Friday, November 22, 2013

She's So Vain

Sure I was barely conscious and draped in a hospital gown. Yes, I may have been tethered to several IVs, a heart monitor, a wound vacuum, an oxygen sensor, and my hands may have been unsteady from all the heavy-duty pain medicine pumping through my veins. And, all right, so my skin had exploded from the pressure of all the fluids forced into me and strips of it had begun to peel off everywhere. But my boyfriend, the hottie, was coming to visit, and that meant I needed to apply makeup!
Using the tiny mirror attached to the lid of my toiletry bag, I applied the Estee Lauder moisturizer and Bare Minerals face powder. Then I put on a little lipstick, but had to wipe it off because my trembling hand slipped and I looked like The Joker from “Batman.” Apparently, the hottie had been to visit several times before, but I’d been unconscious, which made it impossible, even for me, to apply makeup.
          In the days, weeks, months, and even years that would follow, I would have to face an ugly truth:  I was vain. Not just a little. I had a serious problem with vanity. And though I’d like to believe I was telling the absolute truth when I signed the amputation release form and claimed I didn’t give a rat’s ass what I looked like on the outside, losing my left leg from above the knee was a huge blow to my feminine ego. When I first understood what had happened to me, my self-image was crushed. In my mind, the amputation of my leg equaled the amputation of my femininity.
 I cried and cried over this, tortured with extreme fears about my appearance. I worried I’d never be even remotely attractive again. I told myself I’d never be able to wear skirts again, or rock a pair of cute shoes again. When I would express these fears to my best friend and daughter, they’d remind me I was lucky to be alive, and who cared about cute shoes, anyway?
Uh, they do.
But I had other things to worry about. Because I’d been lying face-up for months, a nurse had to cut a hunk of matted hair from the back of my head.
“Is there a bald spot?” I asked her.
“A little,” she lied.
I think there was a reason there were no mirrors in my Shock Trauma room. When I eventually managed to study my reflection in that cosmetic bag mirror, I saw that a bald spot was just the beginning. My hair had started to fall out all over, leaving not only bald spots, but bald regions. (Again, my daughter and best friend tried to remind me that I was lucky to be alive, but I was too busy sobbing to hear them.)
My hair starts to grow back, May 2012
Next, I discovered I had rough, dark, discolored patches of skin all over my body, including my remaining foot and leg, my hands, and the thigh that wasn’t bandaged. I checked and re-checked several times a day to be sure those patches hadn’t spread to my face. For some reason, they never did. Also, my hands and arms were swollen to twice their normal size. My nails were yellow and lined with ridges. I carried a vampire-bite scar on my neck from dialysis and another on my chest from a pic line. The tops of my hands and my forearms were shredded from the IV lines and ruptured fluid blisters. Concrete-hard lumps had formed under my skin at injection sites.
I’ll be honest – I’ve never had buns of steel. But before I got sick, I had buns of, say, aluminum. Once I got home I realized that lying on my back in a hospital bed for three months had given me buns the consistency of risen pizza dough.
Nearly two years have gone by since I got sick. I wish I could tell you I’m over the ego crap. That would be a lie. I have good days, bad days, and so-so days. I am happy to report that, recently, most of them are good or so-so. The truly awful days are less frequent. I’m making progress.
At first, I relied on the opinions of others to sustain my positive self-image. My hottie boyfriend assured me I was still beautiful. My mother, my kids, and my friends told me I was strong and brave. All of them were quick to add that I was lucky to be alive. This was nice, but it wasn’t enough, because deep down I didn’t believe a word of it.
Like many women I know, learning to love and accept myself has been a lifelong challenge. No matter what my latest achievements were, I was always driven to be more, to stay far above the norm. I’ve always pushed myself hard to reach the next level in academics or work, adventure and fun, relationships, and, of course, my physical appearance.
I sometimes laugh at that Susan from the past, the chick who lived almost entirely in her ego, who had trouble loving herself when she had everything – two legs and two wonderful kids, loving friends and family, robust health, world travel, a charming and comfortable home, talent, luck, drive, and a boyfriend who thought she was gorgeous and amazing.
Over time, my ego began to relax its death grip. I started to admit that most of the “beauty” others saw in me had nothing to do with my leg, anyway. Or my hair, skin, clothes, or even my shoes. It was who I was inside – my spirit – that was the source of any beauty others might detect in me. And twenty surgeries hadn’t removed that. Three months in the hospital hadn’t snuffed it out. I was still here. I was still gorgeous and amazing where it really mattered – inside.
That’s when I began to believe that I would survive this. I started to think that maybe it was true – it really was a beautiful thing to be alive as a beautiful woman in this beautiful world.
Even with one leg and a pizza-dough butt.

1 comment:

Liz Flaherty said...

A valuable lesson for all of us, though you had to learn it in a cruel-ass way.