This is a part of the Hot Topic podcast series from the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center on Exercise After Burn Injury. George Pessotti, Burn Survivor, discusses Coming to Terms with Your Scars.
Sustained a Burn Injury in 1979
A: Feeling self-conscious is something that happens to all survivors that have visible scars. I can remember the first time I went to the beach, which was maybe about six, eight months after my injury. And of course, my face was bright red because it was all scabby with second-degree burns. So I had on a tennis hat on my Job’s arms up to here.
I had my tube tennis socks on up to my knees. I had a towel over my shoulders. I had a handkerchief under my hat. And I mean, people were staring at me, walking on the beach, saying who is this guy, he looks so different. But I had to cover up. I wanted to go to the beach and feel somewhat normal.
So after time I was able to take off the garments and I think as you move towards the acceptance stage of your injury, it becomes easier to take off the clothing. And you learn that if someone is not going to be my friend because I am scarred on the outside, then maybe they are not a friend of mine to begin with.
So you kind of learn that. I have had in business gone on appointments for ten, fifteen years with a client and I will show up one day in a short-sleeved shirt and the client will say - my god, what happened to your arms? I never noticed they were burned - and I have been seeing these people for fifteen years. And it is because I don't draw attention to my scars and my injury. I don't hide within my shield and keep my eyes and head down like a lot of survivors do.
You have to look people straight in the face, answer their questions because the common one is you know, what happened to you, mister? And kids are great because the kids will come up and ask that. But the adults are the problem. They are the ones that stare and point in restaurants. We hear all of the stories in our support group.
So I think part of our job as a survivor is to educate the public on what our scars are. If someone is genuinely looking at you and saying gee, what happened to you? You say - gee, I was in a house fire, I was badly burned and I was in the hospital a long time, but I am doing okay. Thank you for being curious. Because a lot of times they are curious, they want to know what it is if they have never seen a horrific scar.
And it is therapeutic to tell your story. I think it is very important for survivors to be able to, in ten or twenty seconds, be able to tell their story because if your scars are visible, you are going to get the question.
My scars never kept me from exercising. I mean, to me, they were personal, they were me. Very hard to look at, you know, in the beginning because scarring is permanent. It never goes away. And I tell survivors, your scars never look as bad as they do in the beginning. The first few months after an injury, they are purple, they are ugly, they are oozing, they are flaky, they are stiff, right? They look awful.
But in time as the healing goes on, the original color of the skin comes back and you have to learn to live with your scars. And I think that is why it is important to accept your scars. Some people might let their scars define who they are and it is amazing that after they go through some experience that they realize that the scars have nothing to do with it.
In many relationships I have met burn survivors who are horrifically burned and I have attended weddings where the husband is the most handsome guy in the world. And here he meets his wife at the altar who is horrific facial burns, plane survivor, crash survivor, horrifically burned and you say what does he see in her, she is so horrifically scarred.
And then you realize it is not what she looks like on the outside that the person fell in love with, it is who she is on the inside. Someone who is loving and warm and compassionate and understanding and someone who communicates, someone who is a good provider. Someone who loves his children, who is recognized in the community.
Those are the qualities in people that we fall in love with. The scars are secondary. They really are. It has no effect in my current relationship. I went through a terrible divorce and remarried and I have been married for 35 years. And my scars have never been an issue to my wife, Joanne. It hasn’t affected intimacy at all because she loves me as a person, not for I have a lot of scars on my arms and body.
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