Scars of a Birth Defect

Throughout my life people asked why I looked the way I did.   Politely, I divulged the reason as a cleft lip and cleft palate.   Stamped in memory, my clefts not only played a major role in my past, but also a role in the lives of the people I love.   However, I never maturely considered how my birth defect affected my family and how they helped carry me through the rough times.   Correcting the clefts involved surgery after surgery, and with each one, my family also lived through the agony with me.   Hospitals, operating rooms, and pain burdened us all as we coped with these normal parts of life with a birth defect.   With each surgery, I acquired new scars, but my life and the lives of my family changed forever.

First of all, my earliest recollection of my eighteen surgeries occurred about twenty-eight years ago.   I looked around, and I saw the white walls of the hospital, and the bars up all around my bed.   Strapped to my arms, straight boards kept me from touching my face after "my nap".   Nurses stopped to say how cute I looked, and I smiled brightly at them.   I never thought that I looked "different".   After the surgery, I woke up in pain not realizing why I hurt badly.   As I looked at my mother for reassurance, she tried to stay strong for me.   She knew I needed this surgery, but she silently antagonized over the fact that I would need many other surgeries throughout my life.

During my sophomore year in high school, I withstood the most painful and intense surgery.   The operating doors flew open as the nurses frantically pushed the gurney down the hospital corridor.   Along the side of the gurney, a nurse ran pumping air into my lungs by squeezing and releasing a manual air bag.   Layers of bandages that covered my head and face resembled a thick white helmet.   In horror, my mother watched her motionless daughter as the nurses pressed on towards the intensive care unit.   Emotionally, she never fully prepared herself to see her child this close to death.   Once in the intensive care unit, I was put on a ventilator that performed my breathing for me.   The ventilator was not removed until Dr. Salyer was convinced I was stable enough to breathe on my own.   After removing the ventilator tube, my body occasionally drifted back into a state of dependency on the mechanical respirations.   Several times I stopped breathing.   Immediately, the alarms would sound off in a screeching tone to alert everyone in the room.   Still too drowsy from the pain medication to realize that I quit breathing, my mother, or a nurse, would call out to me, "MiíShelle, breathe!" Instantly, I took a deep breath, and the alarms would cease causing a peaceful silence in the room.   This was the most dangerous surgery I have gone through, and one I never forgot.

In August 2002, after I married and became a mother, I decided to go through another surgery.   Afterwards, bandages covered my nose, and above my mouth.   Alan, my husband, expressed unbelievable compassion.   He helped me to the restroom just in case I passed out, put new bandages on my lip, and he also took it upon himself to find the one type of food that my body tolerated.   Once at home, he and my twelve-year-old daughter, Kirsten, made sure they met my needs.   Kirsten and Alan brought me drinks and potato soup, which my mother made for me after every surgery.   Because of the bandages on my nose and upper lip, Kaylee, my five-year-old, said to me, "Mommy, you look silly!" Innocently, she tried to understand what happened to her mother.   Alan and my children experienced only a minor surgery of my past.   However, it was the hardest for me emotionally because of the new responsibility I embraced as a wife and a mother.   

Besides suffering through the surgeries myself, my family felt helpless seeing me in pain multiple times since I turned six months old.   Each time, we also knew the perils taken while in the operating room, and the risks of infection afterwards.   Therefore, before each surgery, together we prayed and recited "The Lordís Prayer".    Hospital visits, emotional and physical pain, and operating rooms marked our lives frequently.   I proudly exhibited the outcome after healing from each surgery, but the true scars implanted permanently in my mind, and in the memories of my family.

©, 2004