1.21.2016

a tale of three doctors

 Earlier this month I had three doctor appointments in three days. Two were on the same day.

A moment of silence for my troubles.

I had an OBGYN appointment and a dentist appointment in one day. Suicidal, I know. But I was trying to fit them in while James was off and could watch the baby, and I also needed to get them out of the way for my emotional and mental wellbeing. The OBGYN terrifies me on every single level. I know that's absurd considering that office was my second home while I was pregnant, but I seem to have lost my strength since I'm no longer checked for signs of labor in a shocking and undignified manner every week. I've gone soft and am back to where I started: crying at the thought of the horrid paper gown.

I was so anxious about this stupid, routine appointment that I nearly made myself sick. I hardly slept the night before. I know this sounds irrational, but my fear of doctors runs that deep. I sat on the exam table in the paper gown, trembling in fear, waiting for the doctor to come in. She waltzed in 9 months pregnant and lamenting how much weight she'd gained since I last saw her. My, how the tables have turned. In a twisted way, I felt slightly gratified.

I survived that appointment, and my dentist and I bonded over shoes. My two biggest fears were out of the way, and I felt like I could breathe again. I had a dermatologist appointment a few days later, and even though my last dermatologist appointment had me so riled up I didn't sleep for the whole week preceding it, I didn't have the ability to be nervous any longer. I was fine! I didn't have skin cancer! It had been three years since my last appointment, but that one had gone so well I was sure it would again. All I had to do was strip nearly naked and have every square inch of my body examined by a strange man. No biggie!

The nerves didn't hit until the nurse walked me to the exam room and handed me a gown. I had flashbacks to the OBGYN appointment, but at least this gown had the decency of opening in the back instead of the front and didn't rip from a sideways glance. The doctor walked in...and so did another man about my age. There was an intern shadowing him, because of course there was. The more humiliated I can be, the better. I sat on the table and looked out the window at the rain, willing myself to mentally be anywhere but in that room as the doctor tossed out medical lingo and words for freckles that sound scarier than they are. "Sometimes we just get people like her, with very freckly skin. We just have to exam them very closely." Story of my life.

He made it around most of my body with nothing but glowing reports, and I felt myself start to relax. It was almost over. Maybe I'd grab myself a hot beverage on the way home to celebrate a clean bill of heal---"Michelle, we're going to be removing something today."

"What?? What's wrong? Is something wrong?"

"Everything is fine, but there's this spot. This mole. It could possibly be cancer, so we need to remove it."

I looked down to see him pointing at a spot on my chest. He told me it definitely isn't melanoma (phew!) and if it is cancer, it wouldn't be anything life-threatening. I breathed a small sigh of relief, but CANCER? My dad has had skin cancer a handful of times, starting at my age, and as long as he gets the spot removed all is well, so I knew I didn't have to be too worried. It's the reason I started going to the dermatologist so young...that and I have the most pale and freckled skin in my family. Thanks, genetics.

But I could have cancer. My mind whirled around in circles. I could have cancer! I would have to check "yes" in all the "do you or have you ever had cancer?" boxes on the forms in every doctor's office in the US. Should I get a bumper sticker? Would I be considered a cancer survivor? What color ribbon is there for basal or squamous cell carcinoma? I was so mentally caught up in the drama of it all I forgot that I was going to have to have my skin sliced off like a piece of deli meat. I wasn't sure which was worse: the possible cancer, or the fact that a man was cutting a piece of skin off my right boob while another man watched. Within seconds, a tray of torture devices showed up by the doctor's side, and he was hovering over me with a syringe of anesthesia.

"This is the worst part. Just think about giving birth. It will be so much easier than that was."

Before I could finish hollering "GIVING BIRTH WAS THE WORST!" he had finished the shot and was getting ready to slice me up. He put whatever scalpel/knife/sword device he was using on my skin and I yelped.

"You can feel that? You shouldn't be able to feel that."

Exactly the same thing my dentist told me a few years ago when he was redoing one of my fillings. Yes, I felt it. My body makes no sense; half a dose of children's cold medicine sends me into a coma, but I always need extra anesthesia. Exhibit A is all of the 47ish fillings and root canals I've had and felt, and Exhibit B would be my epidural that wore off right when it counted.

He gave me another shot and then went back to slicing and dicing. I blessedly couldn't feel a thing, but knowing my skin was being peeled off like a pepperoni made me want to get up and run away, down the halls of the building in my backless gown, like Jack Nicholson in Something's Gotta Give. It was over in seconds, and I was bandaged up and given a list of instructions and reassurances that it most likely was not cancer, but it's better to be safe, and I'll find out in a couple weeks.

