There is something divine and so composed about the topic of purity. But purity doesn’t always mean unscathed. Purity can also be restless, war-torn and misunderstood, but it is always nonetheless beautiful. And it’s something that stays with us all until the very end. On the passing of my wonderful Grandma not that long ago, for instance, the last few hours stay stark in the mind. Her body had become acidic and her voice only a rattle under her breath. Her frail limbs were tingling with pebbles of deep bruises, and scars – like the one we made when I pretended there was a spider on the garden doorstep at the age of five, for her to then trip over and sustain a deep gash of a wound. Years on and we would point at her leg and laugh at that bittersweet memory. But even at the last breath, skin hardly intact, her soul remained unbroken.
Along with many, I gazed upon Princess Eugenie’s elegant entrance on the television as her and Prince Harry tied the knot last month. She was embodied by a simple yet meaningful elegance, that same purity in the gleaming whiteness of her stunningly-designed dress. But what was most striking about the entire image was the deliberate design of Princess Eugenie’s low-back dress, uncovering an old tale of scoliosis surgery sixteen years ago. It was a proud, goose-bumpy moment.
Throughout the past few weeks of my hospital placement as a third year medical student, I’ have seen so many patients undergo life-changing procedures to their bodies – tracheostomy tube insertions, double mastectomies, placement of colostomy bags…allvery often oblivious to not only the physical pain ahead but also the stark alteration from their pre-diseased image. And, even if these tubes, bags, cosmetic flaps are all only temporary placements during ongoing treatments for a cancer for instance, removed later on, the traces of those landmark moments in our lives, are always left behind.
I am myself reminded of this circumstance of a journey very much, every single day. Every morning, ten scars and three ‘belly buttons’ stare back at me. Fact is, I used to hate looking in the mirror. Being grossed out by your own self is perhaps the scariest and loneliest feeling you can have of yourself. More than ten stomach surgeries and two permanent feeding tubes later, my teenage-self tried everything to hide theunnaturalness of what was going on here. I used to tuck these little wires away in the waistline of my jeans, but the imprint of the tubes would always show through from beneath even the baggiest clothing I wore. Every time I had to expose of ‘it’ or ‘them’ for examination purposes, I would be received with an unexpected gawp, my wasted abdomen a slate of incompetent mental arithmetic. “What’s this?” “What did you have done?” “You’ve had quite a few then”.
It was only then that I started to realise that this slate of criss-cross lines and artistic incision work was a sign of pure untold story, and strength. Truth was that those scars were there for a reason – if they hadn’t happened, then I’d probably be at a very different milestone now. Had I not endured these ‘things’ in the first place I may still be a full-time swimmer on the GB Paralympic Squad. If I was still competing, I may nothave considered going to medical school but to continue down the pathway of my sporting aspirations alone. Had I not had to remain bedbound in a hospital bed for more than a year, I may not have had to transfer schooling institutions and restart education altogether. As cliché as it sounds, it often takes a life-changing or distressing experience to make you completely re-evaluate your life and otherwise begin to embrace things. It is this realisation that takes away the immediate fear of you being you, yourself, and it’s the utmost sign that you’ve finally reached that point of truly being able to accept yourself and your body again.
Now though, there remains an older, darker shadow of my former self behind these scars. The effects of my tenth Intensive admission has sent everything falling off – a barrage of muscle wastage shaving off the figure of my past occupations – a bulky but muscular and strong sportswoman, training full-time for Paralympic participation back in 2012. And, since the recent diagnosis of a form of progressive muscular dystrophy, any hopes of completely regaining this strength remains doubtful. But these are invisible, and other than the numbing sensations I am given by the end of a minimal ten-minute ward round, or the occasional trip and stumble, that can get away thankfullyunnoticed, these cutbacks are only emotive, not bloodied.
I finally opened up to wearing bikinis again two years ago, after 6 years of hiding my flaunt from the sun. It’s such a powerful feeling not to have to think twice about what’s now scathed on the cover of ourselves, unless someone asks, of which I’m happy to tell. Truth is, things could’ve been very different, but I, and you, chose to be beautiful, and stories of a beautiful scar are the best.