The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 9, 2013

Ojanpa: You are your scars

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

— If ever called upon to tell your life’s story — or you’re compelled to ask someone to share theirs — here’s how to cut right to the condensed version and keep it interesting for all parties involved:

Talk about your scars. They’re windows to people’s worlds because each tells a tale that can reveal as much about the scars’ bearer as it does about the old wounds themselves.

Scarring begins in earnest in childhood, when you begin accruing them in bunches. The marks from all those scrapes and falls disappear over time — except for the ones that linger lifelong.

One of mine mocks me every time I look in the mirror. It’s a 52-year-old quarter-inch vertical line just above my upper lip.

I’m 11 years old. The football we’re playing with gets lodged in a tree branch. I grab a rock and heave it to free it. Rock hits the ball squarely and ricochets right back into my yap. Four, maybe five, stitches.

 That scar continues to remind: A bloodied prepubescent howling in pain and shame was not a pretty sight. Worse, that football never budged.

On the inside of my right elbow remains discolored skin from the deep patch of it torn off by a headfirst slide into third base an eon ago.

It was just a slow-pitch softball game, but I was called safe, we won, and that scar perseveres like a primitive tattoo, an eternal talisman recounting the glory of that 22-8 rout of either Stub’s Bar & Grill or Midwest Trucking. Can’t recall. Beers were involved. 

Next stop: Small crater scar on left hip. A painful boil was acquired in college. The thing mutated into a painful throbbing pustule the diameter of a pencil.

Doctor? Nah. The business end of a bent paper clip worked just fine. Sort of. 

On my right knee is a dark dot from the arthroscopic surgery undergone to squeeze a few more years out of a middle-age guy’s pickup basketball playing days. Best bang-for-the-buck scar I own.

Here’s the worst: The inch-long slash on my abdomen due to a series of doctors’ “oops.”

The first medic suspected my raging gut ache might be pain radiating from a heart attack. Oops, no critical-care bed availability for me that night at the local hospital.

One $7,300 medical helicopter ride later I’m in a Rochester hospital, where it’s determined that it’s not a heart attack. Oops.

Next morning the pain is still there, I’m still in the hospital, and now a doctor and a flock of interns are hovering over me, poking and “hmmm”-ing.

It’s his appendix, they deduce, and whisk me into surgery, where they dive in and discover, oops, it’s not the appendix. But since we’re here, we’ll yank it out anyway.

Turns out it was just an intestinal inflammation requiring only a prescription for some pills.

Most scars you can live with, but that one keeps begging for a do-over.


Brian Ojanpa is a Free Press staff writer. Call him at 344-6316 or email