SCAR LOVE by Nora Logan

 Photo by my talented good friend  Celeste Sloman . September 2016.

Photo by my talented good friend Celeste Sloman. September 2016.

In case it's not clear, (or you happened to miss the graphic photos I so merrily put up when I started this blog (thank you, painkillers), I have a massive scar in the middle of my torso. It’s in the shape of a peace sign (without the circle round it). The medical community call this a Mercedes-Benz cut (but I prefer to think of it as a peace sign). When I heard that this was the preferred technique and the one I got I was relieved because when you’re getting an emergency liver transplant you look for the wins wherever you can and getting the MB cut was something I held on to, a badge of honour for my brain. In part because everyone told me how good it looked and how "clean" the cut was, and although when I looked down it seemed to me anything but clean considering I had huge staples stuck into my previously unmarked middle - I believed them. I remember asking one of my surgeons how I was supposed to clean my scar (surely I can't shower with this monstrosity?!). He said, non-plussed (with a bit of a smirk, as is his way), "with soap and water." He was definitely wrong. I was sure if I put soap and water on my scar it would reopen. Terrified, I reluctantly passed a bar of soap around its perimeter. I survived, and so did the scar. That's another point for my surgeon. I also, for a drug-induced time, thought it qualified me to be an owner of a Mercedes-Benz. Although I didn't dare ask my surgeon if he'd be lending me his. 

Since I was stretched for things to think about in a hospital bed, I thought a lot about this Mercedes-Benz cut and pondered all the memories I had about Mercs. It’s a short list so it really only filled about 5 minutes. At 14 years old I went to a boarding school in the suburbs of NYC. I was allowed out on most weekends, and would go stay at friends’ houses during these breaks from the campus. The school I went to was an untraditional boarding school, a mix of boarding and day students. My family had moved to the UK when I was 8 years old, and the prepatory school for girls I went to put me in the wrong year. At least that's my own mythology I've always prescribed to like. My parents were either so desperate to get me into a good school at such a late date in the school year that it was overlooked, or the change from the grade system in the US to the English system in Hong Kong and then another system completely in London confused them so much that it slipped through the cracks. Plus, in their defense, I had always been young for my year so it made sense. By the time I was 11 I was a foot taller than everyone else in my year. I was the only girl who had already got my period and had NO idea what to do about it on the days we had to go swimming, and being held back a year really started to bother me. In fact, it became a fixation. 

So when I was 13 I devised a plan to get put back into the year above, and usually when I hatch a plan there is more or less nothing anyone can do to stop me (my dad is a lawyer, after all, and as a child I became very practiced at negotiating with a professional). My parents hated the plan and did not want to let me leave, but they somehow did (the persistence of a 13 year old girl and their particularly patient and non-controlling type of love allowed me to go on many adventures in my young life). I'd go back to America, where everyone thinks anyone and everyone in the UK is eons ahead in education and general intelligence (the jury is out on this) and I would basically trick them into letting me move forward a year in my education. It was my magic trick. I’m not sure if there are other people who, at 13, have been both held back and skipped a year – but I am living proof that you can do it and whatever year I repeated and then also skipped had no bearing on my future success in getting an A in English Literature and a consistent and pernicious B (ok, sometimes it was a C) in any science class you put me in.

So by 14 I’ve abracadabra-ed face first into this boarding school and am suddenly hanging out with kids who drive. I was friends with some sisters whose family car was a beat up old Mercedes-Benz. Like any daredevil teenagers looking for a thrill, we smoked some very low quality weed and drove the sleepy streets of Scarsdale in their blue car listening to Joni Mitchell's Blue, thinking that our lives were definitely the coolest and most original; then we went back to their house and basically ate everything in the fridge. Like most young people without a fully formed frontal lobe, it’s a miracle that I cheated death so often in my teenage years and early 20s. I have to admit, the Mercedes did make me feel cool. 

The only other memory I have about a Mercedes-Benz is pre-pubescent. We had some family friends in London with a son 4 years my senior. He was charming and so handsome and I had a huge crush on him when I was 12. He was so hot that he had modeled for some Italian Vogue editorial that you could buy in an actual shop. He smoked cigarettes. He painted tortured art pieces and did tortured teenage things. He seemed to me a fully formed adult. Whenever I was in his presence I would basically shut down: like an iPhone on a hot day, my brain would melt and I would have an out of body experience whilst simultaneously trying to remember every single word he said so I never forgot that particular interaction. I had the pre-teenage love for a very beautiful 16 year old, bad. We went on holiday with them one summer and he'd talk about “Mercs” and “Beamers” and the vernacular was the coolest thing I had ever heard in my life and where did he learn to talk like that and how can I be that cool and when will the time come in my life when I am so deeply familiar with luxury cars that I get to call them by cool slang and maybe I will also be a model? Just as soon as I get these braces with red and yellow rubber bands off and grow some boobs that’ll be when.  

