Friday, December 13, 2013

The Map

"There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature.  
A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed -- done with."  
-- Harry Crews

I don't often see Patrick without his shirt on.  He's 14 years old and into privacy.  He takes his own shower, figures out his own clothes, always remembers his deodorant and out of my three children that can maneuver through this process on their own, he is the only one who routinely hangs his towel up.

So, it was with some surprise that I walked in on him looking at himself in the mirror, touching a rough spot on his chest, analyzing it and thinking about it.  At 14, like almost all the others, he cares about what he looks like.  He wants his hair to be cool.  
He loves to dress up with a tie and jacket.  
This stuff matters.

I could see him feeling his skin like a blind person reading Braille.  He wanted to know the story behind the scar.  
He didn't remember receiving it. But, I did.
The scar looks like a hashtag that might appear on Instagram.  It's faded but rough to the touch.
I touched it too...and like some sort of portal, I traveled back in time.

There on the center of his chest, right next to his breastbone was the entrance to what once held a Broviac. A Broviac (for the lucky people who have never needed to know that word) is a way of giving chemo directly into your body.  It also happens to be a way to take out blood as well.  Pediatric oncologists often suggest it as the best option for young children with cancer because of that blood-taking option -- fewer sticks with a needle then.  
But from my viewpoint, I'd tell anyone to go for option two...the port-a-cath.

John and I affectionately called the Broviac, the "X-files thingy" -- truly a scientific medical term if there ever was one.  The Broviac was a tube that hung out of your chest.  It required a tape over it and a netting to be worn like a vest over the entire chest so that it would not get pulled out.  It was next to impossible to bathe in.  It was hell to clean, not to mention life-threatening if we didn't clean it right.  At the end of each week, we needed to push Heparin into the Broviac and clean the area around it.  
There Patrick would sit, the most stoic three year old on the planet, letting us clean raw skin and push medicine.

All that is left of that awful, horrible time is the hashtag scar.

Tonight, I told him the story of his bravery and his poise.  I admitted that while I was afraid of it, he was not. 
He looked at me in a shy, proud way...

and he asked about the next scar.

This one was a three inch horizontal line about three inches down from his left hand collarbone.
That was where the Port-a-cath was placed.
After the x-files thingy came out...which was a Defcon 10 on my fear list, they casually replaced it with this.  This beautiful invention goes under the skin.  It's about the size of a fifty cent piece, circular, and attaches to a vein.  It has a sponge-y center where the medicine goes in.  You numb the area and then push the meds/chemo when needed.  But since it is under the skin and nothing needs cleaning, once the meds are done, you're done.  Free to go and live your life.  Go swimming -- no problem.  Take a bath -- a breeze.  Play in a water slide -- fine by me!  It was a miraculous transformation.  Patrick was four when he got the port-a-cath placed and we were a new family.
They "accessed the port" (don't we sound like we're in Star Wars?) whenever he had a chemo treatment, which was about once a month.  
Patrick was so zen and unafraid about the accessing that other children who were fearful would watch Patrick and see how easy it could be. 

He was fearless at four.
Pretty stunning way to live.
That scar tells that story and Patrick heard it tonight.

He asked if he had any other scars and I pointed out the tiny one on his neck.  It was part of the Broviac nightmare and truly I blocked it out.  I just embellished the other Broviac story and told him he was ready for his shower now...

except then I had to take my index finger and smooth his open heart surgery scar that runs right down the middle of his chest a good eight inches long and thick.  Like I had a bubble of glue under a paper craft, I smoothed that skin, petted that scar and reminded him of that amazing badge of courage.

That scar is hard to miss.  He knows that story so I mostly skimmed over it, like a favorite fairy tale.  
I could give the Cliff Note version.

He asked to see my scars.
I have only two.
One from a hernia operation when I was two -- a whisker thin three inch scar way down low on my tummy -- and one on my finger -- a Girl Scout camping accident with a sharp tin can.  
My stories show no bravery.  No zen-like calm.  No resilience.  No grace.

Like ports of call on a map, Patrick heard his story.  
The hero stood down a foe.  He maintained his cool.  
He bounced back from mortal adversaries and held his own.  
Mostly, he did it with effortless grace, good humor and kindness, fearlessly.

What's a little hashtag scar or two when you've done all that?

You're made of powerful stuff my boy.
I'm glad you finally heard it all out loud.

After all that horror, fear and dizzying sadness all that's left are the scars...and the stories.
They're both pretty beautiful now.


  1. This brought tears to my eyes...oh, the strength of some people. You. Patrick. Your family. What an amazing journey life is.

  2. Jennifer, Thank you for this! I don't really know that it's strength when you have no choice...but it is an amazing journey and it sure is wonderful to have that terrible time behind us and healed over into a scar. Thanks again! ~Beth