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Making Peace with Scars and 'Imperfections'

Nearing the 10th anniversary of her hip replacement surgeries, Cindy La Ferle reflects on scars, perfectionism and second chances

No matter what form it takes, a midlife crisis is bound to shake up the old order of things.

I was in my early 40s when I was diagnosed with degenerative osteoarthritis in both hips. A year later, when I began my search for an orthopaedic surgeon, I was told that few doors were open to "younger" hip-replacement candidates. 

At the time, artificial hip joints weren’t designed to last much more than 20 years, so most surgeons reserved total hip replacement surgery (THR) for elderly patients who were less likely to need revision surgery in the future.

Still, the pain in my legs was nearly unbearable and my system wouldn’t tolerate yet another round of anti-inflammatory drugs. Unable to cross a room without two canes or a walker, I couldn't even stand at the kitchen counter long enough to open a can of soup, let alone prepare a decent family meal. Worst of all, my son was in  and I was often too exhausted to volunteer for his extra-curricular events and activities.

Luckily, , my primary care physician, suggested a consultation with . After my second visit, Dr. Brown agreed to schedule surgery to replace my left hip in October of 2001.

Immediately following surgery at , my recovery required several weeks of physical therapy and rehab. But I learned how to walk and climb stairs again – pain-free – without assistive devices.

Recovering from perfectionism

To say I was deeply grateful for hip-replacement surgery would be an understatement. As I tried to explain to Dr. Brown in the thank-you note I mailed him later on, “second chance” is just another term for a miracle.

But one more obstacle remained: I would have to make peace with my brand-new scar.

Over 10 inches long and an angry shade of red, a fresh incision marked the place where my damaged hip joint had been removed, packed with a bone graft, and rebuilt with a prosthetic implant. A row of tiny surgical staples had temporarily closed the wound, making it look as if Dr. Frankenstein had sewn a zipper into my birthday suit.

As it healed, the scar turned deep purple and I secretly wondered if I’d ever wear a bathing suit in public again.

My concern was foolish but not totally unwarranted. After all, the women's magazines I was reading at the time placed excessive value on physical appearance. And like many of my girlfriends, I'd spent the first half of my life trying to conceal what I perceived as flaws: acne scars, flat feet, freckles, a wonky set of teeth.

Which is odd, really, considering that I've always appreciated quirks and imperfections in other people and most of the things I own.  Overgrown cottage gardens, pets without pedigrees, laugh lines and crooked smiles have always intrigued me. I cherish childhood toys covered in stains and stitches; and I love the way my husband’s leather jacket is burnished by seasons of wear. 

If only I’d been as easy on myself.

What adversity can teach us

A blessing in disguise, my long recovery from hip replacement surgery gave me a lot of unstructured time to think about these things. 

It occurred to me that scars and wrinkles are badges of courage – or emblems of a richly textured life. They document our personal histories and bear witness to how far we've traveled. They prove we've survived car accidents, skin cancer, military combat, shattered relationships and failed business opportunities.

Like the bald spots on the Velveteen Rabbit in Margery Williams' beloved children's novel, scars are barometers of how "real" we are.

Practicing my physical therapy, I was also reminded that building strength takes perseverance. When you trip or lose your balance, for instance, you pause long enough to steady yourself and start all over again. Whether you're nursing a fractured arm, a bruised ego or a wounded heart, it takes time to reassemble and repair the broken pieces. But eventually you grow stronger and more interesting. You tighten the loose seams in your character along the way.

Five months after my first hip replacement, I returned to Beaumont Hospital for the same surgery on my other damaged hip. Today, nearly 10 years later, I'm sporting a matched set of titanium hips – and a pair of identical scars.

Over time, the scars have faded considerably, though you can still spot them several yards away on the beach. For a while, I wouldn't attend a pool party without concealing my lower half with one of the many sarongs I've collected.

But now I celebrate them – these two 10-inch valleys documenting the surgeries that gave me a miraculous second chance. My scars are lifelong reminders of how durable I can be. I have earned them, and they have made me real.

Cindy La Ferle's Royal Oak story collection, Writing Home, is available at Amazon.com and locally at the Yellow Door Art Market in Berkley. For more information visit Cindy La Ferle’s Home Office.

Jan Smith July 17, 2011 at 10:22 PM
Thank you for these encouraging words about accepting and being proud of scars. I don't really mind mine, but can now see them as stripes earned over a busy lifetime. I love the idea of embracing imperfection. We will never be perfect, so why not celebrate the way we are? Acceptance brings peace, after all.
Joanna Jenkins July 19, 2011 at 04:56 AM
"...Lifelong reminders of how durable I can be..." That's a great way to put it, Cindy. Joint replacement is in my future but I'll hold off as long as I can, mainly because I'm a wimp, but thanks for the encouragement. I take my hat off to you doing both hips in a 5 month period. Phew! That's a lot of rehab but high five for the terrific recovery. Cheers, jj
Cindy La Ferle July 19, 2011 at 02:34 PM
Thanks, Jan and Joanna, for your encouraging words. Joanna, it's not a bad idea to put off joint replacement as long as you can -- unless the pain is seriously impacting the quality of your life. The rehab is much easier than dealing with the chronic pain, I promise!
Cindy Hampel August 01, 2011 at 01:08 PM
Wise words, Cindy. I love your tile that says "Embrace Imperfection." And I love your willingness to embrace your scars. I think that sooner or later we all need to come to terms with our scars and imperfections. Thank you for reminding us with your inspired words.

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