How I'm Finally Learning to Love My 'Mercedes-Benz' Transplant Scar
I have a massive scar in the middle of my torso from a liver transplant I received in 2015. It’s in the shape of a peace sign (without the circle around it). The medical community call this a “Mercedes-Benz cut” (but I prefer to think of it as a peace sign). When I heard that this was the preferred technique and the one I received I was relieved, because when you’re getting an emergency liver transplant you look for the wins wherever you can.
Getting the Mercedes-Benz cut was something I held on to, a badge of honor for my brain. In part, because everyone told me how good it looked and how “clean” the cut was, and although when I looked down it seemed to be anything but clean considering I had huge staples stuck into my previously unmarked middle — I believed them. I remember asking one of my surgeons how I was supposed to clean my scar (surely I can’t shower with this monstrosity?!). With a deadpan smirk he said: “with soap and water.” He was definitely wrong. I was sure if I put soap and water on my scar it would reopen. Terrified, I reluctantly passed a bar of soap around its perimeter. I survived, and so did the scar. Another point for my surgeon. For a drug-induced moment in time, I thought it qualified me to be the owner of a Mercedes-Benz. I didn’t dare ask my surgeon if he’d be lending me his.
Now I’m stuck with a murky Mercedes-Benz (C-Class, for cute cut) for life. It’s not going away, I’m not scrubbing it off. I’ll never be able to wear a bikini in the same way (I never, ever liked wearing bikinis). I’ll never be able to get my torso nice and brown (I do not like sunbathing, at all). And I know what you’re thinking, “But Nora, you never realized your dream of becoming of a teenage male model for an edgy London brand!” That was, unfortunately, never on the cards for me.
Last week, I was driving my best friend’s husband’s Mercedes — something I honestly never thought I’d do. She’s just had a baby and I was entrusted with their safety in Miami (safe driving capital of the world) to take baby, mother, and grandma to the doctor, on errands to the supermarket. I was surprised that I wasn’t nervous to do this. It was natural, grown-up, and totally thrilling to drive a Merc. My family’s Honda Civic does not go from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds.
We talked about my scar. I’ve had a hard time with it over the years. I don’t give it much love or attention. I certainly don’t let it out for a night out on the tiles. I only regained feeling in parts of my torso a couple of years post-transplant, and still have parts of my belly that are numb. For many months I couldn’t look at it. Or if I did I would look at only bits of it, for a very short time and cover it right back up. Then for so many more months, I would get dressed as quickly as possible so I wouldn’t have to deal with looking or thinking about it at all. There are still bits of the actual scar and the surrounding area that I cannot feel, and I don’t know if I’ll ever regain sensation there. These are my complaints: it makes me look so weird, I’m self-conscious about how it sticks out — I’m sure people look at it like, what the fuck is that golf ball sticking out of that girl’s middle? It’s particularly bad when I still insist on wearing very tight spandex tops and only remember when I’m already in public. It’s not what I thought I’d have, nor what I hoped for.
I went to my friend’s acupuncturist when I was in Miami, and she spoke to me in such a gentle way about my scar. We talked about my hernia, which protrudes like a sore thumb (and is why the scar “sticks out”). She said that she observed there to be an energetic disconnection between my heart and the lower part of my body. I had not contemplated that before. Of course, I’ve considered at length the ramifications of having bodily trauma on the whole, disconnection from your body in general, and becoming more terrestrial as you heal. But the assault to my middle was considerable.
“Did you ever break your ribs?” she asked. I had to pause and think it over. When they first cut me open I think they broke a rib in order to get to the liver. My friend confirmed it after in the car. I had completely forgotten this major detail. Then my organs (liver and gall bladder) were taken out and a new one was chucked in (I believe that is the technical term). When I developed a hematoma, they performed surgery again — opening my scar up and splaying my skin on the table to save my life once more. The bodily assault doesn’t end there, but it would have been enough. I’m sure my middle doesn’t particularly appreciate surviving all that and subsequently being ignored. It only encourages a disconnect between my heart and the lower part of my body — energetic or otherwise. But each piece has its time, as I’ve learned and swiftly forgotten through each and every stage of this ongoing recovery (which is really just living).
Karina, who has been a steady constant voice of love and, like everyone in my support network, always encouraging me to progress in my healing said “Maybe it’s time for you to give your scar some love. You’ve been working for so long on your emotional healing, maybe you can focus on paying it some attention this year. It can be another step in your recovery.”
I agreed, and I said I had been trying to pay it more attention recently, which is true (but not really on purpose, it’s been more of an accidental “oh, hello scar, nice to see you there! How are you doing? Will you be leaving anytime soon? What’s that? Never? Oh cool. You won’t be fucking off anytime soon then, excellent news. I guess I have to get to know you now since you haven’t left yet”). It’s easy to agree in the moment; it’s not always so easy to get your brain to catch up with your body or vice versa.
Since then, I’ve been looking at it every morning, I’ve been touching the two deep white lines that crawl up the sides of my torso and meet in the middle to merge and climb up to my sternum. I’ve been placing a hand on my golf ball of a hernia, in an attempt to love it, because it’s a part of me. My scar is not outside of myself; it’s not a drawing that is one day going to abracadabra to some other land. I can’t send it off to boarding school, it’s smack bang in the middle of my body and I can love it if I’m going to really commit to radical self-love and acceptance.
It’s not my fault that I have this huge scar, and for a long time, I’ve thought it was, that there is something I could do to make it disappear. Maybe if I was a good enough patient it would walk off my body. Maybe if I got specific instructions from my surgeon about how to wash it off, it would go. Maybe if I wore a long enough shirt or baggy enough clothing, it might be able to breathe itself away. I was embarrassed, I thought (and sometimes still think) that I should hide it to make other people comfortable (which is more about me, and internalized ableism, than them), that I need to explain it away or wish it away to be normal. None of it is going away so I may as well love it in the meantime.
And if my heart is disconnected from the bottom part of my body, it means there is not much energy to speak of flowing from up to down. This means I may as well get me to a nunnery and get a diamond-encrusted custom chastity belt made. I have yet to go back to dating in a consistent way since this all happened. I’ve barely uttered the words that I want to apart from to my therapist and a few close friends (and now on some indelible internet markings). So if I’m to expect someone else to accept and love it, eventually, whenever I’m ready — I have to start somewhere. Which is long, boring and not particularly thrilling — but most likely worth it in the long run — just like every other fear-inducing trial I’ve faced (often begrudgingly and with considerable complaint).
It’s annoying to have to love something that society deems outside of the normal standards of beauty. We all have scars: they’re the marks that we’ve lived. We spend a lot of time trying to cover up physical and emotional scars and I’m not sure to what end — since there is considerable evidence that there is power in vulnerability. Most of us can see straight through bravado. Although I’m not quite at the stage where I’m committing to an all crop top wardrobe, I can give my scar a little love every day (and at least acknowledge that it’s there). And obviously, start a lease on a Mercedes-Benz because that’s simply the most sensible thing to do.
Photo by Celeste Sloman