I want to be whole, again. I want to wake in the morning and feel myself breathing through a warm, moist nose. I want to snuggle under my blankets and savor the sweetness of repose.
I want to see my face when I look in the mirror.
Two and a half years have passed. It changes. In the beginning, I was steeped in outrage, pain and horror. I couldn’t believe that a doctor had done this to me—taken away my breath, taken away my face. The only way I could cope was to fight to get my self back.
The first stage is denial. My form of denial was a fierce determination to undo the damage. I am reminded of the Toni Braxton song, “Un-break my Heart.” It caught my fancy, in the nineties, because the very concept is heart-breaking. You can’t un-break a heart. You can’t un-break a nose and a face, either. It’s a blessing that, on some level, I didn’t accept that early on.
Undo it. Put me back the way I was! I raged against the injustice, determined to reverse the irreversible harm.
Then came bargaining. I tried to explain to plastic surgeons what my face was supposed to look like. By this time, I had given up on nasal health. Just let me look like myself, Please God. I can learn to cope if only I am me, again. It was another shock to learn that plastic surgeons can’t restore a face. “You can’t have what you had before,” one said. Nodding to the photograph–“I can’t give you that.” My nose had been a pleasing configuration of angles and curves. The most that could be done for me was more this or less that. Nothing fancy like my real nose. “I’m not going to tell you I can give you a million dollars when all I can give you is five hundred,” the surgeon said.
I sank into depression. I grew tired of the constant maintenance, tired of the crabbing dryness and pain. Tired of breathlessness. Tired of the accouterments of sickness: the prescription bottles, tissues, ointments, swabs, cotton balls, files and notes, appointment times and phone numbers. Tired of the misshapen face in the mirror. I wanted to take my arm and sweep my life into the trash.
I have only tasted acceptance. It sneaks up on me and takes me by surprise. Enters my blood and lights me up from inside. Suddenly, for a moment, I am at home in my skin. I am my own long-lost self. And life is sweet. “I can do this,” I say. “This is the life I have been given. And I accept it.”
Like most people, I cycle the stages of grief, usually juggling the middle three. I wonder if the average mortal ever accepts the unacceptable. Not even Christopher Reeve accepted his condition, though he lived it with grace. I read a book about the Reeves recently and Christopher was quoted saying that sleep was his favorite time because he walked in his dreams. In his waking life, he was always longing for wholeness. Maybe that’s part of acceptance–accepting the condition of not having something that is natural to have—easy breathing, mobility, sleep, sight, hearing, freedom from pain, one’s own familiar face, or any number of cherished things.
We may take comfort in the fact that we are not alone. Millions of others are suffering a physical loss and longing for wholeness, along with us.