I stopped caring about Mercs after that summer (and nothing came of the crush, obviously - see braces reference above), so those are my only two real memories – but now I’m stuck with a murky Merc (C-Class, for cute cut) for life. It’s not going away, I'm not scrubbing it off. I’ll never be able to wear a bikini in the same way (I never, ever liked wearing bikinis). I’ll never be able to get my torso nice and brown (I do not like sunbathing, at all). And I know what you’re thinking, “But Nora, you never realized your dream of becoming of a teenage male model for an edgy London brand!” That was, unfortunately, never on the cards for me.

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Last week, I was driving my best friend’s husband's Mercedes - something I honestly never thought I'd do. She’s just had a baby and I was entrusted with their safety in Miami (safe driving capital of the world) to take baby, mother and grandma to the doctor, on errands, to the supermarket. I was surprised that I wasn’t nervous to do this. It was natural, grown up and totally thrilling to drive a Merc (I now know what my crush was on about all those years ago). My family’s Honda Civic does not go from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds. We talked about my scar. I’ve had a hard time with it over the past two and a half years. I don’t give it much love or attention. I certainly don't let it out for a night out on the tiles. I only regained feeling in parts of my torso in August of 2017. For so many months I couldn't look at it. Or if I did I would look at only bits of it, for a very short time and cover it right back up. Then for so many more months I would get dressed as quickly as possible so I wouldn't have to deal with looking or thinking about it at all. There are still bits of the actual scar and the surrounding area that I cannot feel, and I don’t know if I’ll ever regain sensation there. These are my complaints: it makes me look so weird, I am self conscious about how it sticks out - I'm sure people look at it like - what the fuck is that golf ball sticking out of that girl's middle? It's particularly bad when I still insist on wearing very tight spandex tops and only remember when I’m already in public. It's not what I thought I'd have, nor what I hoped for. 

I went to my friend's acupuncturist when I was in Miami, and she spoke to me in such a gentle way about my scar. We talked about my hernia, which protrudes like a sore thumb (and is why the scar "sticks out"). She said that she observed there to be an energetic disconnection between my heart and the lower part of my body. I had not contemplated that before. Of course, I've considered at length the ramifications of having bodily trauma on the whole, and a disconnection from your body in general, and becoming more terrestrial as you heal. But the assault to my middle was considerable. “Did you ever break your ribs?” She asked. I had to pause and think it over. When they first cut me open I think they broke a rib in order to get to the liver. My friend confirmed it after in the car. I had completely forgotten this major detail. Then my organs (liver and gall bladder) were taken out and a new one chucked in (I believe that is the technical term). When I developed a hematoma, they performed surgery again - opening my scar up and splaying my skin on the table to save my life once more. The bodily assault doesn't end there, but it would have been enough. I'm sure my middle doesn't particularly appreciate surviving all that and subsequently being ignored. It only encourages a disconnect between my heart and the lower part of my body – energetic or otherwise. But each piece has its time, as I’ve learned and swiftly forgotten through each and every stage of this ongoing recovery (which is really just living).

Karina, who has been a steady constant voice of love and, like everyone in my support network, always encouraging me to progress in my healing said "Maybe it's time for you to give your scar some love. You've been working for so long on your emotional healing, maybe you can focus on paying it some attention this year. It can be another step in your recovery." I agreed, and I said I had been trying to pay it more attention recently, which is true (but not really on purpose, it’s been more of an accidental "oh, hello scar, nice to see you there! How are you doing? Will you be leaving anytime soon? What's that? Never? Oh cool. You won't be fucking off anytime soon then, excellent news. I guess I have to get to know you now since you haven't left yet.") It's easy to agree in the moment; it's not always so easy to get your brain to catch up with your body or vice versa. Since then, I've been looking at it every morning, I've been touching the two deep white lines that crawl up the sides of my torso and meet in the middle to merge and climb up to my sternum. I've been placing a hand on my golf ball of a hernia, in an attempt to love it, because it's a part of me. My scar is not outside of myself; it's not a drawing that is one day going to abracadabra to some other land. I can't send it off to boarding school, it's smack bang in the middle of my body and I can love it, if I'm going to really commit to radical self love and acceptance. It's not my fault that I have this huge scar, and for a long time I've thought it was, that there is something I could do to make it disappear. Maybe if I was a good enough patient it would walk off my body. Maybe if I got specific instructions from my surgeon about how to wash it off, it would go. Maybe if I wore a long enough shirt or baggy enough clothing, it might be able to breathe itself away. I was embarrassed, I thought (and sometimes still think) that I should hide it to make other people comfortable (which is more about me than them), that I need to explain it away or wish it away to be normal. None of it is going away so I may as well love it in the meantime. 

