I had to see a specialist to remove a couple of cysts on my back. They’d been growing larger to the point where I’d named them. Mash and Spud. (Yeah, I make ‘em lumpy.) My family doctor had suggested I have them removed in the past, but he didn’t push. I stress just from having my blood pressure checked.
My skin cancer specialist referred me a month ago. Many times, I thought about cancelling. Spare me, spare the medical staff. When a receptionist called to remind me of the appointment, I confirmed that I would be there. It was a rare moment of bravery. I knew it wouldn’t last.
I woke twice in the night. I wouldn’t say I had a panic attack, but visions of a knife slashing my buds proved disturbing. I gave my groggy dog a tummy rub for my benefit, not his.
The commute to the doctor’s office was two hours. Plenty of time for me to back out. I thought about it, particularly when I started blurting out staccato screams in the car as I sat idly at traffic lights. Whatcha lookin’ at, BMW driver? That was my Steven Tyler impression.
I passed on my morning cup of coffee, knowing the hot beverage would only make me sweat profusely as I filled out the one-page consent form. I dutifully checked the No box for allergies, HIV and medication. I’ve never understood why these forms fail to ask, Are you hopelessly squeamish? A little heads up would seem helpful.
Dr. Congenial ushered me in and I impersonated a normal person, commenting on the breathtaking view of Vancouver’s False Creek. Maybe this visit would be different, a moment of personal growth when I’d be miraculously cured of my medical panic reflex.
“Don’t tell me anything,” I told him as I lay on the crepe paper covered examining table. “Don’t let me see anything.” And with that, I shut out the harbor image, turned my head and stared at the oddly textured white wall. My overactive imagination kicked in, wondering how easy it would be to wipe blood off the wall.
Sensing my unease, the good doctor advised, “Think good things.” But instead of ice cream, my schnauzer and Hugh Jackman, I thought of blood, knives and how much this torture would further wound my VISA. Yep, this procedure wasn’t covered. I was paying for the pain.
Each “tiny prick” sensation from the freezing process made me kick back one or both legs. Dr. Congenial gamely tried to distract me, asking about the population of my rural community while I probed him about his recent enrolment in water skiing school during a Florida vacation. Can’t tell you what I asked or what he answered. We both knew I didn’t care.
The knife made its first slash. I grimaced and convulsed. “The back is a tricky area to freeze,” he said. More tiny pricks followed. Freeze, please!
Midway through removing Mash, I blurted, “I’m not feeling well.” Based on his response, I’d say I was disturbingly pale. He ordered me to flip over and anxiously shouted for the receptionist. “I need an oxygen mask,” he ordered. Maybe they only say “stat” on TV shows; regardless, the “stat” was implied.
Hooked up with a mask, I apologized profusely as the sixty-year-old physician elevated my legs. “I’ve got them,” he said. “You can relax your body.”
Um, no I can’t.
After the sideshow subsided, Dr. Les Congenial cleaned off my back. He swabbed all over, including places far beyond the frozen potatoes. I visualized the liquids that had oozed all over. Blood and other cyst guts.
Mercifully, Mash departed and he stitched me up, but Spud proved more challenging. The freezing was wearing off. I thrashed after each of the doctor’s movements. That fainting feeling returned. Another body flip, more oxygen, more ooze to sponge up. He stopped acknowledging my “I’m-so-sorry-I’m-so-stupid-I’m-okay” mantra.
I bucked up for the final sutures, clearly feeling more than I should. My hands gripped the sides of the table, my knees remained bent with the feet dangling midair. Embarrassing? Pathetic.
When he finally transferred me from the table to the floor in the next room, I pulled off crepe bits that stuck to my face and right arm as a result of my profuse sweating. I slipped out to the receptionist area, paid my fee and declined booking a follow-up to remove the stitches. “Oh, he won’t want to see me again,” I said.
I’ll stop in at a clinic a few more hours from home. Maybe the staff way off yonder will have recycled the fax with my photo and the bold “WARNING” title. I took some solace in hearing the next patient yelp loudly as I waited for my VISA charge to clear. Maybe I’d stumbled upon a mad doctor! Or, more likely, maybe not.
At night, I called my mother, a former nurse, to confess my misconduct. She was too busy watching “Dancing with the Stars” so I related the incident to my father, a retired doctor. He’s getting hard of hearing and was watching a hockey game so he may have hung up thinking I bought a bad melon or won a trip to Omaha. Didn’t matter. I’ll have another embarrassing moment in a week or two.
If anything good comes from this episode, it’s my immense gratitude for my good health. I am truly lucky that I’ve never had an overnight stay at a hospital, I’ve never had friends scrawl colorful doodles on a cast and I’ve never stared obsessively at an IV drip bag, wondering if a bubble or fold within warranted another call for the nurse. My coming out occurred at the peak of the AIDS crisis, but my pathological fear of all things medical, combined with my reserved nature and my model-free looks, kept me from one-night stands and unsafe transgressions. How would I have handled regular probes and the slew of side effects from experimental treatments? How would the medical community have coped? Doctors had enough to deal with.
With age, I’ve always hoped that I will gain the courage to get through unpleasant medical appointments without incident. Unfortunately, I have yet to outgrow a fear that began without any clear triggering event during childhood. To all in the medical profession, you have my unwavering admiration and appreciation. You also have my heartfelt, red-faced apologies.