The Dog Bite.
Warning: This post contains a graphic image.
The last three and a half years of my life have been my most challenging.
On July 25, 2018, I was bitten in the face by a dog while working on the job as a home health Speech-Language Pathologist. I was treating a patient, and a person in the home let a dog out from behind a closed door. It quickly ran to me, jumped to meet my face (as I was standing fully upright and still), and bit. This seemingly non-threatening Border collie bit off the center of my upper lip requiring 50 stitches.
I was 9 weeks pregnant with my first baby. I saw the blood all over my hands as I touched my face. For months, I had flashbacks of the image of my face in my rear view mirror just before I drove myself to the ER.
I immediately called my husband and told him what happened (and called my boss to report the incident and kindly request that the office call the rest of my patients to explain that I wouldn’t be arriving today), and he and my step-daughters came to meet me at the hospital. The attending took one look at me and said, “I can’t touch that. I’m calling a plastic surgeon.” About an hour later, I met Dr. Eric Chang.
With the calmest demeanor I’ve ever encountered, Dr. Chang explained the procedure through my tears and proceeded to artfully stitch the hole in the center of my lip for the next 45 minutes while I lie awake with my husband holding my hand. There were a few complications with the healing (it seems my body was attacking some of the deep sutures causing multiple abscesses), but the only thing that mattered was I was healthy and the baby was healthy. However, as the months went by, I became increasingly anxious about how the stress of the event would affect my baby, because it really started to hit me.
As a part of the scar management and healing, I was told to immediately start massaging the scar tissue. So I went home from yet another appointment and found that I couldn’t touch my face without panicking and sobbing. Thankfully, with the skillful help of psychologist Dr. Rachel Daltry (and her soulful chocolate lab, Muddy Paws), I learned how to emotionally approach myself so I could do the physical treatment I needed to do.
I wound up going back to work about two months later. I was incredibly anxious to return, but I needed to work, and honestly — who was going to hire a pregnant therapist? I just knew I needed to put one foot in front of the other and suck it up, mostly because I felt I had an obligation to my patients, and financially, I needed to work.
So I muddled through. And on the days when clients forgot to put their dogs away or couldn’t manage to stop them from jumping on me, I sucked it up some more. I pushed down all the shit that I didn’t even know I needed to feel, because not working seemed weak. I wasn’t going on disability. And I was told from so many people, “You’re lucky. It could have been worse.”
Yes, it most certainly could have been worse. I realize that. But it could have not happened at all.
Then came a revision surgery the following June (2019), 3 months after having my first son. I remember my dad worrying that my bloody, scabbed lip would scare my baby. I had to be careful about smiling. That’s an awful thing to have to be careful about.
Two months later, my mother told us she was diagnosed with cancer. With treatment (which we all considered as a family and encouraged her to try), we were given a prognosis of possibly 2 years. She died unexpectedly 2 months later. We buried her the day before my birthday. I wasn’t able to be there when she died.
Here I was, a new mother to a 7-month-old (and a step-mother to two pre-teen girls), now mothering without my mother. If you knew my mother, you’d have nothing but kind things to say. She was truly a force — a brilliant model of work ethic and selflessness. Her four children were her pride and joy. She was smart as hell, tough as nails, loving beyond measure, and always correct. She was my dad’s partner for 48 years.
I’m now grieving myself AND my mom, all the while trying to figure out how to be a mom.
My husband has been an incredible rock and support through these life changes. On top of all of this, my husband tragically and traumatically lost his best friend in May 2019 while they were golfing on a Friday afternoon. We have grieved with each other too many nights to count. All the while we navigate the complexities of having a blended family.
Now it’s 2020. Welcome to the pandemic. I have a 1-year-old and come to soon find out I’m pregnant again. Now I’m a pregnant healthcare worker doing home visits in a pandemic. Welcome to a whole new level of anxiety (for everyone, right?!?). And then came the joy of Baby Ben in January 2021 (and the lease for the mini-van we now needed with 4 kids and 2 dogs). It still kills me that my mom doesn’t know I had another baby, but I’m so grateful for the months Everett got with her.
This incident is forever marked on my face. I share this with you not to receive sympathy or notes of “I don’t even notice it,” or “It’s not that bad,” or the dreaded “It could have been worse…” – logically, yes, I am aware of all those perspectives. Emotionally, it’s harder to reconcile. This was a trauma. This is a trauma. Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of or confronted with the fact that a dog bit me in the face. I can’t look in the mirror without the memory staring back at me.
It’s not just a matter of aesthetics. I FEEL this injury EVERY DAY. Since a part of my lip was missing, the surgeon essentially did a skin graft from the inside skin of my lip (the part that is always wet from saliva) and flipped that skin up to cover the wound. Now, the inside skin of your lip is not meant to be exposed to the elements. The skin is constantly, painfully dry, and I need to moisturize it every 90 minutes or so. Every day. The skin peels and burns. Every day. I can’t speak, sing, eat, talk, kiss my husband or children without feeling it. Every day. And wearing a mask every day for the last two years has been a blessing (since no one has to see it) and a curse (the mask rubs against my lip and it hurts).
Sadly, this has seriously shaken what little confidence I’d managed to gain over the course of 39 years, and I’m working to find some confidence with my new face. It’s been easier to retreat. It’s been easier to avoid photos. It’s been easier to play other people’s songs instead of my own.
I share all of this with you as a part of my own healing. I’ve been so needed during this whole experience as a new mother that I haven’t really had the time or energy to devote to my own mental health. And it’s time for things to just be lighter. Change is on the horizon, and it starts with me.
Everyone has their own trauma, and I now understand the breadth of the definition of that word. I wish you all your own peace and healing in your own time. Thank you for taking the time to read this and for all your support over the years. xo