Saturday, March 30, 2013
I never went to a dermatologist until I was in my 50s. For decades I'd ignored my skin, running around in the Oklahoma and Texas and Ohio sun, playing baseball, riding a bike, playing tennis, just being outdoors, which, in my boyhood, was far preferable to being indoors, where chores lay waiting for me in my mother's imagination. Seeing me would activate them--and me. So ... outdoors it was.
And then I began noticing ... strange ... things on my face. Nothing too scary. Nothing like that illustration in our old high school health book that showed a "black mole." That page was so gross I could not look at any other. No, my ... strange ... things were flaky or red ... or otherwise creepy. So I figured it was time for the dermatologist.
And there I met for the first time--but not the last; oh, no, not the last--that can of Freeze-O (my affectionate name for it) which the doctor aims at spots on my face and blasts away like Flash Gordon. The first time this happened, I was not too alarmed: The spot was over by a sideburn, barely visible. And in a week or so, it was gone, and only smooth skin remained. Frozen magic!
But in subsequent trips, he's tried the Freeze-O elsewhere on my face (almost always my face)--cheek, forehead, chin, and--my favorite of all: nose. The past few years it seems as if it's always my nose, one of the most sensitive places on the body, and, of course, the most visible. So I go to the dermatologist; he looks at my nose--maybe strokes it; shakes his head, sighs a little, reaches for the can of Freeze-O, which Igor has been holding the whole time, tells me to close my eyes, reminds me this will sting a little (it stings a lot), then fires away, decorating my nose with a splash of red that lingers for about a week or so before morphing into a handsome scab that sometimes falls off, sometimes remains until Impatience decides to act. Afterwards, the nose knows that something is better and shows off some new baby skin. For a couple of months. And then something rough and patchy begins to form again. And soon, I know, I will be phoning the dermatologist and facing the Freeze-O.
I've a few skin biopsies, too (one has left a permanent scar in my upper arm--it was benign, so I will tolerate the scar). One--right in the middle of my forehead--turned out to be a squamous cell carcinoma (cancerous, but not (yet) deadly). It required a technique called Mohs Surgery, which I underwent in late July 2004. The procedure was successful, but for a couple of months my forehead looked as if it had been a practice field for Victor Frankenstein. In September, my students--kindly, kindly--told me they didn't notice a thing when I told them about it. But this confirmed only a few things for me: (1) they were kind; (2) they were blind; (3) they didn't look at teachers over the age of twenty-five. I could have had a child-sized demon emerging from my forehead--half in, half out--red and raging, and they just would not have noticed.
The scar has healed well--looks, actually, as if it belong there when I frown, which I do now and then, especially when I feel and/or see something on my face that is going to require some blasts of Freeze-O to eliminate.
PS--I write this today because my face--and yes, my nose--are now featuring the effects of a visit to the dermatologist last Tuesday. I'm in the demon-emerging-from-the-forehead phase ...