TW/CW: Photos of dog bite scars, talk of suicidal ideation, depression, and loss of loved ones.
**UPDATED 12/24/2020 Please scroll down to the bottom for a support group link I created for our community on Facebook**
About two years ago, I wrote a deeply personal essay about what it was like one year after a traumatic facial injury from a dog bite. Many of you have reached out to me since on Instagram and Twitter to talk about your own dog bites and facial injuries. I wrote that essay partially for myself and to be a resource to anyone else going through what I did, but I never would have imagined just how many of you would have found me because you were suffering through the same experience and were looking for understanding and guidance.
I recently passed the three year anniversary of my dog bite injury, and it was significant because of how much had changed for me emotionally and psychologically. I did feel better a year later, but now I’m at the point Dr. Desai told me I’d be at a few years on. I don’t constantly think about my dog bite scars anymore, and have come to a certain peace with them. The random pains from the new nerves have calmed down and I rarely feel my lower lip twitch randomly anymore. Of course I still see the scars anytime I look in the mirror, but I am no longer fixated on them and I don’t feel like a disfigured monster anymore. I go out without makeup again, although this year, I am often in a mask for safety with the COVID19 pandemic going on.
I decided I would revisit this again because of how many people have reached out, and because I thought I could provide some additional information that might be beneficial to those of you looking for solutions for your own scars. I know I mentioned I had had four steroid (kenalog/5FU) injections from six months post-injury to a year after injury when I wrote last.
Right after my one year post-bite anniversary, I started topical prescription products to prep my skin for laser treatment. I went to a wonderful nurse, Jennifer Hollander, in Beverly Hills. She prescribed Obagi Nuderm Blender and Tretinoin along with over the counter colloidal silver spray, and then in August of 2018, I had my first fraxel treatment on just the scarred portion of my face, and also had to purchase another prescribed Obagi product. In late September 2018 I had my second laser treatment. Early October 2018 I followed with another steroid injection from Dr. Amy K. Hsu, then in late October another laser treatment. Then jumping to 2019, January I had another injection for the scars, and a couple weeks later CO2 laser. In early March of 2019 I received corrective filler in my lower lip around the scarred areas to help achieve a more uniform lip shape, as I still felt there was a sort of corner or bump protruding from the sutured area. In mid-March 2019, I did a microneedling and PRP stem cell treatment with nurse Hollander, and in mid April another round of CO2 laser. My nurse Jennifer Hollander had decided to switch to CO2 from fraxel for more effect. I have not received any additional scar treatments since April of 2019. In total, there were six steroid injections of the kenalog/5FU mixture Dr. Hsu used, and five total laser sessions, and one microneedling session from November 2017 to April 2019. The scar injections were $150/each, corrective filler was $600, the laser treatments were $100-$200 along with around $350 for the topical prescription products, and the microneedling session with PRP stem cell was $1195. The laser treatments were not as expensive as I had thought they would be because we were only working on the scars, and not the entire face.
The actual procedures themselves were a little bit uncomfortable or painful. For both the scar injections and laser treatments, I was either given a topical numbing cream or a nerve block injection. One perk is I’m no longer afraid of needles because I have had so many in my scars. The scar injection would feel like a few tiny pinches if I could feel it. There was one time the laser left my scars feeling hot and aching for the rest of the evening. With the laser treatments, it would sort of scab up for a few days and then begin flaking off, and I usually healed quite quickly within a week. The microneedling was done to my whole face and got pretty uncomfortable especially on the scars during the session, but with the PRP treatment it healed very quickly. If we were talking about pain on a scale of 1–10 with 1 being discomfort, and 10 being you want it over ASAP, most of these were anywhere from 1–5, I’d say. The laser and microneedling sessions required me to take a break from working out to allow healing to happen more quickly, usually under a week, and the corrective filler caused temporary swelling and tenderness for maybe 2–3 days from what I can recall. None of the treatments were so painful I cried, but would maybe at times smart at the eyes and tear up a tiny bit.
If you’re anything like I was, you might be reading this and be surprised at how affordable the treatments were with the exception of the microneedling and PRP session. I will be seeking further treatments when it is safe to do so. The corrective filler does get metabolized over time so the areas with the bump and the dip from where the strip of skin and lip were gone from the bite have slowly become more pronounced.
In my IG stories, when I posted about treatments as I received them, some of my friends were surprised that such scar treatment options existed. It’s a world many of us may never learn about unless we seek it out. I recommended the scar injection to a friend who asked if it could apply to an old scar she had from an operation. She is also a BIPOC and so her scar was also hypertrophic and hyperpigmented.
I actually reread my one year essay before I started on this, and it feels like a bad dream now, that year of depression and despair, coupled with suicidal ideation. When I opened up to my team (of acting representation) they were so supportive. I did end up having some therapy sessions as well which were extremely beneficial.
I understand if you’re just finding this because you recently experienced a facial trauma or dog bite to the face, that you may be extremely preoccupied and worried about your scars and what your face may look like in the future. Trust me, I was there, and I also didn’t know whether or not to believe my plastic surgeon (Dr. Urmen Desai) that it would become a distant memory years later, and now, over three years later I realize he was right. As I was told by another dog bite survivor, and as I have been advising those of you who have reached out to me, it really just requires time and lots of it for healing to happen, and for you to be able to start seeking out treatments. For me, it was about five months before I could get my first scar injection, and about 13.5 months before I got my first laser treatment. And now over 3 years later, I have come to accept and be okay with my scars more than I thought I ever would have been (although I still wish it had never happened and want more treatments to improve it).
To be honest, there have been so many other personal losses I have had to endure since my dog bite happened, that it has almost paled in comparison. The deaths of two cats, including one to old age and cancer, and one kitten to wet FIP, the death of one of my best friend’s sister I grew up with, and then the death of my own sister Sandy in November 2019. And now this worldwide pandemic… I had been wanting to write a follow up for awhile but it has been difficult. I decided to sit down today and start mashing out something, anything, to just make myself begin. Facial injuries are so deeply effecting because it changes how we see ourselves, how we know ourselves and our reflections. To all of you who have reached out, it has truly warmed my heart to know that my little essay helped you feel less hopeless in a difficult time. My sister suffered from mental health issues before she passed, and I wish I had been able to help ease some of her anguish. If my writing here helps ease any of your hearts, then I will feel a little bit better for it. There is always a way out of the darkness. And if you find your way out and can shine a light of hope for others, do it. Sometimes what helps most is finding people who understand what you’re going through, who have experienced something similar, and who can show you a path towards a brighter future.
Whatever brought you here today, I see you. I hope my words have helped. I hope you feel less alone. “This too shall pass.” Be patient with time and yourselves. Time is the great equalizer.
**UPDATE 12/24/2020** It has been such a heartening experience having so many of you reach out to me but because of the way IG hides messages from people I don’t follow, I’m always nervous I will miss someone who has contacted me. After a suggestion and conversation with a fellow facial trauma survivor, I have decided to start a support group on Facebook (because it is the easiest platform for me that I currently use already). If you are a survivor and would like to join this new community, or you know someone who is a survivor and would like to send them the link, please do so! I want to create a safe and supportive space for us where we can talk about our own experiences and ask for advice from those who have been through it. Here is the link again, not hyperlinked, for easier copying and pasting. www.facebook.com/groups/dogbitesupport/