***Hello, beautiful people, just beware that this is going to be a long post. I’ve got 20 years to catch you up on. Also, please be warned that there may be some graphic or disturbing photos ahead. You can stop reading or scroll past them. Do you, boo.***
This is going to be difficult for me. I have made one “big” speech about this before, but that is all. Outside of talking to my friends or individuals about what I’m about to share or the occasional social media post, I really haven’t delved deep into this. I hope you have your floaties, kids, this is about to get deep.
Look at me! I’m seriously so cute. What about that is not adorable? The sneakers, the scrunched up socks, the oversized t-shirt and toothy smile. I’m the epitome of youth and innocence and as soon as this picture was taken I probably ran off to terrorize my two other sisters. As the middle child, I wasn’t so much the peacekeeper they stereotype the middle to be, so much as this bundle of energy that occasionally exploded. I was rambunctious and happy. I feel like early on I always knew that I was different from my sisters. I wasn’t built like them even when I was younger and I certainly didn’t (and still don’t) look like them. My poor dad has four daughters – not a son in sight. I like to describe myself as the Winnie-the-pooh sister. Everyone I know will say, “Oh, you were not!” and that might be true, but it still holds a somewhat accurate description. I was taller, yes, but…. let’s say… huskier. Not chubby, but I could definitely hold my own.
Shortly after the above picture was taken my world turned upside down. Not to be dramatic or anything, but it was true. Okay, there is a little drama, but that’s what makes this so good! My older sister, Kylie, who was 7 at the time, and I were hanging out outside at our dance studio’s yard. The studio was situated on this estate and had two buildings, the dance studio and the owner’s house and a hill you could sled ride down. We were waiting to get all dolled up to get pictures taken in our dance costumes and we were killing time outside. When we turned around at one point we saw the owner’s dogs, two Rottweilers named Zeus and Scar.
We never had a dog growing up, just a cat, so we weren’t entirely familiar with dog protocol and when you’re 5 and 7, anything above a freakin’ chihuahua looks huge. Imagine how we felt when their backs came to our middles. I could be exaggerating but that’s what I remember. I don’t remember a lot of this coming up, so I’m going off of memory and flashbacks and photos I’ve seen. However, I remember being terrified of these huge things and remembering that they just looked vicious. (This is NOT an attack on anyone who loves Rottweilers, this is my completely biased opinion. Duh. Get over yourself.) So, we did what any scared little girl would do – we ran. Picture Winnie-the-Pooh trying to run away from bees… that was me. I was uncoordinated and not fast and wasn’t really sure what I was doing. I know that one went after me and one went after Kylie. They thought we were playing with them and while they were normally calmer when apart, when together the two kind of fed off each other’s energy. They quickly got aggressive and I can’t remember if I fell or if one just caught up to me, but what happened after changed my life.
Thankfully Kylie made it inside the house safe and sound. Seriously, whatever I tell you after this, just know that if it weren’t for Kylie, things would have gone way worse. She was my guardian angel that day. I wasn’t so lucky, however. To the dogs, I was a toy; something that reacted when they bit and clawed and tossed me around… until I got boring. Only when I fell silent did they let go of me. Also, Kylie knew something was wrong when I didn’t come in with her. She hunted down the owner and they came out to try to find me. All I can remember is looking up and swearing that who I was seeing was in this long gown and she was talking to me so calmly and telling me it was going to be okay. I told my mom this and she said that it just wasn’t possible and that it was my personal guardian angel watching over me.
When they brought me inside, I was just a mess, but I was alive and that’s what was important. I was obviously in shock and not sure what was going on. It was first reported that I was a 9 year old boy that got hurt. They finally got word to my parents and they rushed over. The extent of my injuries is still something I can’t believe I sustained. My head had the most of the serious injuries and so did my neck. They were dogs and so they played like dogs. Deep gashes in my neck resulted in my carotid artery sticking out and my scalp peeled back. Bites and scratches were everywhere else and my right ear was just dangling on my shoulder. My dad tells me that he would just continuously tell me to squeeze his thumb. My mom tells me that I was trying to sit up because I had to go and look pretty for my pictures and I was going to be late. I guess I was saying I had a headache. I can’t remember much, but I do remember being put into the helicopter so I could get flown to the hospital and that a blonde paramedic was telling me that my mom couldn’t come with me because of the weight issue. Apparently that upset me so I started crying and saying that my mom wasn’t fat and that she could come with me! Don’t take me away from my momma, people!
My first surgery was hours long and I ended up being so swollen and unrecognizable that my mom thought I was a little boy when she saw me and walked right by my room! Thanks, Mom! I swear, though, my look is so versatile because I still looked so cute! LOOK AT THIS.
