‘Oh dear, he’s got a gun.’
That’s the last thing I remember thinking before I was shot, back in 2003, after opening the door to the house.
I thought that the gun was black, but it was actually silver. Three bullets hit me. One ripped through the left-hand side of my face, another fractured my skull, and the third hit my left cheek.
The shooter then took their own life.
I woke up 10 or so days later, in hospital, missing part of my top lip, jaw and multiple teeth, and a broken lower jaw. Essentially, I had a hole in my face that was eventually rebuilt by skilled plastic surgeons so I could eat, drink and talk again.
Before I was shot, I had your pretty average life. I had a home, a job, a partner. I was ‘normal’. On the day itself, I’d eaten breakfast and brushed my teeth, ready for the day – that was before I went into a coma, and had multiple emergency surgeries to save my life.
The reconstruction of my face probably took about a year in total, but in my body – in myself – I felt the same.
I felt strangely normal, like nothing had changed – but other people’s reactions to me reaffirmed that it had.
At first I wondered why people, why strangers, were staring at and taking notice of me, like I’d forgotten what I’d been through. I didn’t feel like I looked strange or different, or wanted to hide away.
Kids were very good at asking what had happened to me, but adults naturally shied away. They were scared to ask questions – about how my scars affected me, or my life.
I don’t mind people staring at me now. I found it annoying and invasive at first, but I’d rather people were open and honest with their questions. That they wished me well, and didn’t feel sorry for me.
Yes, my face isn’t the same one I saw in the mirror many years ago, it’s scarred – but my scars don’t define me. They belong to me, yes – but I don’t see them in the same way that strangers on the street do.
‘What do you see when you look in the mirror?’ my psychologist asked me one day, while the hole in my face was being repaired, and my face was being reconstructed. ‘I see me, but with a hole in my face,’ I replied – not a monster, or someone else.
I know it must feel different for different people, though. I can only share my own thoughts and experiences.
For me, my scars are not a sign of tragedy, but a sign that I am alive.
I see myself as lucky.
Lucky that one of those three bullets didn’t hit my brain. Lucky that I escaped with my life. Lucky that I can campaign for a fresh perspective on people like me who are living with the very real, oft forgotten, impact of scars.
Because I’m not too bothered with how they look, but more with how scarring has affected my life. And how it still affects both me and 20million people in the UK who have scars every single day.
See, my scars haven’t held me back, or closed doors – like I imagine people expect. If anything, they’ve opened them. They’ve made me recognisable, for a start!
It’s helped me become an ambassador for charity, Scar Free, too. Through my work with the charity, I’m campaigning for a better perspective on scarring – on both a public, and medical level.
There are issues around scarring on a medical level that are more functional than people tend to realise.
When my face was being reconstructed, all I wanted was to be able to eat a sandwich. The scar tissue around my mouth and jaw as a result of countless surgeries mean that I can’t open my mouth more than a centimetre.
The surgeons always listen and offer the best advice they can on reconstruction and therapy – they are always looking to the next best thing.
But living with scarring is hard – and that’s putting it mildly.
Physically, scarring can create pain, itching and restricted movement – meaning a lifetime of cream, physiotherapy, operations and, for some, medication.
It’s a lifetime of long-lasting emotional, as well as physical, pain, too. So, why can’t we fight for or imagine a life without them? Or a life with a better understanding of them?
As wonderful and talented as scientists and doctors are, and surgeons that rebuild faces and bodies, they are not us. They do not know how to live in our bodies. How it feels to not breathe, eat or drink properly after surgery, due to scar tissue essentially being seen as an afterthought.
In an ideal world, doctors would start to manage scarring before it happens – to limit it or stop it altogether. Now, they need to keep on listening and working with those of us with scars to work out the best next step for each of us.
For me, it’s about being able to operate on a day-to-day basis, and not constantly have surgery to fix tight, uncomfortable or unmanageable scar tissue as you age.
Scar Free is working to change everyone’s understanding of scarring in the hope that, one day, scarring won’t impact people’s lives as much anymore.
That they will look and act differently, with minimal functional effect on people.
So I’ll always support Scar Free in their efforts to transform the lives of people like me and to make a world without scarring a reality.
Because, in reality, all I really want is to be able to eat a burger. Is that so much to ask?
For more information on The Scar Free Foundation, visit: https://scarfree.org.uk/
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected].
Share your views in the comments below.
Source: Read Full Article