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Scar Wars

Sep 12

Posted by: ACHA
9/12/2011 11:56 AM  RssIcon

By Christy Sillman

I love how unsuspecting people are when they play a game of scar wars with me. You know—the game where someone shows off their gnarly bike accident scar and then the whole room starts comparing scars. I usually hold back, start off slow with my skin cancer scar, or my busted knee scar, and then—WHAM—I pull up my shirt a bit and the whole room goes silent. It’s awesome, and I’ve learned to use it to my advantage over the years.

As a child, I would charge kids a quarter to see my scars, but now in hindsight I think the boys got a freebie when I would pull my entire shirt off. Wow, I was naïve. Girls and boys would line up, pay up, and freak out when I would display my zipper-clad chest. Some would scream “ewww” but most responded with, “COOL!”

In summertime, when clothes would come off and swimsuits were worn, people would sometimes stare. Sometimes they would ask me what my scars were from. I made up stories about how I got my scars:

“I got attacked by a shark when I was surfing—these holes (chest tube holes) are from its teeth!”

“I used to belong to a gang and one night we got attacked by another gang; they shot me up and cut me down my chest with a knife!”

“I grew up in the circus and was in charge of training the tigers.”

I wasn’t a pathological liar. I just liked to have fun with an otherwise not-so-fun situation.

In college I went to a party with a theme titled “What would you do for a dollar?” Everyone paid $20 to get 100 monopoly dollars and then throughout the night you would bet/beg/perform to get money from other people. The player with the most money at the end of the night won the real $300 pot. As the evening wound down there were only two people left: me and another young lady. She started to give guys lap dances for money, and I knew if I didn’t act quickly I would lose the whole game!

So I thought back to my schoolyard days and I enticed most of the guys in line for their lap dances to spend their money on me and my amazing scars instead. I kept my peep show PG-13 and coolness ultimately outsold sexiness, resulting in $300 in my pocket!

Sure, my scars have caused me to have insecurities, especially as a teenager, but ultimately they make me who I am. I do admit to occasionally “covering up” my zipper for a fancy evening, but that’s only because I want the focus to be on me and not my congenital heart disease—but never because I’m ashamed or embarrassed.

Just like our individual defects, every scar we wear is unique and a testament to our struggle. It’s a map of our fight, showing the roads we’ve been down and all we live for today. It ultimately takes us from ordinary to extraordinary in moments, and if you’re really inventive, it might even make you some money!

Christy Sillman was born with Tetralogy of Fallot with Pulmonary Atresia and now works as a pediatric ICU nurse. She is passionate about working with both children and adults with congenital heart disease. Christy writes a weekly column on her experiences as a nurse, ACHD'er, and new mother, which you can read at by clicking here.

Location: Blogs Parent Separator ACHA Blog

11 comment(s) so far...


Re: Scar Wars

So funny and I've totally been there, suprizing people & winning the scar game.

While I can't say I go ahead and show them as you do :) I do like pointing out a few of the smaller ones and eventually explaining my zipper scar as well as on that goes across my chest around to the right side of my back.

Most often I don't care about my scars, except for the occasional fancy dress, where I feel like my zipper scar is a big Arrow pointing down to my chest. In that case I usually wear a necklace to make the scar a little less obvious.

And I don't think I'm embarrassed by them - but I've had a few people comment "here, you can wear this scarf, (or whatever accessory) It will cover up your scar". That makes me more annoyed or mad than anything. If I don't care, why should they? Don't they know me well enough to know I don't typically run around trying to cover up my scars?

By Debra on   9/12/2011 12:23 PM

Re: Scar Wars

that's awesome! I haven't tried the tiger training story though! I too went through ToF with PA. as a kid, the scars never bothered me. I look like I was fileted on my back, poked in my sides and zipped up front! now I have less than two inches of non-zippered skin on my front (cancer scars are just as cool- maybe) but I must say, the new techniques of stitching up after open heart, has improved. Had a valve replacement in July and the scar looks way better now, then the old one that was 25+ years old!

By Sarah on   9/12/2011 12:26 PM

Re: Scar Wars

I too have won Scar Wars many times. I've never really tried to hide my scars per se, except I never wore a bikini. To me, letting some of the scar peak out at the top of a dress wasn't bad but I just didn't think it would look good totally out there and exposed in a bikini. Maybe my own insecurities? Also, it would just mean explaining it to everyone and while I am an open book about my condition, I think it would just get annoying to be asked about it every time you're at the beach or pool. Nowadays, the scars may be my excuse, but let's be real - my body is no longer in bikini shape.... But, that's another story!

