I am hunkering down at home for a week. I wear sloppy clothes that I don’t mind staining with blood. First I am in pain, then I itch, then I am overcome with heat. I nap every four hours, and I can’t really remember yesterday. I do all of this repeatedly, every few months, and while I can’t say I look forward to it, I am so grateful for the opportunity.
“This is your 14th laser treatment,” smiled my surgeon, the serious but also charming Dr. Sigrid Eberwein. Thanks to the anesthesia, which obliterates my memories of surgery days, I don’t remember much else that she said. But I also remember the kindness and warmth of the entire burn team at Lehigh Valley Burn Center, which I began attending five years ago.
Dr. Eberwein is some kind of genius with scars. Her staff stands in awe of her, and I am one of countless patients clamoring to get on her schedule. Although my severe scars are 52 years old, there is a new laser treatment out that reduces the appearance of scars, and Dr. Eberwein is a master of the technique. Some patients get the laser without anesthesia. For me, though, my scarring is so massive, and I have extensive facial scars, so I have to have general anesthesia. Afterwards, there is a week’s long recovery process that is draining, exhausting and deeply uncomfortable. But you should see my face.
My scars used to lie vertically on my face. There would be my normal skin, white and flat. My third degree burn scars lay next to my normal skin. They were thick, raised, uneven, discolored. Those scars still live on my face. But, thanks to repeated lasering, the same scars are now flatter, more even and smoother. If I put make-up on the scars, you would barely notice them.
The laser’s results show up gradually, over time. The laser intentionally damages the lowest layer of skin, which then becomes softer and more pliable as it heals. Usually after a week, I begin to notice the changes, which are subtle. But I know my own face, and I know when a scar used to be there and when all the sudden it’s… gone. (I mean, not fully gone, but as good as gone.) I run up to my husband Doug and say, “Look! Look!” I point to a spot on my chin or cheek. Doug looks carefully. He knows my face pretty darn well too, and he is an observant sort. “Yes, I see it. Amazing!” I beam at him, feeling like a little child. A not-burned little child.
I am the only person I know who is growing more attractive in my fifties.
I never thought a treatment would come along to make me look less burned. Long ago, I accepted that I was a burned person, with terrible scars on 65% of my body, and that was that. I didn’t waste time focusing on my scars, as I knew there was nothing to be done. I didn’t believe in medical miracles. The “plastic surgery” you see in movies is more science fiction than reality. I’m a trained scientist, and a practical sort of person. If someone I know is diagnosed with cancer, I look up their disease, it's statistics, and it's prognosis. I accept the odds, and assume the prognosis is correct, and it usually is. When that person dies, I am very sorry but not very shocked. Medicine is a science. Science is based on data, data which has been replicated, observed, and reported many times.
So, if someone once said to me that there would be a magical laser someday which would improve my facial scars so much that people wouldn’t notice them, I would have laughed. I would have also felt quietly stung that maybe the person didn’t think I was good enough, scars and all.
Most of my blogs have a message about resilience. I’m trying to help pass along what I have seen, lived and observed. The simple message of this blog is: well, keep going! You just never know who or what is going to come along to help you. You have to live with whatever suffering you have, whether its arthritis, depression, heart disease, or aching joints. So many illnesses and injuries cause us pain and suffering. The human body is vulnerable, and we all just have to keep on with our lives, regardless. But who knows? There may be a magic laser in your future too. Or a magic treatment. Or a magic healer. Science keeps marching on, and there are armies of scientists, doctors and nurses working every day to reduce our suffering. I hope they find ways to help everything that ails you.
There are medical miracles after all.