Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Scar Story

The other day, when I showed you my cheery, neon bracelet from H&M, I realized I'd never written about the gnarly scar running up my right arm/hand.  Here's the story:

When I graduated from Tulane in 2003, I got a fellowship to teach poetry workshops in prisons around the U.S.  My proposal said that I'd travel to three different states, teaching a four-month-long Introduction to Poetry Writing class at each facility.  I came to San Francisco first (drove across the country with my mom in a two-door car), because I wanted to start at San Quentin, where they already have a well-established arts program.  I taught at San Quentin from August-December of 2003, and packed up around Christmastime to head to my next location: the Federal Correctional Institution in Miami, Florida.  

Miami was pretty tough to adjust to after living in San Francisco for four months.  Suddenly, I was lost in a sea of strip malls and tanning beds and big chain stores.  So not me.  So I pretty much threw myself into my work (teaching at the federal prison) and counted down the days till I was done and off to my third and final state: Vermont. 

Because I was sort of nomadic that year, I didn't have much furniture in my room.  So one night, while reading in bed, I had a candle sitting on the floor next to my bed (you can see where this is going). I guess I dozed off at some point, because a cloud of smoke woke me up around 2 am, and I saw that I'd knocked a throw pillow on top of the candle.  The flames were contained between the pillow and the candle itself, but I picked up the pillow and tried to snuff the fire out . . . which didn't exactly work.  The pillow was synthetic, and began to burn into this awful, black, plasticky type substance, which seared into my arm (and little spots on my legs, face, chest, etc.).  

the scar today: 9 years later

I drove myself to the hospital in the middle of the night, where I nearly collapsed from the pain.  The nurses gave me pain meds and anti-nausea meds and sat me in a room with a bucket of saline.  When the doctor finally came in at 10 am, he wrote me a prescription for a crazy expensive burn cream, bandaged me up, and told me not to worry: in two weeks time (when I was a bridesmaid in a wedding), you wouldn't even be able to see evidence of the burns.

Three days later I woke up in agony.  My scar (which was a long blister then) was circled with a dark red line and I couldn't move my right arm below my heart, lest it begin throbbing.  I finally reached a point where I couldn't take it anymore, left my poetry class at the prison's "camp" (white collar criminals) abruptly, and drove straight to the emergency clinic.

The doctor there said I had a serious skin infection and was appalled that the emergency room physician hadn't prescribed me an antibiotic.  And then he did something that caused me more physical pain than anything I've ever endured: he took a metal brush, dipped it in iodine, and scrubbed the hell out of my arm.  I couldn't even scream--I was frozen.

And you know what?  I drove myself home (one-armed) and things started to get better from there.  I felt pretty tough for getting through this whole ordeal by myself, just 22 years old, barely out of college, and with no family anywhere nearby.  For the next couple years, I was embarrassed by the scar (which was much brighter red then), but now I think it's pretty bad ass.  Scars are stories, right?  They give us texture and character and remind us from where we came.  

24 comments:

holli said...

Seriously you ARE truly a badass!! Dang, that is a story girl. It definitely adds to your character.

Dee Stephens said...

WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That is a gnarly story!!
I bet you look at candles differently now!
I'm hurting just hearing about the metal brush!

AmericanBridget (Jones) said...

You are a brave soul. Truly. And, I want to hear more about your teachings in VT...that's my home state, ya know!

Alicia Marie said...

HOLY CRAP! You're one tough lady! And to be honest, I didn't even notice the scar in the picture the other day.

GirlieBlogger@Beauty Fashion Blog Seattle said...

You are certainly one tough chick. I would have screamed a cried ruckus instead of driving myself to the hospital.

By the way, so cool that you wandered around the U.S to teach after college. I should have done that instead of becoming a corporate rat.

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Lindsey said...

UMMMMM CLAIREEEEEEE!! "I've ever endured: he took a metal brush, dipped it in iodine, and scrubbed the hell out of my arm."

I. have. no. words.

Seriously, my stomach turned and my mouth is still dropped as I type this comment.

I cannot BELIEVE you went through that all alone at 22.

