by Samuel Moore-Sobel, guest blogger
(I am honored to host Samuel Moore-Sobel, as guest writer for this blog. You can learn more about Samuel, and his book, Can You See My Scars? at the end of this post.)
The minute he entered the room, my doctor asked me, “Well, how do you feel?”
I sat in my first follow-up appointment after facial reconstructive surgery. The surgery lasted longer than I expected. I felt unsettled after the experience, in addition to my post-operative pain. Yet even with my doctor, I felt the need to please.
“I’m feeling better,” I said, telling him that the pain and discomfort had mostly subsided. The doctor wanted to look at the surgical site, so with gloved hands he began to examine the area under my nose. In surgery, he had removed a failed skin graft from this area to create a different scar in its place. Moments later, he pulled on my lip, examining my mouth. He seemed pleased with the progress and returned my lip to its resting place. He looked at the area around my mouth one more time for good measure. “I know you weren’t enjoying the synthetic feel of the skin graft,” he told me, before saying he hoped this operation would lead to a better outcome than the skin graft had.
I was not so sure. I was eighteen years old and this wasn’t my first surgery. In fact, I had experienced several surgeries before this one, all attempting to address the damage left by severe burns to my skin. With each surgery, I fell asleep on the operating table hoping that I would wake up with a brand new face. Each time, I was disappointed. My face still had scars. Even so, I wished that maybe this time it would be different.
The doctor assigned me some homework. He instructed me to spread a substance called Neocutis on my finger and massage the area under my nose for two minutes, twice a day. “Do it right before you brush your teeth,” he said. He placed his right hand above my face, taking his second and third fingers and digging into my upper lip. He then placed his gloved thumb on the inside of my mouth and moved his fingers in a circular motion. As he did, pain shot through my upper lip. The circular motion continued, and I let out a few groans as his fingers dug deeper into my skin. As the demonstration ended, the pain subsided, and the scar returned to its normal position.
As our appointment came to an end, the doctor told me it would take time for the swelling to subside—as long as 12 months. That will take forever, I thought to myself. I was tired of my face looking swollen. I dreaded the looks I knew I would receive once I went back to school. On the car ride home, I thought about the pain I felt while the doctor massaged the scar under my nose. I shuddered thinking about repeating the process every day.
But my pain transcended the physical. It felt emotionally triggering to look in the mirror, and even more so to touch the scarred areas on my face. It reminded me of the worst day of my life. Just a few years before, I had been hired for a day to move boxes and furniture for a man in my community. By day’s end, I had suffered second- and third-degree burns to my face and arms, all due to the explosion of a box. I wanted to forget everything that had happened to me. Yet my scars prevented me from forgetting. And every surgery felt like re-opening old wounds that had not healed.
Despite my misgivings, I followed the doctor’s orders. However hard it might be, I wanted to speed up the healing process. I was willing to do almost anything; all I wanted was to get my face back.
Per the doctor’s instructions, I massaged the scar once again that night. The more I massaged, the more it hurt. After two minutes were up, the most curious thing happened. Even though I experienced pain while massaging my face, the area felt better when I was done. Over the next few days, the affected area began to feel more mobile, and eating became less of a chore. Soon enough, I was no longer in pain when I spoke. After a few weeks, I felt as if real progress had been made. I wondered if perhaps my face could be restored after all.
Little did I know that my journey was just beginning. It would take several more operations before I came to have the face I have now. It would be several years before I felt comfortable with my appearance. It would be several years before I could finally stop fighting my scars. It took longer than I could have anticipated to finally accept that I was never going to get my face back, no matter how hard I tried.
I learned an important lesson while desperately trying to restore my former face. Pain in the short-term can lead to long-term healing. Pain was no longer something I needed to fear, but rather something to face head-on. Pain in the present was not an indicator of pain in the future. Life could get better, if only I could handle the pain along the way.
Pain is an unavoidable part of the human experience. Perhaps pain isn’t something to be avoided, but rather embraced. After all, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
The face I have now has not come easy. The life I have now was never guaranteed. It took a lot of pain to get here, but I treasure my life in the present. Even if sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I still wish I could see my former face.
Samuel Moore-Sobel is a speaker, columnist and author of “Can You See My Scars?” He is a fellow burn survivor, and an amazing writer at the impressive age of just 26 years old. His book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Mascot Books. For more, follow him on Twitter and Instagram or visit www.samuelmoore-sobel.com
Dr. Lise Deguire’s memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader or your local indie bookstore. Flashback Girl is now available in paperback, eBook and audio book format.