Day One-Hundred-and-Twelve: A mole, a doctor, and an inconvenient discovery

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WARNING: Squeamish readers beware. It gets pretty descriptive further down.

 

“I would prefer to take that out,” the doctor said a month ago, squinting through the skin-scope-thingy. “I mean, you don’t have to do it today, or this week or anything, but I would do it within the month.”

She looked at me hard before I left, and repeated: “Within a month. If we don’t hear from you, I’ll be calling you myself. I’ve even set a reminder.”

Cue reluctant phone call to medical centre just inside a month later. If there’s one thing I can’t take, it’s a scolding from a medical professional.

Plus, I’m super brave, right? This is for my health. That mole might be a ticking time bomb. (Or, as I’ve suspected for a while now, it might be a cute little brown spot that’s called my back home for the most part of my life. It might be called Steve.)

If you’ve read me before, you know that I have an intense and all-encompassing fear of needles. I hate those pointy bastards. So it stands to reason that submitting to a series of needles and then having some of my flesh cut out is not something I’m entirely comfortable with.

Mum endured the same procedure only a few weeks ago: two incisions on her back, one on her neck.

“The neck was fine,” she told me, gesturing towards the dressing. “It was the back that was the most trouble.”

Had I told her at that stage that I was going to get a mole removed from my back? I’m not sure. If so, she had pulled a real dick move.

“How was it trouble?” I asked, stupidly.

“Well,” she said. “For one, it’s been the more painful of the two sites in healing. I can’t really sleep on my back. And then there was the thing with the anaesthetic…”

“The thing with the… what?” Is she serious with this shit?

“Well,” she said again. “She’d put the anaesthetic in and was all good to go. Then she started cutting and I could feel it.

I gaped at her. “Did you scream?”

“No,” she said, waving her hand. “I just told her and she put some more in and then it was fine. Actually it was lovely having the extra, because it was numb for about eight hours afterwards.”

Lovely is not the word I would use, but surely my mother was just one of those weird people who doesn’t react properly to certain medicines. Like those poor souls who go in for surgery and somehow remain conscious (and aware of every sensation) for the entire thing, but have no way to communicate this to the surgical team.

Well, not quite that dramatic. But close.

“I think it was just because she was working so close to my spine,” Mum reassured me. “Nervy area, you know?”

 

Oh, I know.

 

I left the house and drove the three minutes down the road to the medical centre.

“You’re getting it out at the GP?” my boyfriend had asked a week before.

“Yeah,” I said, wondering if he was about to tell me some horror story. “She said I could go to a dermatologist, but that would cost more, and it’s only on my back, so I don’t care as much about the scar.”

“Did you ask her if she’s done this kind of thing before?”

I hadn’t. But she’d spent a good deal of time prodding the area and describing the size of the potential scar, so I figured she knew her shit.

I pulled into the car park and wondered for a good moment whether I would be in a fit state to drive myself home after the procedure. I could always call someone, I figured. A year ago, my dentist’s receptionist hadn’t wanted me to drive home after I had a tooth pulled, but this was different. That had been traumatic.

I walked in and announced myself at the front desk. A large sign asked me whether I’d had my shingles vaccination. (I haven’t, if you’re wondering, but weirdly enough my brother came down with shingles two weeks ago.)

I took a seat against the wall and waited. The waiting is the worst part. Any time to think about the impending procedure is not welcome. They should just stick with the needle as you walk through the door.

When my name was called, I smiled woodenly and followed the doctor down the hallway to a room that housed two beds surrounded by curtains.

“Have a seat there,” the doctor said, indicating the closest bed.

I hoped that she wasn’t expecting me to maintain a seated position through this. I was already in danger of passing out.

I removed my shirt and she greeted my mole with an “ah”. After some more prodding, she bid me lie down and elevated the bed.

“I’m going to mark out where to make the incision,” she told me. (I’d already asked her as we walked in not to say ‘cut’.)

