom mirror looking at my scar. It is 9 inches long, starting just below that little hollow at the base of the neck, snaking its way down between my breasts. I had hoped it would be a nice straight line. Instead it curves slightly towards my left breast—maybe it is symmetric and it is my body that is asymmetric?
I stare at it impartially, in that moment. Only two weeks old I know it will change and hopefully soften over the weeks and months to follow. On May 28 I had a triple coronary bypass. It came as a shock to me, and my cardiologist, to realize that while I looked fairly functional ( I was going to the gym and even doing a basic aerobics class) I have severe coronary heart disease. My arteries were 70, 70, and 80% blocked. Too blocked for stents. Too blocked for me to do anything but hover carefully for a few days while tests continued and arrangements were made to fix it.
Today marks seven weeks since my surgery. The scar is mostly healed, though still a bit angry and puffy looking. And no less crooked.
The skin on parts of my left chest and left breast are numb, in addition to the all the other insults and injuries incurred by such an invasive and serious surgery. The surgeon says the numbness might go away. Might. Nerve regeneration can take up to a year. Healing is not a comfortable process.
A part of me wants to complain but I can’t do anything other than focus on the present moment. Only as I pick up the pen again do I contemplate what it will be like to show my body to a new partner. To wonder what I will feel. What that person might think. Add that to the complexities of what sex and intimacy will look like for those of us who are single as we begin to tentatively explore this new coronavirus world. How safe is that person? Will kissing be dangerous? It’s overwhelming to contemplate.
It seems to me that trust is going to be the determining factor in revisiting intimacy, for all of us. Trusting that a man I might be interested in won’t be repulsed by my scar. Trusting the other person has been safe, not just sexually, but in terms of avoiding contracting COVID-19. So now just like we worry about STDs, we worry about the virus.
My brother-in-law shuddered on a zoom chat the other day when his wife asked if he wanted to see my scar as I started to pull the neck of my top down a fraction. He hid his eyes. I understand that he was thinking more about the surgery than me as a sexual being—but still.
We all come to a relationship with baggage and scars—some invisible. Mine is now front and center—literally. Cracked open, quite literally and sewn back together. I would say it hasn’t changed me, but it might have. I don’t know yet. I’ve allowed myself to feel emotions but I haven’t given much thought to what life looks like going forward. Most days it’s simply enough to focus on diet and exercise, managing my fatigue, and regaining my health.
I’m full of gratitude right now. The day and hours before my surgery, lying there in that hospital bed, apart from family and loved ones, I feared I would die. And that still causes me to tear up. But I didn’t. And I didn’t have a heart attack. And I have come through surgery remarkably well. At one month out I got the OK to resume all normal activities—to drive and go to rehab. My progress has been remarkable, according to the various healthcare professionals I’ve seen in these last six weeks. That’s not to say there are times when I am exhausted. Progress has its own timetable, so I am patient. And grateful.
I will always have that scar. There’s no hiding it, not really. My scar is a companion to my wrinkles and sags and other changes wrought by age. I’m not apologizing or denying my about-to-be 66 year old body. We are learning to love each other. I am practicing embracing my scars.
Photo of artwork by Paige Bradley.