Phobias, and Where Stories Come From

"Where do you get your ideas?"

Writers write what we know, teasing out bits of truth to flavor our fiction.  Here is one such truth.  Somewhat squicky pictures below.  You've been warned.

It's all started here.

Before
Before

A small sore on the side of my nose turned out to be a schlerocizing basal cell rodent tumor with an aggressive hysology (i.e., it grew fast and ate away at the flesh.)  In March of 2016 I had MOHS surgery to remove the cancer entirely.

Removal of the skin cancer, first stage. Doc had to go back and remove slightly more less than an hour later.
Removal of the skin cancer, first stage. Doc had to go back and remove slightly more an hour later.
Tissue removed the first time around. The little bits at the top of the picture are what was scraped out of the middle.
Tissue removed the first time around. The little bits at the top of the picture are what was scraped out of the middle.

The procedure was performed under local anesthetic, and the staff was wonderful.  That does not mean it was pleasant.  I'd had facial surgery once before and had recognized in myself a fear of facial mutilation, of being seen as even more different.

The afternoon after the surgery, I walked into the office of a local plastic surgeon who specialized in reconstructive plastic surgery of the face.  He was concerned that I had "great skin" (meaning still tight and not loose enough to take a flap from the cheek area), but he was confident he could manage everything.  I was scheduled for surgery the next day.  He would take a flap of skin from my forehead and bring it down to cover the removal site on the side of my nose.  An artery in the flap would provide a healthy blood supply, improving the flap's chances of healing.

Marking out the area for the flap.
Marking out the area for the flap.
Skin flap from forehead removed, preparing to bring it down to side of nose. The wide pink area inside the incision is my skull.
Skin flap from forehead removed, preparing to bring it down to side of nose. The wide pink area inside the incision is my skull.
Flap freshly attached.
Flap freshly attached.

After 4 hours in patient care, I headed home to rest.  Ha!

Five minutes home after reconstructive surgery.
Five minutes home after reconstructive surgery.

The doctor assured me there would be residual bleeding and nothing more.  Two hours later I was soaking through a gauze pad every 15 minutes.  We went back to the doctor's office where he repacked the wound with a coagulant gauze and sent me home.  Three hours later I was soaking through a gauze pad every 5 minutes, and he had me go to the emergency room where he cauterized smaller "bleeder" arteries.  The artery supplying blood to the flap was fine.

In the coming weeks, lurking phobias crept out of my subconscious to play.  I could not bear to look at myself in the mirror.  In my mind, I was hideously deformed, abhorent, a thing to be shut away.  Worse, I felt even guiltier about my so-called "over reaction" when I considered there were people out there with truly dire medical conditions.

I could either hide in my room or get on with my life.  Life won.  Two weeks after surgery, I went to Norwescon and even pulled off a couple of costume ideas.

Undeading it up at Norwescon 2016.
Undeading it up at Norwescon 2016.
Hungry Sandra zombie is hungry at Norwescon 2016.
Hungry Sandra zombie is hungry at Norwescon 2016.
It looked harmless! Norwescon 2016
It looked harmless! Norwescon 2016

One customer at my husband's store booth offered a spoon in support of my condition.  She didn't appreciate my response.

Someone gave me an extra spoon.
Someone gave me an extra spoon.
How do I look? Norwescon 2016
How do I look? Norwescon 2016

There were down moments, too.  The time I was turned away from a favorite local restaurant because of my appearance (not that they said as much, they insisted it was because of the service wait...when no one else was turned away).  The parents who flinched and pulled their children away from me in stores.  My oldest son's admission that he couldn't look at my face.  The woman who tried to touch the skin flap out of sympathy because it looked so "different".

The forehead stitches were removed first, turning me into an alien ala STAR TREK.

Removal of forehead stitches, roughly 4 weeks after reconstruction.
Removal of forehead stitches, roughly 4 weeks after reconstruction.

The flap became infected, causing a delay in the final surgery.  A week later, everything was go.

After flap removal, with glasses (yay!).
After flap removal, with glasses (yay!).

Soon (not soon enough), the stitches came out.

5-16, after removal of stitches, roughly 7 weeks after reconstruction.
5-16, after removal of stitches, roughly 7 weeks after reconstruction.
5-16, after removal of stitches, roughly 7 weeks after reconstruction.
5-16, after removal of stitches, roughly 7 weeks after reconstruction.

And today. . .

Today, 9-17-16, roughly 4 months after.
Today, 9-17-16, roughly 6 months after recconstruction.
Today, 9-17-16, roughly 4 months after.
Today, 9-17-16, roughly 6 months after reconstruction.
Today, 9-17-16, roughly 4 months after.
Today, 9-17-16, roughly  months after reconstruction.

Why is she telling us all this?

Because body horror is easy to write; living it, not so much.  Write what you know.  Put the demons to work, exorcise them on the page.  Those same demons may seem insignificant to someone else, yet to me. . .yeah.  I survived, I'm fine, and this demon has found a home in a story.  That's where fear belongs.

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