And if my heart is disconnected from the bottom part of my body, it means there is not much energy to speak of flowing from up to down. Which means I may as well get me to a nunnery and get a diamond-encrusted custom chastity belt made. I have yet to go on a date since this all happened. I’ve barely uttered the words that I might want to apart from to my therapist and a few close friend (and now on some indelible internet markings). So if I'm to expect someone else to accept and love it, eventually, whenever I'm ready - I have to start somewhere. Which is long, boring and not particularly thrilling - but most likely worth it in the long run - just like ever other fear inducing trial I've faced (often begrudgingly and with considerable complaint). It's annoying to have to love something that society deems outside of the normal standards of beauty. We all have scars, they're the marks that we've lived. We spend a lot of time trying to cover up physical and emotional scars and I'm not sure to what end - since there is considerable evidence that there is power in vulnerability. Most of us can see straight through bravado. So although I'm not quite at the stage where I'm committing to an all crop top wardrobe, I can give my scar a little love everyday (and at least acknowledge that it's there). And obviously start a lease on a Mercedes-Benz because that's simply the most sensible thing to do. 

THE ER PART II by Nora Logan

Recently my platonic life-partner Layla sent me a recording she took when I was in the Emergency Room. I started to write a post about the ER in 2016, just a few days before I was hospitalized for rejection, a lot of which I used for my previous post The ER Part I. As I slipped into acute liver rejection, my recovery morphed into relapse and the course of things dramatically shifted. I've often looked at the draft of these posts and even opened them, stared blankly and moved on. I think having as serious a set back as I did made it all but impossible to talk about the ER in a pithy way (as originally intended). Because the narrative changed, I no longer had my neat little bookends for the chapters in my story. Here's the one in which I enter the ER, here's the one in which I have the transplant, here's the one where I emerge from the hospital triumphant, never to darken its doorstep again. That setback taught me that I could land back in hospital at any given time, such is the nature of being a transplant recipient. But it's also the nature of being human. I could break my toe and have to go in and I could go in to have a hernia removed as a result of muscle mass around my scar. For me to wrap my head round those variables is what I had to eventually come to terms with. But then, I couldn't possibly imagine going over ‘The First 24 Hours' at a moment when I was again in a prison of my medical history. 

When I listened to the recording, it all came rushing back like when you are trying to dive into a pool but you actually do a belly flop and it hurts like hell. You know that being-bitch-slapped-by-the-water feeling? If you're anything like me (which maybe/hopefully you are decidedly not), it's a feeling of 'ugh I never want to experience that again but maybe I should try it just one more time to be sure'. The first 24 hours in a hospital, especially when you enter said hospital with a mystery illness are at once eventful and mind-numbingly boring. Just the conversation from the recording goes on for quite a while. I've transcribed some of it here to give you a sense of the many, many, many conversations I had with doctors who were trying to figure out what was wrong with me and save my life (and to avoid transplant). I've made mention of these conversations at length on this blog, and I am sharing it here as an example that when doctors are trying to get to the bottom of something, you best believe questions will be asked over and over and over. In my experience, doctors do not like a head-scratcher - like most human beings, they like to have a definitive, scientific explanation for something. Anyone who has been through any sort of serious medical experience (or even not-so-serious) know about these questions, and they get old fast. I can see it now in a new light: doctors are detectives and all they have as evidence is blood-work and answers from patients (who happen to also be the most unreliable sources in the world). Turns out they weren't trying to torture me for the sake of it! 

Despite the tenderness I now feel towards the medical team who were deciphering my blood tests and often unreliable responses, bear in mind that I was asked these questions repeatedly over a 2 week period. From an unimaginably large multitude of medical professionals. I don't know how I didn't lose my shit more often. 

Doctor: You know..warbled..little bit higher than I would like so I do want to keep you here to figure it out I fully anticipate figuring out what it is. So I don't want you to worry about that. [She's referring to my liver enzyme levels, which would continue to shoot through the roof.]

Me: Ok

So the question is what is it? There is a whole gamut of things that the liver could have problems with. Virus, clot, other types of infections, autoimmune disorders, there's like tons and tons of different things. So then the other question is teasing out what it is and what do we do for it? Ok? That's going to include probably a thousand blood tests. The ultrasound which we have to take a look at. There's going to be even more blood tests. 

Me: This is my mother. 

Doctor: Nice to meet you.

Mama: Nice to meet you.

So again, a thousand blood tests. Some of them come back quickly, some of them do not. So we're going to have to figure out what they are. The ultrasound, which I wait for that to be read by the radiologist, ok? [sic]

Me: Ok

Doctor: If we really need to, I can always do a liver biopsy. I have like 15,000 tests I can do so, now, what is easiest and what is going on for you? To start we'll do the liver tests, the blood tests. So you should anticipate getting a lot of bloods drawn today. So we'll be like vampires, we're just going to take and take and take.

