Of Bumps and Healing and Scars
I was born with a hemangioma on my forehead. It was a large bump about the size of a quarter- much larger, mom says, than the penny-sized knot I had reported. It was quite noticeable, being red in color and protruding from my forehead. I was pretty self-aware of looking different. I gathered a lot of attention as a baby, walking at seven months and talking shortly thereafter. It didn’t hurt that I was a blonde headed, blue eyed child with a sweet disposition and smile. I was also perceptive. I knew when people’s faces morphed from cute-baby delight to uncomfortable curiosity that their gaze had settled on my mark. Before I was a year old, I’d respond to strangers’ looks in the grocery store by pointing to my forehead and acknowledging verbally what they were too polite to say, “Bump.”
I don’t think my parents were given many medical options dealing with the hemangioma. The fear was if the bump was removed my right eyelid would be stretched too far up my forehead leaving it unable to close and moisten my eye. They were encouraged to leave it alone, which they did.
It is hard enough when your child comes in from scraping their knees on the pavement; it can be outright traumatic when they come home with an owie that a bandage doesn’t help. Jamie and I know the feeling. A couple of weeks after we brought our third baby, Bonnie J, home from the hospital we noticed that one of her eyes didn’t open quite as much as the other. We took her to her pediatrician who referred us to an eye specialist. He diagnosed her with a hemangioma, a mass of vascular tissue in the inside corner of her left eye. Though it was not red and on the surface like mine, it was still noticeable and the doctor told us it would become more so. His words were pure fear to me. I wanted it fixed. I wanted it out. I wanted her healed and normal. I didn’t want her to have to deal with a Bump.
Dr. Pressman was gentle with us. He listened to our fears, answered our questions, and discussed our options. He was even honest with us when we asked him what he would do if Bonnie was his child. We had to weigh the dangers of surgery on an infant that might leave permanent scaring without guaranteed results, against letting the hemangioma take it’s time to grow, pressing against the eye, and then hopefully dissolving by the time she was 11 or 12. Other parents, he told us, didn’t have much of an option. He had another baby girl patient whose hemangioma was so prominent on her forhead that it looked like a horn. This baby’s parents chose surgery because they knew their daughter didn’t have a chance in our society when she’d be known as the unicorn child.
I didn’t give my parents much of an option either. At 14 months I took a tumble down a couple of concrete steps, pulling my hand out of my dad’s because I could walk all by myself, thank you. I landed right on the bump and it swelled and swelled. It was a week later that this unicorn baby, with a huge red bump now larger than a golf ball, had surgery to remove the hemangioma. It wasn’t supposed to last long, mom and dad were told the surgery would be about 90 minutes; instead, Dr. Montgomery took six hours. He later explained that he couldn’t rush though the procedure. He was very aware that the removal of my bump had consequences; not only did he want to remove the offending red mass but wanted to do in a way that preserved the function of my eyelid. He even had the foresight and compassion to cut and stitch my head in such a way that my scar would look more like a wrinkle one day and less like a hem on Frankenstein’s cranium.
It was sixteen years later that my mom and I ran into Dr. Montgomery in the hospital. We found ourselves in the same elevator and my mom introduced herself as we were stepping out onto one of the floors.
“Dr. Montgomery, I’m Judi Estes. You did surgery…”
He interrupted, “Oh yes! I remember you, Judi.”
She nodded her head in my direction, “This is Chad.”
“Chad?” and then with recollection, “OH!”
The next thing I knew this doctor grabbed my head with both his hands and pulled me close for inspection. He held me there and then pronounced proudly in the hallway for everyone walking by to hear, “Damn, I’m good!”
It was nice, at 17 years old to be able to personally thank my childhood surgeon. He listened to my gratitude, shaking my right hand with his and patting my shoulder with his left, but his eyes never left my forehead. He took great pleasure in seeing the healing that was on display, a scar nearly invisible to anyone unless they were looking for it. He too, was glad that he had taken his time.
Dr. Pressman hoped that Jamie and I wouldn’t be in a rush about Bonnie’s hemangioma either. Some parents, he explained, choose to have surgery more for their own self interests than that of their child. I looked at the sweet baby girl in my arms. My prayers were certainly for healing, but now it was also for her courage and strength. Her path of healing meant childhood pictures that would accentuate the hemangioma, it meant glasses at a very early age, it meant wearing a patch over her strong eye to strengthen the weaker on. She wouldn’t be a unicorn baby, she’d be a pirate child.
And she endured. And she healed. And as I watched her play today with a houseful of friends gathered in our home for her 11th birthday, I thankfully acknowledged that there is no sign of the hemangioma at all, not even a scar. Sometimes the slower healing truly does have the best results.