Yesterday was Cookie's day at the dermatologist.
I had had my semi-annual poke and prod at the doctors, last week when I asked my doctor about a spot on my forehead. With all the skin cancer warnings that have been flying about for years, I had noted a spot on my face where the skin text was different. They tell you in the public missives that any skin that is oddly discolored, will not heal, bleeds, has an irregular shape, etc., should be examined.
Like colon/rectal cancer, if caught early, skin cancer can be excised and cured. Just like everyone seems to be on an anti anxiety or anti depressant drugs, everyone seems to know someone has had a little something removed, or have had Mohs surgery, or in rare cases, someone who has died from skin cancer.
So I told the doctor and I pointed at the spot on my forehead.
My doctor, a perfectly preserved man who is my age, and looks decades younger than I, is from deep, deep south and speaks in a drawl and is very good at what he does would need to look at it first, and then it would nothing or something, a something meaning that a dermatologist would examine it.
He looks, then squints and then says "I need to step out and get something."
He comes back with a small tube and says "I am about to invade your space."
Instead of my forehead, he dives for a spot half way between my left nostril and my radial socket bone like a clumsy kiss is to be expected from a drunk.
He puts the tube up to his eye and my face and says "I saw this from across the room and I would like Dr. Soandso to look at it."
At what? What about the forehead?
He's not concerned about the forehead, though Dr. Soandso can look at that, but that spot on your face...
He points, and I see a small round divet surrounded by a border of skin, like a crater.
"You know Cookie, as we grow older...and being that the skin is the largest organ that we have, which comes as a surprise to most men...but I'm not a dermatologist, and THAT spot concerns me."
My heart sinks a bit. He pats me on the shoulder telling me that everything will be OK, be that an extra set of eyes is a good thing.
So I go upstairs to the skin doctor, and am told that "Doctor doesn't have anything until spring. What Does your doctor want looked at?"
I point to my face. "That."
"What? Oh, THAT. Let me check the PA's schedule. I can get you in next Tuesday."
She assures me that I am not to worry but that the PA will take a closer look. "If its nothing, its nothing. If its something, then she can get the doctor."
I leave with a mountain of paper to complete and am told to come back in five days.
Five days I come page, am seated in the beautiful office, offered a Nespresso, to which I reply "no thank you, I had two this morning." I explain we have a Nespresso machine and was so nervous and sleepy that I need to wake up and cause my nerves to be even more on edge. The nurse laughs.
As I sit there, I notice two things. First, the Christmas music being played at the level just barely loud enough to be heard, but not loud enough to be forced upon you is a series of holiday classics interspersed with heavy organ compensations, that are almost dirge-like.
The second thing I notice is the smell.
The room, which is very nice bordering on beautiful - and thankfully has no TV - smells like unwashed bodies, and decay. In walks a teenage boy with his father, the boys face looks like Disney's animated version of the moon. Acne and pimples, and it looks painful, like he's been stung by wasps. When he walks by I am almost knocked out by the odor of rank adolescence. The poor kid is clean and well dressed, and from his coat, I know that he's a Gilman student. But he is the midst of a puberty battle within so terrible, that you want to give money to a foundation to find a cure.
My mind wanders. God, I hated acne. But who loves it. I think about my school pictures, my face looking like a cheese pizza. If there was the Foundation for Explosive Acne, they would need to run commercials at Christmas time to raise money like every other childhood non-profit is doing.
I imagine that one of the commercials would feature this teenage boy and a voice like Sarah McLachlan saying in pained tones "Won't. You. Give. So Kyle can have a pimple free prom?"
In another commercial, a gravel voiced Robert Duvall would say "A grandfather should never have to watch his granddaughter miss out on what should be the greatest night of her last year in middle school because of the stigma of blackheads, nodule and pustule acne." The visual is of the school orchestra giving its triumphant spring concert, and in the eighth grade section of brass, there is an empty chair, with a lone piccolo on the seat.
And of course, adults would have to be included. A third commercial features adults who say things like "I have enlarged pours, because no one told me the lasting affects of popping a cystic acne pimple." A woman, red welts on her face who says "This shouldn't be happening to me, I am 32 for God's sake." A woman in her early fifties "Menopausal acne is so misunderstood."
I am finally escorted back to the PA's offices by a very nice nurse who takes my vitals, asks what I am in to see the PA about. I point. "This."
"That?" she asks. "I see, well the PA will have a good look - our patients love her.
My blood pressure is taken - its a we bit high. My nerves are tightening. I am alone. Thinking, this is nothing or something horrible.
The clock ticks and I hear a wee knock on the door, and it opens. The PA is a very small woman, of Asian heritage and she walks in carefully, almost apologetically, my paper work clutched to her chest.
"Well HELLO!" she enthusiastically says, smiling ear to ear. We review my information, she types everything in on her tablet.
"What am I looking for?" she asks. I point. She shakes her head. She hands me a mirror. I point.
She gets out her scope and she flies in, like a chimney swift, and out again.
"That? NOTHING! Old acne scar." She smiles. "And on the forehead?"
I nod, she swoops in and away.
"Flat wart. Let me see you hands." I, of course hand them to her.
"Oh, dark spots. As we grow older...." I get the speech. But she starts looking at my fingers. A sly smile comes over face. "Just as I thought. You have the flat wart, here too."
Its a small dot residing on the swirl of my finger, that reminds me of the storm that exists on the swirls of Jupiter that NASA tots out and says "This storm on the face of Jupiter is larger than the planet we live on."
I am relieved, beyond words. Cancer, no matter how small strikes a fear into soul. I almost begin to cry, my eyes welling up a bit.
She explains that sometimes, "warts, like mice, are seldom alone." I have had warts in the past, usually on the bottoms of my feet, and a podiatrist scoops them out, slaps a band aid on them and sends me packing.
"I burn them off," she explains, slathering a numbing gel on the two spots. While we wait for the lidocaine to work, she tells me that she wants to do a body check in February, and will make sure that "the dead warts are gone. and make sure the rest of you are in good shape."
She draws a large cylinder, like a blow torch from a cupboard, keys the lock. I have never had this done before and she explains that a small jet of liquidized nitrogen will come out through a microscope tube and "burn it away."
But before she does it she tells me to go home and take two Tylenol.
"Because its going hurt?" I ask.
"Some people, it hurts. But this going to give you one hell of a headache when I treat the forehead spot."
She wasn't kidding either. The spots themselves felt a sting, but when I walked out the door, I have one of the worst headaches of my life. I am also relieved beyond all words. Hearing the word "Wart" was like a Christmas present. And, I think to myself, they really need to take your blood pressure after they deliver the good news.
The husband was relieved, too. But only to a point. After 21 years together, he knows me all too well.
"You made an appointment for me, didn't you."
"It's good insurance," I say. "Besides, the skin in the body's largest organ. And as we grow older..."
Growing older isn't easy. But its better to alternative to not growing older, warts and all.