When she was happy with her lines, she walked to the head of the bed and explained the risks.

Bleeding. Infection. Scarring. Further incisions if the mole proved to be sinister. (She didn’t think it would be.)

“So, is that all good?” she asked.

“No,” I laughed. “But go on.”

 

“We’ll put the anaesthetic in to numb it,” she told me. “That’s the worst part. It does sting.”

‘Sting’ is what a bee gives you. Don’t get me wrong; bee stings hurt like a sack-whack (I assume from the similar facial expressions), but this I would describe as something deeper. Sure, if ten bees pooled their resources into a long metal needle and poked their way under your skin to deliver a shot of painful venom in a very small area, then yeah, it stings.

“Ok,” the doctor said after the ‘sting’. “And now I’ll do the other side.”

I was left alone for what I imagine was five minutes, and the doctor spent a further few minutes making sure the equipment was prepped, and washing her hands.

“That should have done the trick by now,” she announced upon her return.

I could only agree with her. I’d never had local before, and it was such a small spot that I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was numb or I was just unaware of it. I was still suffering the after-shock of the ‘stings’.

“Sharp or dull?” the doctor asked, lightly pressing some metal object against my mole.

“Dull,” I answered after a moment.

 

If you’ve ever had nightmares about being cut, then you will sympathise with me here. You also might want to stop reading. (As if, though; you’ll be right.)

I was expecting pressure. I was expecting a tugging sensation. I was not expecting another ‘sting’.

“Sharp!” I gasped as she started to slice. (Gross. Sorry.)

She stopped. I could hear doubt in her voice when she asked, “What does it feel like?”

“Like you’re dragging a needle across my skin,” I answered.

The only answer was more anaesthetic. The ‘worst part’ again. Fantastic.

Two more jabs of searing sting-fluid would do it.

It didn’t.

 

I should clarify that the anaesthetic wasn’t totally ineffectual, and I didn’t scream through a procedure where I could feel each cut intensely. But it was not completely numb. Some spots were worse than others. Some I truly couldn’t feel.

“Can you manage it?” the doctor eventually asked, after I’d whimpered in pain at another cut. (Even after what I can only assume was a double dose of local.)

“Yes,” I replied, gritting my teeth.

I was already there, already brave, already cut. I couldn’t quit and come back to face it another day.

And so it continued until the mole was off. If you’ve had a tattoo (I haven’t), you’ve probably experienced a similar (or worse, let’s be honest; you guys are tough) sensation of stinging and dragging. But you’re expecting it. You don’t get a tattoo if you’re not.

I had nine stitches in total. I felt all of them. The pain was vague, but it was enough. And it was not supposed to be there at all.

By the last stitch, I’d nailed my deep breathing, and I joked to the doctor that I thought the anaesthetic might finally be working.

 

I walked out of there a mess. I’ve only just stopped shaking. I shouldn’t have driven, but here I am, alive.

“Next time you’re having something cut off, let them know that they need to leave quite a bit of time for the anaesthetic to kick in,” the doctor told me on my way out.

Next time I’m having something cut off, they will have to knock me out and tie me down. Nuh uh, sister.

 

TB

(The irony is that now I can’t feel it at all. Just like Mum said!)

Day Ninety-One: How it feels to face your phobia

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I take a deep breath and push the heavy glass door. A bell tingles overhead to signal my arrival. No hope of sneaking out again then.

“Won’t be a minute,” calls a male voice from a door down a hallway. I know what’s in those rooms.

A TV plays grainy news footage in the corner, and a sign on the wall announces the place as registered. Yep, everything’s above board.

I don’t sit. If I do, I might end up clinging to the chair like a two-year-old having a meltdown. No, the least I can do is maintain some of my dignity. Besides, if I’m standing, it means I can run. And I should run. I want to run.

Then the man appears. He looks at me inquiringly, so I hand him the form I’ve been given. He asks to see my medical card, and checks the details against the ones on the form.