I think scar stories are pretty bad ass too. I have a few but none nearly as visible as yours.

As we say in the South, bless your heart.

Olivia.Dee said...

holy intense! That is crazy. I cannot believe you went through all of that by yourself. you are a strong woman! and i'm not going to lie, i wanted to scream when you wrote about the metal brush. yikes!

Jax said...

Wow. I can't believe they didn't give you an antibiotic. I am SO glad you went to have it checked up again! I mean, what choice did you have.. I realize that. You were in serious pain. But, just saying. I remember that story of the girl on the east coast this year who went back too late (and they hadn't given her an antibiotic for an injury at the lake) and they had to amputate an appendage. :( Eek! This is one scary story, girl. I agree with you though about it being pretty bad ass. And YOU are pretty bad ass for going through that alone, driving yourself, etc. Sometimes in times we're weak or hurt, we learn how strong we are in other capacities, right? And the metal brush comment made me cringe as I read it. Yowzers!

tara said...

omg. OUCH!!!! this post had me cringing!!

Deals, Steals and Heels said...

girl, you are one kickass lady!!! you should definitely be proud of this scar! all of my scars are pretty small, and all have to do with the fact that i the clumsiest of clumsy kids.

drollgirl said...

OMG!!! how horrendous!!!! but you soldiered through, and you have a pretty awesomely HORRIFYING story and a great scar! seriously!

i used to know a guy that had crazy crazy crazy and intriguing scars on his face. he was REALLY handsome, but very scarred. turns out a gun backfired into his face (or discharged? not sure of the terminology -- and now i am doubting myself. oh my brain!). but he really still looked good! he DID! he was hot.

at first i thought this scar was a result of some sort of prison incident. YIKES. glad that wasn't the case!

Rachel said...

It's totally badass! I like it! :) That sucks the pain you had to endure, glad you got the infection under control and it healed. It'll be a good story to tell your kids one day.. or scare someone.

Kristin W said...

Whoa. That story might just haunt me, but you're right BAD ASS!!! So scary Claire. I can not even believe you endured all of that on your own in a new place. You're amazing.

Christina said...

Oh my gosh! That’s insane!!! Stupid ER doctor. And I can’t believe the second doctor scraped it off. Owwwwww! You are tough!

Micaela said...

Claire, i still cringe when i remember you telling me about the metal brush.

Even though i wish you had never gone through that pain, it's a reminder of how strong you were on your own, that you took care of yourself.

and I am one of those that think they are sexy ;)

Katie Price said...

Holy cow, that is a bad-ass scar. And you my friend are completely brave & bad-ass for getting through that on your own.

p.s. I love that the labels on this post are "PRISON" and "SCAR" :)

undomestic chica said...

A metal brush! Oh honey. You are one strong chica.

Leesh said...

I never even noticed your scar...but oh my goodness, you poor thing. I can't even begin to imagine what you had to go through.

The scar though gives you character plus a story to tell.

Matthew Snope said...

I noticed your scars right away meeting you the very first time, and found them as beautiful as you.

Your fellow Georgian Harry Crews has that wonderfully-titled book, Scar Lover.

I can't believe my hand is scarred from that brown demon dog we lived with. And to think I was trying just to pet him. Oh well. Scars are funny sometimes, too. : )


melifaif said...

And remind some {like you} what a warrior and survivor we are!!! Thanks for sharing part of your story. Love you!

Kimberlee Van Der Wall said...

Aw thanks for sharing :) I have lots of scars as well. I think they are little stories we carry around on our bodies (much like tattoos can).

To make lipstick last, I prefer a stain but use a HD powder to set the lipstick. Liner helps. Stain first then apply the color. But there's no magic trick of course because we move our lips so much that it's bound to rub off :/

Crazy Shenanigans-JMO said...

That is crazy! I can't even imagine going through that and having to drive yourself home. I got burned badly on my knees and had to have graphs done so I can feel you on the pain.

nicoleciomek said...

Um. WOW. I am impressed. That is an intense and crazy story. I can't believe you drove yourself all over while going through that. One tough lady.

Faiza said...

scars are stories. loved that. and you, miss claire, have some of the richest stories ever.