Signs of Betrayal

Photo by Stephanie Zhang

One-year-old Angela was a happy creature; she was living in China, and she loved her grandparents, who were her caretakers at the time. However, curiosity dominated her early childhood. One day, when her grandmother was preparing dinner in a large pot, baby Angela couldn’t control herself; she had to take a look at what deliciousness was in the metal pot. When her grandmother left, she stepped on a slippery and unbalanced stool to look into the pot. However, due to her lack of balance, baby Angela knocked over the pot and caught her fall with her arm in a roaring stove fire. The rest was history.

Even though I neither remember exactly what happened nor do I remember the pain in the aftermath of the event, I can still feel the effects of that incident. For almost my entire lifetime, I have lived with a permanent symbol of what had happened to me so long ago: my third-degree burn scar. Since I have lived with it nearly my entire life, I am used to the moments when people stare at my arm and ask what happened. According to an article from PubMed, it is estimated that 8 to 45 percent of burn patients suffer from some effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); however, I never really felt those types of effects during my childhood. The thought of removing something that seemed to be a part of my identity never popped into my mind, even when pity from others became very irritating. Yet, I somehow reached the point where I made the decision to remove my scar surgically.

Unlike most burn victims, I didn’t feel emotional pain from the incident immediately. I became ashamed of my scar at the end of sixth grade when I found out what events transpired in the aftermath of the incident.

For almost my entire lifetime, I have lived with a permanent symbol of what had happened to me so long ago: my third-degree burn scar.

As I mentioned, I was under the care of my grandparents when I burned myself. According to an article from the World Health Organization about common post-burn protocol, the most important actions to take are to transport burn victims immediately to the nearest hospital and to leave the wound exposed for at least six hours in order to let the tissue damage decrease naturally; my grandmother did neither of those things. According to my mother, who delivered the news to me at the end of my sixth grade year, my grandmother neither wanted to spend a significant amount of money on the hospital bill nor wanted to let any of her peers, including my grandfather, know what happened, so she wrapped my wound up in gauze. Due to her actions, my wound became infected, and my scar ended up wrapping around my entire arm rather than just a portion of my forearm. My grandfather eventually found out what was going on three days later, and he consequently sent me to the hospital. Because of my grandmother’s selfishness, I suffered even more than I had to. From that point on, I have felt betrayed by her and have wanted nothing to do with her for the rest of my existence. Since my scar reminded me of the incident that changed how I viewed someone who I had thought actually cared about my well being, I decided to have it removed during the summer before seventh grade.

Due to the size of my scar, the surgeon who was operating on my arm decided it was impossible to remove the entire scar in one procedure. The removal of my scar took three separate procedures: the first in the summer before seventh grade, the second in the winter break of eighth grade and the third in the winter of freshman year. Even though each surgery was painful and required the extensive use of anesthetics, I don’t regret my decision for a second because it represents to me the ultimate separation from the damage that my grandmother caused. While the last procedure resulted in the removal of the most of the scar tissue, my scar is not completely gone due to the amount of time the skin takes to stretch out completely.

I decided to remove my scar for emotional reasons exclusively; this personal decision came to me relatively late in life. For me, the removal of the scar seemed to be the only way to somehow get over what my grandmother had done, even though our relationship could never return to what it was before I found out how she handled the incident. While our relationship has been permanently damaged, at least I don’t have to look at a reminder of her betrayal for the rest of my life.

Acumen writer Angela Sun wrote this column. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the Acumen or the Acumen staff. You may reach Angela Sun at

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