The bell sounds again, and I see another victim has arrived. This one’s a man, casually dressed. I guess that he’s in some kind of trade. He loiters near the door, waiting his turn.

“You can have a seat,” the man behind the counter tells me. “I won’t be long.”

Take as long as you need, I think, lowering myself into the closest chair. Then again, maybe we should just get it over with, before my courage deserts me. But that’s not right. My courage left me at the door.

The new arrival saunters up to the desk, all nonchalance. I’d like to see him when he goes into that room. Perhaps he does this all the time. Or perhaps other people don’t taste bile at the back of their throat when they come here.

I hear my name. My heart is threatening to beat its way through my chest wall and make a bloody escape.

“First door on the left,” the man tells me.

“First… which?” I reply intelligently.

“Go into the first door on the left,” he repeats, not unkindly. I’m sure he has six-year-olds who freak out on him all the time.

I force one foot in front of the other, and shuffle into the room. My brain is telling me to run, but I don’t think I could do it without collapsing. I can see the chair now, the bed next to the wall, the equipment. I shouldn’t look. But it’s hard not to.

“Just have a seat on the chair,” the man says, expecting a normal patient, expecting no trouble.

I’m not falling for that one again. Once you’ve tasted the cold embrace of unconsciousness and woken on the antiseptic-scrubbed lino floor, you learn very quickly to request the bed. Which is what I do now.

He looks at me, and I think he realises what he’s dealing with. “No worries,” he says. “But we’ll do the paperwork first. On the chair.”

He skirts around me like I’m a frightened cat and not just a frightened human, and gestures towards the chair. It might be a trap. Maybe I should just claw his face and run while I can. The voice in my head is soft, but firm: You have nothing to fear. You are being ridiculous.

I sit in the stupid chair, and sign my name with a shaking hand.

And then it’s time.

He asks me if I’ve had this done before. I nod. I’m going to vomit; I know it.

He asks me whether I have a ‘usual’ arm. Without looking, I point to the crook of my right elbow.

He nods and places the tourniquet around my bicep. He asks me to clench my fist, so I do. He feels the ropy life-support under my skin, and approves.

Then it’s time to get on the bed.

“Get as close to the wall as you can,” he says, so I do. I would disappear into that wall if I could.

It’s not too late to run, my head screams. I think I might cry.

He approaches with a plastic container filled with equipment. He asks me what I do for work. I tell him. I can’t breathe.

He’s still talking casually when he warns me I’ll feel a sting. I bite my lip so hard it hurts. It’s not enough. I still feel the sting.

All I can think about is the fact that I’m being drained. He’s sucking my life force through a sharp straw, and I can’t take it.

It’s over as quickly as it began. I feel the pull as the needle is removed, and oblige when he asks to press down on the cotton bud. He returns moments later with medical tape, and tells me I should keep the pressure on for five minutes.

“But you can go,” he adds, obviously assuming that I have the power of movement. I wonder what colour I am, whether he can smell my fear, how big my pupils are.

I don’t trust myself to walk, but I swing my legs over the bed anyway.

“That wasn’t so bad,” I tell him, faintly.

“I like to think I’m pretty good at it by now,” he shrugs.

“Right,” I try to smile. “Thanks. For making it easy. I’ve had some bad experiences…”

“You can go now,” he reminds me. He doesn’t want to hear my double-arm, hit-the-floor, bruises-the-size-of-tennis-balls story. I don’t blame him.

In the waiting room, the other man is sitting, scrolling through something on his phone. The phlebotomist beckons him into the room I’ve just vacated. I consider sticking around to see if I hear any screams, but my breakfast is threatening to reappear, and I just want to go home.

Hours later, every twinge in my arm makes me light-headed. I know the puncture has knitted together. I know that my blood is well-contained inside me. I know that I’ve lost only a few drops from the river that courses through me.

And still I fear.

 

 

I went alone to face my biggest phobia. I didn’t die. If only that meant I was cured.

 

TB