By Alissa on   9/12/2011 1:05 PM

Re: Scar Wars

I'm so glad all of you win Scar wars too!!

So funny, yesterday I went into a lingerie shop and got talked into a bra fitting. The sale associate was "wowed" by my scars and kept saying "I can't believe you're alive! I can't believe you're alive!!" I was temped to fake die right there just to shut her up. I just kept saying "well, yes, I am indeed alive" hahahaha. Plus she totally lifted my breast up a bit to look at one of my scars...can we say awkward?!?!? I got out of there fast...faked a cell phone call with an emergency. hahahaha!!

By Christy on   9/12/2011 1:34 PM

Re: Scar Wars

When I was in college I girl in my class noticed my scar peeking out of my V-neck sweater and asked me how I got it. I told her.." open heart surgery". She laughed and said, " tell me the truth where did you get it ?? "

I used to show my friends the scar from a chest tube ( which was right above my belly button ) and tell them that I was born with 2 belly buttons...and plenty of them bought it !!

Remember folks...a scar is a tattoo with a better story

By Michelle on   9/12/2011 1:36 PM

Re: Scar Wars

I had my first surgery in 1969 at the age of 8, after that when my cousin and I were at the swimming pool in the summer we tried to convince people I had been in a knife fight. A really skilled assailant. ;-)

By Joel H on   9/12/2011 2:42 PM

Re: Scar Wars

Yep - been there, won that game! I conceded once to a guy that had been in a coma! I thought that trumped my collection of scars. I have added a more recent one - a pulmonary valve replacement and maze in 2004. I have to confess that I am more aware of the new one than the old ones I grew up with. Maybe it is just because it is more fresh, or because it is more visible because it extends one inch above and below the old one ... but it bothers me the most.

By Karen on   9/12/2011 5:44 PM

Re: Scar Wars

I too have showed my scars to gross out a few people but have also had some people say some weird things. The funnies I remember was when I was 17 and the tube scars made me look like I had 2 belly buttons. One little boy at the pool said "Look Mom, that girl has two belly buttons!" I laughed but I must add, wore a one piece after that. :) Out of the mouths of babes.

By Jen Y on   9/14/2011 2:11 AM

Re: Scar Wars

Thank you for this. My son is eight and he's had his chest opened six times, has twenty-one chest tube scars, and cut down scars in his elbow crooks, wrists, neck, and groin and we expect a pacer scar in the next year or two to join the mix. He has won the scar wars in the school yard time and again and I'm proud of him for being proud of himself.

Sometimes I see his scars and am still surprised by them even though I was with him through out each tube being pulled, each IV being placed, each cath and surgery recovery, but they're still startling every once in awhile. I don't know what they look like to someone who doesn't know about CHD. I don't know how startling it must be for strangers to see that when it still startles me sometimes. I'm glad you can bridge the dissonance with humor and affection. You're a good example for the rest of us of how to engage those caught off guard.

I love to hear the positive ownership in your writing voice - those are YOUR scars and you're not ashamed. Liam has that now and I hope he keeps it forever. You and the rest of the posters who replied give me so much hope that my brave little guy will not change who he is because of how the outside world sees him. Again, thank you.

(((Heart Hugs)))

By Amanda Rose Adams on   9/15/2011 1:35 PM

Re: Scar Wars

I think my age (65) really shows in this article...which is fine because it tells us all how much things have changed for the better for those of us with CHD. My first surgery in 1958, when I was 12, was just surgery and no comments. I can't remember anyone wondering about my scar which went from under my right armpit, under my breasts, ending under my left armpit. We were more covered in those days...even tho we girls wore 2-peice bathing suits...Southern Cal by the beach...there were no bakinis here yet. First one I saw was on the French exchange student staying with us when I was in 10th grade. More scars to follow, but such a difference in time periods. Yea! Toni

By toni smith on   9/20/2011 11:24 PM

Re: Scar Wars

A couple of friends were showing off their tattoos and how much they paid for them. I decided to get in the act but I have no tattoos. So I pulled up my shirt, showed them the scars from my OHS a year earlier along with the scars from the stomach surgery a week after the OHS. Told them it costs a half a million dollars(that truely is what the insurance paid out). No more price comparisons were made after that, I won the price war.

By doug kreager on   9/7/2012 7:51 AM

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