What happened to your nose?
I launch into my carefully rehearsed explanation of recurrent basal cell carcinoma requiring specialized Mohs surgery and next day reconstruction of my nose.
The inquirer— an acquaintance, a stranger, someone at work—stares directly at my nose for what seems to be a good five minutes and then says, “No-one could ever tell!”, the irony of their statement clearly escaping them.
Sometimes they follow up with a ‘helpful’ suggestion about wearing sunscreen or a hat.
My husband assures me that now my nose looks just a bit red on one side and is quite acceptable. I did get some interesting stares from other diners in the hotel the first two nights and finally one of them asked if I played hockey and what did the other guy look like. I think we told him it was two other guys one considerably younger than me and they both spent all day in surgery. They laughed but took care to watch us leave before they left their table.
I don’t spend a lot of time in front of a mirror but I’m always surprised when I see my reflection and my face looks fairly normal. Because I really feel like I am related to Bozo the Clown. I truly don’t want anyone closer to me than about three feet—they might touch my nose! And it is still enormously sensitive to even the lightest of touch.
Then there’s my knee. Blessed with long legs, I don’t fit into standard chairs or church pews. I must sit sideways—and the knee that just had the pins and wire (broken into three pieces) removed somehow always is closest to the person who wishes to greet me or otherwise get my attention. And then there’s the folks who use my knee as a hand-hold to pull themselves up. Standing during the prayers instead of kneeling, dragging that leg up the stairs, limiting the number of times I climb the stairs at home—it is getting better—but still exceedingly sensitive even to tighter fitting pants.
I suppose I shouldn’t complain but I have worn sunscreen every day—not just for swimming or extended outdoors activities. And while sorting through the family photographs I found pictures of me wearing a hat when I was eleven or twelve in an era when sun-tanning was thought to be healthy and desirable. I think I sunbathed for about one hour during college since all the other girls made it part of their daily ritual and concluded it was incredibly boring and took up time I could spend in the library reading. I’ve never been in a tanning booth and I slathered on sunscreen and wore long sleeves and pants while everyone else was wearing shorts and halter tops and insisting I must be hot in those clothes.
All of those comments—meant to be helpful—just aren’t. And the affectionate pats on my knee leave me gritting my teeth.
Grumbles and self-pity aside, I’ve spent some time thinking about what I think about my self-image. Although outward appearance does not define who I am—and I am still the same person inside for the most part, age related changes are so gradual like the frog in the water that boils, we hardly notice until looking at younger days photos; this change in appearance was sudden and dramatic—and felt horribly unfair. It’s been a hard thing to accept. I did not think I was particularly vain, but I find myself ducking my head to one side so as to hide that part of my nose; wishing for candlelight or otherwise dim light. This change is small compared to those unfortunate folks suffering from extensive burns, but none-the-less, it means a change in my perception of who I am.