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When a Kid Asked Me About My Tracheotomy Scar

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We all know that kids say the darndest things.When I was painting at Ridgefield Art Walk, a young child made a comment about my self-taught art (he said he “could do that”), which inspired not only a whole blog post, but a lightbulb moment for me about what message I want to impart to others through my work.

But he also said something else that I didn’t really have a quick “quip back” for. “So, what’s that thing on your neck?” Huh? Oh wow, it’s been so long I didn’t even remember I had it, but yes, that scar on my neck, it’s there. It’s my tracheotomy scar.

Creativity is a mindset 2
Amy’s artwork

I have many memories of that awful tracheotomy. It felt like a bolt in my neck, and for the longest time, I could only feel something there — I had no clue what it was, what it looked like and what it was for. I stumbled and tried to think on my feet, semi-self-conscious at that moment — what would be a cute response? How was I to show that I was not hurt, ashamed or embarrassed? It took me a long time not to feel self-conscious about how I feel in a new body.

I was about to say it was my “Harry Potter” scar, but then I realized a kid that age probably had no idea who Harry Potter was. Suddenly, I felt my age. What was I supposed to tell a kid without scaring him off or making me feel uncomfortable?  My impulse was to laugh, just to reassure those around me that my own feelings weren’t hurt. I’ve survived on thick skin, and I try to keep that persona when it comes to all I’ve been through. I don’t like others to feel sorry for me.

Scars are part of us. They are beautiful. They are healed flesh. It reminds me of one of my favorite poems, “For What Binds Us” by Jane Hirshfield (some lines were actually incorporated into my wedding vows!). Do you have a scar? Is it visible, is it hidden? We all have physical, emotional, spiritual, beautiful scars. What do you say to others about it? What do you say to yourself? Think about a scar you have — big or small, hidden or on the surface. What does it say about you? What does it mean to you?

Amy’s artwork

One of my earliest memories after waking up from a coma is hearing this guy cry in his deep, kind voice, “Oh Amy, I’m so sorry, I’m really so sorry,” and feeling this burst of pain, and blood going everywhere I think. It was when he was trying to put a tracheotomy in my throat, and by accident, he shoved one in that was a size too big. I don’t really remember what happened, but it was a big, bloody disaster.

I remember seeing the world that time as though I were at the bottom of a hole looking up at the light coming down from the sky. Like I was underwater seeing the sun shining through the surface of the ocean. Because for a long time life was just lived on my back, so the only things within my view were the doctors over my head. Sometimes I would see people brushing by the curtains, peeking their head in to say hello. I could strain my neck and see the television, which was very misplaced. And if I looked to my right all the way, I could see my mom lying in her cot, but I couldn’t really turn my head that way because I would choke from where the esophagostomy lay.

Amy’s artwork

I remember when I finally got the tracheotomy taken out and a guy — that’s the thing, there were so many people coming in and out who knew me for some reason and I just had to pretend like I knew them and let them manipulate all my various plugs and drains just like they were playing with my hair or something. So this guy took out my tracheotomy and covered up the oozing gap with a Band-Aid and said it would be hard for me to talk for a few days until the hole closed up. And I remember someone said this was the first real milestone in my journey. And I just thought to myself, Well wow, this is going to be a really long journey I guess…

The wound this peg left eventually closed, and when it did, I no longer had to press a thumb to my neck in order to emit sound. But the scar never went away. I am so used to that indent in my throat that I don’t even notice it anymore. I didn’t think anyone else did, either. But this kid did. And just like he happily called my art mere “scribbling,” he wasn’t saying anything negative — he was not repulsed by my scar. So how was I to respond?

We’ve all heard that imperfection is beauty and our flaws give us character. But what do our scars give us? What have they made us? My scars have kept me alive. My scars have kept me together. My scars make me remember there was a time I thought things would never get better. When I say that the circumstances have passed, but the “scars” remain, I’ve realized that is a wonderful thing. My scars are what I can show for the resilience I’ve had, and these scars are miraculous proof that the body can heal and amazing things happen every day. Like a wall of graffiti that keeps getting spray-painted over and over and over again, I’ve only got one body, and it’s quite the shape-shifter. It’s been broken, put together, scarred, unscarred, dented and indented.

The good part is, I’m off the hook. The kid walked away, and I was left with the question myself. What is that scar on my neck? My scar is just one of the many stories in me — a story I’ll always carry with me. And that is the beauty of how we move on in life. In the end, only our stories remain.

Amy standing next to her artwork at an outdoor art festival
Amy standing next to her artwork at an outdoor art festival

Healing is hard. But the body is amazing. We all have scars. What stories do they tell?

Check out Amy’s original song:

Amy is touring the country helping bridge the gap between mental and physical health for patients and healthcare professionals. Learn more here and find out how you can help.

Follow this journey on Amy Oestreicher’s blog.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: January 15, 2016
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