Battle Wounds This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

July 30, 2010
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They told me that it would go away on its own accord when I was about seven years old. From birth, I have been shuffled from doctor to doctor in a seemingly fruitless effort to figure out what exactly was wrong with my left wrist. Originally, the two tiny red marks appeared as quotation marks, as if the creation of my entire left arm was an afterthought nicely wrapped at the wrist. After about fourteen years of endless new-patient forms and obsolete waiting room magazines, then onward to the doctor sadly shaking his head and puffing out his cheeks while he examined me, we found someone – a certain Dr. Robert Rosen, specifically- who was able to shed some light on my mystery condition. I was finally diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) and a cavernous hemangioma. For the unenlightened, like I was at the time, the condition described above involves a tangling of veins and mutant blood vessels feeding cysts that grow to overwhelm and harm nerves, tendons, arteries, and the like. These words tossed at me from across a steeple of folded hands and stacks of papers scattered across a wooden desk struck a deep chord within me. Finally, finally – someone knew. Unfortunately, this medical revelation had come much too late to spare me from both the damage done to my left hand and to my self-esteem.

The bulge at my wrist and the ugly purple blotch that seemed only to grow with time had long been a source of physical and emotional pain. As a preparatory school student, I secretly relished sweater season while the rest of my classmates complained about the inconvenience. To me, the long, albeit itchy, sleeves of my school sweater would serve to cover up my wrist and protect me from the onslaught of questions that seemed to always come my way whenever someone unfamiliar with my condition would discover it. “What is that?” they would exclaim, the more tactless among them pointing and sometimes even going so far as to wrench my hand closer to themselves. I would either avert their eyes and mumble about it being nothing, or if I was feeling particularly incensed that day, I would fix them with an icy stare and shoot venomous comments their way about how it was rude to stare, and could they just leave me alone?

My friends never knew how to approach this touchy subject. One of them referred to it as an “angel’s kiss” as I snorted and scuffed my school-approved shoes against the classroom’s tiled floor. I would shrink into a shell of myself during the warmer months of the year, the short-sleeved oxford shirts in my closet mocking me as they drew my wrist out of hiding and invited gawkers. At one point in the fourth grade, I refused to take off my pilled sweater and bare my deformity to the world. My sweater became my refuge. Without it, I was prone to attack. My mother, naturally, was concerned. She was afraid that the heat would get to me and tried to convince me to ditch the sweater as it was then early May. One weekend, she drove me to the mall and after a day of shopping, we both came home wearied and elated. I yanked my sweater off of its hanger and crumpled it in a ball at the bottom of my plastic laundry hamper; I rummaged through the shopping bags until I found my new defense mechanism: the wristband.

That wristband eventually became so much a part of me that its removal would warrant a surgical procedure. I wore it until it was threadbare and a dingy shade of grey instead of its original white. I ate with it, slept with it, even showered with it. The grubby terrycloth hid my imperfections from both myself and the world. I figured that if my issues were out of my own sight, then certainly the world would find them virtually imperceptible. In the seventh grade, I was invited to a birthday party for one of my friends. As was per usual in those years, each guest was sent home with a “bag of loot”, this one comprised of the requisite candies, but also containing a photograph snapped of all of the girls. Sucking greedily on a yellow Starburst, I scanned the picture for my own face, but lost interest in my expression as my wristband caught my eye. The thing that had granted me so much protection, that afforded me my own sanctuary, that kept my secret – was in short, an eyesore. The grimy accessory proved to accentuate a stark contrast between my bony right wrist and the sausage-like mass of my left. Who was I kidding? I looked just as ridiculous with it on as I did with it off, if not more. The wristband only drew attention to the fact that my wrists were different, not detracted from it. At that moment, I realized that the false sense of security I had harbored for years was simply that. False. A sham. My imperfections, seemingly suppressed on the surface, were just manifesting themselves in another way. I couldn’t ignore them. I had to air them and get over my vanity. That was the moment that I tugged it off, the elastic interior forcing it to shoot across my bedroom like a slingshot. I could run, but I couldn’t hide.

That new perspective changed more than just my appearance. Initially, I was afraid to be seen without the wristband on. I braced myself for a battery of questions that never came. I loaded my rifle and stood at the ready to squeeze the trigger, but the command was never issued to shoot. In retrospect, I have discovered that the inquiries that so plagued me throughout my youth were expressions of concern, not of disgust. I finally rejoiced in the end of sweater season and enjoyed swimming in the pool without a waterlogged strip of cloth weighing me down. Unfortunately, this newfound comfort was short-lived. I began experiencing enormous pain, but this pain was purely physical.

After scores of tests that rendered me a human pincushion, my doctor reached a verdict. My wrist, already abnormal, was doing my body harm. The AVM under the purple mark was growing much too quickly and could destroy my rapidly weakening left hand. An operation was arranged, then another. Treatment upon treatment was scheduled. A year and a half since my first surgery in 2009 has lessened the bulge and faded the mark, but withered my left hand. An accident during surgery or a complication of my condition (we are as of late still unsure) caused the muscles and nerves in my hand to collapse, leaving a gaping hole and a limited amount of motor coordination. My gnarled fingers, like my swollen wrist in the past, again raised questions. I still am on the receiving end of stares and ogles, but now I can arm myself with information about my condition instead of looking at the inquirer with flashing eyes and fuming, “It’s just a birthmark, ok?”. I am currently awaiting treatment for this latest malady. I one day hope to finally have normal extremities, but my dreams are unrealistic. I will be left with scars, and there is no guarantee that the purple hemangioma can be removed even through cosmetic surgery – or even that the AVM below the surface will not grow back. What has surprised me the most about myself throughout the course of my ordeal is that even though I am faced with the prospect of extensive scarring and a less-than-100% chance of one day walking free from this condition, I am more than ready to accept what will be thrown my way. In fact, I will embrace my scars the way I do my affectionately termed “lobster claw” of a hand – a feat that would have spelled the end of the world for me a few years ago. My condition and my imperfections cannot be bottled up and hidden from view. I can’t live a shell of an existence or live a lie. I won’t stand for it. Although a long process and oftentimes by way of suffering, it is only through embracing ourselves and conquering our fears that we discover that whatever doesn’t kill us truly makes us stronger.

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Healing_Angel This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 4, 2010 at 1:30 am
Well done for overcoming your fear! It's a tough lesson to learn that your appearance doesn't define who you are, but once you've learnt it, nothing can stand in your way! Well written. Great job.
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