Becca AthertonBecca Atherton

Talking to your peers about PH

Words Can Hurt Sometimes

By Becca Atherton

"Can I ask you something? I don't want to make you mad or hurt your feelings, but I'm just curious," a girl asked me one day after school.

‘Here it comes. She is going to ask about my health,' I thought to myself.

The Questions People Ask

I can always tell when people are going to ask a question about my health. Almost everyone starts off with 'I don't want to be rude, but can I ask you something?'

The questions are usually about the big bumpy bright pink scar I have going down my chest, or why my voice sounds so raspy. Both are from multiple open heart surgeries to replace my Pulmonary Valve.  

While this girl was sensitive towards me and my feelings before asking about my health, I have had incidents where other people are not as sensitive. I have had people make comments such as: “So you don’t mind drawing attention to your scar?” I even had someone look at a picture of me, put her hand over my scar and say “You’d look way better if you didn’t have that.”

How They Make Me Feel

There are times when I know that people are making comments just to be mean and hurtful. I still don’t understand why people say the things they say. Maybe they aren’t thinking before they speak.

I’m not sure, but I do know that I want people to realize that words, even if you don’t mean them in a rude or nasty way, can and do hurt people. And they do make people feel uncomfortable and sometimes even ashamed of not only themselves but their own body.

Sometimes I don’t like how my body looks. There are times when I wear a bathing suit in public and I can’t help but feel insecure when I look at all the girls who have chests without a bright pink scar going down the middle. But I have grown to accept my scar and how my body looks. It has taken me a while to get to where I am today. Do I like my scar? Heck no. But I am glad I have it, because it means I am alive.

Dealing With It

Having PH, I know that there are people out there who get comments about the IV tube coming out of their shirt. I know the pain, sadness and self-consciousness that come from these insensitive questions/comments. However, when people ask questions or say something that seems rude or insensitive, I remind myself that they most likely did not mean to be rude. I tell myself that if I answer their questions with a smile, then I can help bring awareness to PH.

My Advice To You

I urge all of you, the next time someone makes a rude or insensitive comment about how you wear oxygen, have a tube coming out of your shirt or why your lips look blue, kindly turn to them and explain what is going on with your body. We can make a difference in the way the world sees those who are different by sharing our stories of survival.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2011 Pathlight. Meet Becca and other teens who have PH on PHA Teens, a secure social networking site for teens ages 13-18 who have PH.

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