The Band

The small, short item I posted yesterday (Overheard) led to a lot of comments and discussion on my Facebook page, much more than I ever anticipated. With that in mind, I did a little research to see if there were any studies of attitudes of Heart Surgery Survivors toward their scars.

Minimally invasive surgical techniques are still being developed, so the overwhelming majority of us have a scar. The two most common are the Sternotomy scar, which is the traditional scar in the center of the chest, and the other one is the Thoracotomy scar, which begins in the center of the chest, curves under one arm, and ends near the center of the back.

A 2005 study done in the United Kingdom asked patients with a Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) surgical scar to take part in a structured interview that would explore their attitude about their scars. 201 patients took part: 105 of them had a Sternotomy scar; 36 had a Thoracotomy scar; and 60 patients had both.

The study showed that roughly the same percentage in each group “reported that they did not like or hated their scar”:  22% disliked their Sternotomy scar, 25% their Thoracotomy scar, and 28% of those with both scars disliked them. 56% of the respondents said that their scars affected their choice of clothing but unusually enough, further study showed that a Thoracotomy scar was looked on less favorably by the patient. I found this unusual, as the Thoracotomy scars under my arms are easier to conceal. I rarely think about them – I am much more likely to button one more button of my shirt to hide the scar down the center of my chest. The study does not provide information about the male/female breakdown of the study, so I have no idea if that may be a factor. (UPDATE: A female survivor on Facebook commented that Thoracotomy scars affected her choice of bras. Obviously a male would never consider that!)

A 2006 Canadian study of adults with Congenital Heart Defects established a similar result. 58% of the respondents saw themselves as “disfigured,” but 60% said that the scarring did not bother them as much now (At the time of the study) as it had during their younger years. 19% felt negatively about their scar, 22% felt positive, and 58% were neutral. And 61% of the participants “reported a positive effect on appreciation of health.”

Heart Surgery survivors – and everyone else – fall into the “Beautiful = Better” trap when we are young. But as we age, we seem to be able to come to grips with what we’ve been through and what those gashes on our chests really mean. We may never have the attitude of the soldier mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry V“Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, and say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.'”

But we know who we are, and we understand what we’ve been through. We are, literally, a Band of Brothers and Sisters: “We few, we happy few, we band of  brothers; for he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.”

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3 Responses to “The Band”

  1. Rachael Says:

    If you’re still asking for .02:
    I love my scar. I never once hated it; I don’t mind tops that reveal it in the least. In fact, if the top is tasteful, I will purchase it because it does feature a neckline or frills that show off that area of my torso. I was actually very angered when I woke from my last open heart to discover my surgeon had taken the liberty of “cleaning up” the top part of my scar while closing me up. I have a Sternotomy scar. I loved this post, Steve. If you’re still game for Wednesday’s radio show, I’m sure the subject of scars will be brought up!

  2. Nicole Says:

    Great post, Steve, I’ve both scars with my Sternotomy having been “cleaned up” at the top during my last open heart and left kind of messy around the bottom. My father has always referred to it as my “lifeline” so I’ve never felt self-conscious or weird with v-necks or other exposing necklines. I do tend to have trouble with a thickening mid-scar where bras are concerned, and they are not comfortable with the other scar either. I’ve also noticed after being cut several times, the ole pectoral muscles do not hold as well; so, women need to address support issues post-op to aid in pain relief/prevention.

    Thanks for raising this issue, it is something I’ve been wanting to discuss with other CHD patients! If anyone is interested, we should kick it around in the proper forum; I’m happy to contribute my experience.

  3. Deepti Says:

    I have both, and while as a teenager it did worry me a lot, now I wear what I like without being too bothered. I almost forget about it, until someone points directly at me and asks what happened for that mark to get there. That’s when I get uncomfortable and blush, and feel embarrassed, because TA is very tough to explain to someone who has just a passing curiosity.

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