The cheeks, the chin strap of the bandage, the slitted eyes… UGH, I’m overwhelmed by how cute I am. I had a very long road ahead of me. My scalp was a disaster and it was affecting the rest of me. They thought that they could salvage the skin on my head by doing treatments in a hyperbaric chamber, but it didn’t stick. Next step: skin graft. They took the skin from my buttocks and used it for my head. Now, the only insult that I will ever say “Yeah, you’re right” to is being called a butthead. I am technically a butthead. Somewhere in there they also removed my left lat muscle from my back and had to temporarily use it for my head. For what? No idea, but I just know that I no longer have it and it’s the perfect excuse to never be able to do a pull up.
However, now I was dealing with trying to recover the use of my left arm and the doctors were saying that they highly doubted I would have full use of it ever again. The above photo shows that I could only lift my arm that high. I wouldn’t be able to lift it past my shoulder. Then my skin graft was a giant scab that itched like crazy. They would have to cut away the dead skin and I would have to start fresh a lot. I would go to bed with socks taped on my hands so I didn’t itch it, but I was determined sometimes and I would dig at it until I was bleeding. I had stitches and staples and I was uncomfortable and everything was out of my control.
I was five years old. I wanted to be with my sisters playing outside and running around like the rest of the kids my age. Instead, I was in a hospital going from surgery to surgery, being told I couldn’t sleep this way or that, I had to take this medicine and then go to therapy, on and on and on. My parents tell me that I handled it pretty well. Not perfectly, mind you, but pretty well. They are the best people in the entire world and I am absolutely blessed to have gone through it all with them. My mom would hunt down green Jell-O for me at 2 in the morning and my dad would be the absolute best at just being strong and there for me.
The doctors decided that the best route would be skin expanders for my head. The skin graft worked, but I was left without nerve endings where they put the graft. And since it was such a large area, it also left me without being able to grow my own hair. I say they should have used a man’s butt to skin graft because I know for a fact that those things are hairy AF. Alas, they decided that the skin expanders would be my best bet to minimize the area that was grafted and maximize the area that would be able to grow my own hair.
These pictures aren’t pretty, I know. Feel free to not dwell. But just look at how little I had to work with and how amazing the doctors were and all that they did. The expanders look uncomfortable, but they weren’t. They were these small balloons that they would gradually increase with saline until they stretched it as far as they could. We did this a few times until they couldn’t stretch it anymore or they’d risk tearing the skin.
BOOM! Check out the one above on the left compared to the right. I mean, you can’t deny that it looks SO much better. I started with practically just bangs and the doctors managed to give me hope that I could look normal… somewhat. At this point, I proved the doctors wrong and regained 100% use of my left arm, stopped picking at my scabby booty, and was well on my way to getting better. I still had a long way to go, though. As great as these expanders were for me overall, it took a toll on me emotionally, mentally, and physically. I tended to get angry and lash out easily and frequently. I couldn’t dance for the longest time and every time I wanted to go play, it was with my mother warning “Be careful of your head, Boo!” I felt like the ugly duckling for a long time as I got older. I was now the girl who was always wearing hats because I didn’t like showing off the scars. I was sitting out in gym because I couldn’t participate, although it meant I got to read so I didn’t hate that so much. Wearing a swimsuit was embarrassing because my scars and skin graft were angry looking and purple.
However, I didn’t often let it get me down. Did I have my moments? Oh, hell yeah, I still do! But I’m alive and I’m grateful for that alone. My parents and sisters were so awesome at making me feel like I wasn’t some breakable doll who got special treatment. I was grounded and punished when I was naughty and I fought with my sisters and ran around and did everything that I possibly could and even got back into dance.
This experience is sad and it hurt so many people and despite the physical scars, it left us all with a lot of emotional ones, too. Yet, this experience ended up being as good as we could possibly make it. I know that it made us all stronger, not just me. My parents had to see me like that and I hate that it happened. Worse than that, my sisters had to see me like that. I never wish that on anyone. I may not be able to be an olympic swimmer or do a pull up on my own, but I’m healthy and alive and everything I’ve been through has made me a stronger person. I feel like we all have the one thing that truly tests our strength in life and mine just came super early.
What bothers me the most is seeing or hearing anyone moan or complain or try to cover up some imperfection or scar. Scars can be such a beautiful thing if you let them. They tell a story about your life and what you made it through. I’m still self conscious about my scars, but I embrace them so much more now than I did before. There is a lot more to my story than just this, but it’s “just this” that I’m celebrating today. 40 surgeries, 20 years, three sisters, two parents, and one me. That’s quite a lot to be thankful for! Twenty years ago to this day I was hurt. Twenty years ago I almost died. Twenty years ago I survived.