Inside I thought: 15,000 tests?!!?!?! What the shit is she talking about??!!! Instead I said:

Me: I love it. 

I told you I was charming. First rule of ER: charm them. Make them love you. Be in acute liver failure.

Doctor: So we're going to try and get, hopefully, ideally if I can just get it from a liver blood test, then we're done and I can just get the answer for you. If not we do other tests, not a big deal. So my turn to ask you questions if you don't mind. I heard you went to Indonesia. 

Is that a question though, really, doctor?

Me: Yes. 

Doctor: Fantastic. Why'd you go? 

Me: I used to live there for 2 years and my best friend still lives there and my godson lives there and I have never met him so I went to meet him. 

Doctor: Oh, nice. 

Me: Yeah, it was great. 

Doctor: How long were you there for? 

Me: I was there for two weeks. 

Doctor: And when'd you get back? 

Me: On the 14th, I got back on the 14th, I left on the 13th of July. 

Doctor: Now, before you left, any problems? 

Me: Yep, on the 10th...

Doctor: Before you left from the US, before even going there.

Me: Oh, no. 

Doctor: Healthy girl. 

Me: No. Super healthy

Ok Nora, chill.

Doctor: Anything at all? 

Me: I was like working out all the time, feeling great [I mean, she doesn't need to know how great you are at exercising, Nora]. I had had a shoulder surgery but that was you know...

Doctor: Where'd you have your shoulder surgery? 

Me: I had a labrum repair. 

Doctor: Here in New York? 

Me: Oh, where did I have it? At Langone. 

Example of hilarious doctor patient misunderstanding here.

Doctor: Now, I'm gonna guess they checked blood tests before that procedure because almost always we do. 

Me: Yeah, it was last year, yeah, I think they did. 

Doctor: Did anyone tell you anything was wrong? What'd you do, just like do some crazy...

Me: Yeah I had multiple dislocations over ten years so...

Doctor: Oy ok, so you had some procedures. Got it, ok. Since then you were doing ok? 

Me: Uh, yes.

Doctor: And no problems with the anesthesia?

Me: No.

Doctor: Were you taking any pain medicines for the...?

Me: Yes, throughout the time I was recovering, I would say what like probably two months? I was taking the codeine and percoset. 

Doctor: And in 2 months you haven't been taking that afterwards? 

Me: No, it was last year. 

Doctor: Right, so 2 months after that, so like the past 9, 10 months you haven't been taking anything? Not even..

Me: No, I took Aleve, yeah, I took Aleve for quite a while because I ended up getting a pinched nerve from being in the sling.

Doctor: Got it. 

Me: So I probably took Aleve longer than I should have. 

Doctor: So Aleve but no Tylenol? 

Me: No, I don't like Tylenol. So I never really take Tylenol. 

Doctor: So when was the last time you took anything over the counter? Including Aleve? Not counting, like we're still talking about before you left to Indonesia. 

Me: Before I left? 

Doctor: Yeah. 

Me: I may have taken an Aleve or two in like the couple of weeks leading up. 

Doctor: But like one or two, not like everyday with a bunch? 

Me: No, no, no. 

Doctor: Ok. So you left feeling great, happy to see your godson and then I heard you got sick there. 

On and on and on the merry-go-round it went. 

The way it started was this. I went to work in the morning. I had an ultrasound scheduled at Beth Israel for 12pm. My mother met me there, and I went in for the ultrasound. Whilst I was waiting, I called my insurance and checked which hospitals were in my network. It was between Weill Cornell Presbyterian and St. Luke's. My mother looked at me and said: 'We have to get you to the fucking hospital. No more of this waiting around.' The upside for Weill Cornell was that we were already on the East Side (at Union Square) and both my mother and other family members had been there already for procedures and surgeries. The upside for St. Luke's was that it was closer to my parent's house. We decided that didn't matter, really, and chose Cornell. Thank god we did. No shade to St. Luke's, but I had no idea I'd be needing a liver transplant at this point, and I was going to one of the best hospitals in the world specifically for liver transplant. 

After the people at Beth Israel told us we would have to wait 48 hours for the results, we hailed a cab and told the guy where to go and to go quickly. We called my dad. We got to the ER. I sat in the waiting room chair and firemen in full fireman regalia passed by. A volunteer handed sandwiches out. I tried to take a bite of a tuna one and nearly threw up all over the linoleum floors. They called me in for testing behind the plexiglass. The got me a bed. We marveled at how *relatively* quickly they got me admitted. We weren't in any sort of state to fully understand the reason for swift action: bitch was yellow and getting yellower, and they didn't see me leaving anytime soon. And I haven't, really. I still go back to that hospital once a month, with pleasure (and sometimes complaint due to it's wildly inconvenient location).