A couple weeks went by without any news. I was surprisingly calm about it and only thought about it when Gracie would try to pull the bandaid off. I finally called the office to check on the results. I didn't realize how worried I actually was until I was put on hold while the nurse went to check to see if the results were back. I felt like I was about to lose my breakfast. The longer it took, the more convinced I was that the news was bad and she was asking the doctor how to break it to me that I'd be dead by dinnertime. My eyes started to well with nervous tears when she came back and said "Michelle? Sorry, I needed to double check...

"....THAT I HAVE MELANOMA? I DO, DON'T I?" I internally screamed.

"...that your results actually aren't in yet. But we'll call you as soon as we get them!"

I got off the phone, shaking, and distracted myself with reading a baby version of Pride and Prejudice to Gracie. We went out for Mexican food with my mom a few hours later. After finishing up my last carne asada taco, I got the voicemail that I do not have skin cancer. I threw my hands up and screamed "I DON'T HAVE CANCER!" before I had even finished listening to the voicemail. In fact, I just listened to it again to make sure I heard her correctly since I screamed through half of it. The nurse said "it was benign, and that is just GREAT news!" I appreciate her enthusiasm. I felt like Kevin Malone on The Office when he was ice skating for Michael's birthday and got the call that he doesn't have skin cancer, once again proving that there's an episode of The Office for every situation in life. Except I was surrounded by strangers in a restaurant instead of coworkers in a skating rink.

The only bad news is once again I'm justified in my terror of doctor appointments.

10 comments:

  1. I won't lie... the deli slicing of the skin made me squirm A LOT. Skin cancer runs in our family, too, so I watch my skin like a hawk and avoid the sun and bath in sunscreen from April to November. You are definitely totally justified in your fear of doctors. Those are horrible experiences. An INTERN for a young woman's skin exam? Ugh. Thanks, doctors... (Also, for a second I thought you called the intern "freckles" and that made me chuckle. I don't know how I got so confused...)

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  2. "Well apparently, in the medicine community, negative means good. Which makes absolutely no sense"

    OMG, MICHELLE. You are a champion. That's all I have to say.

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  3. I immediately thought of that exact episode of The Office, so you mentioning it there at the end cracks me up! So happy to hear GOOD news!!!!! Yay! You're a trooper!

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  4. gah, I always do the same thing to myself, jamming everything in so I can get it over with. I was supposed to have my obgyn apt yesterday, but OF COURSE the doctor got sick, so I had to reschedule to next week, on my day off, when I'll have Amelia. because of course I can't go to the doctor alone. I'm so glad you got a clean bill of health, dermatologist visits are the worst. and OF COURSE there was an intern with him (sidenote: the resident on call during my delivery was in my high school graduating class...which I know because he asked how he knew me while I was in labor...COOL).

    you are so right about the office too. they have an episode for every situation.

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    1. NO!!!! The resident was from high school?? I would die. There are people from my high school that work at the hospital where I delivered, but thankfully I never saw any of them. GODSPEED on your appointment next week. That's the most awkward appointment to bring your kid to.

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  5. Slicing you like pepperoni? I will never think of pizza the same way again.

    My doctor's office once left me a terrifying message on a Friday a couple weeks after a pap one time asking me to call them back. I spent the entire weekend convincing Karl and myself that cervical cancer is treatable and NO big deal. It turns out they just had a time for my allergy test appointment.

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  6. Ugh, I hate doctor's appointments! I had some precancerous stuff removed in my 20s. Not fun! So glad everything turned out negative! :)

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  7. OH MY GOSH, I'm so glad everything came back in the clear! How scary!

    But the thought of your skin being peeled off like pepperoni GAVE ME THE CHILLS.

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  8. I know the point of this was how awful Dr's appointments are, and I'm totally with you. However, I want to focus on the fact that you found a baby Jane Austen book. And how I need all of the details on this, because OMG, it's about the most amazing thing I have ever heard of. Every baby needs to know about Mr. Darcy.

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  9. My Dad has had to get lots of spots removed and that's why I'm the queen of sunscreen. Other people debate whether or not bikinis are modest and I literally wear a long-sleeved swimming top with shorts. The fate of white freckly people.

    And Angel has the most horrifying and hilarious story about back when he was a 21 year old nursing student, not yet truly used to the medical life, and had to observe a pap smear and told himself it was okay because he'd never see the lady again and then ran into her at the grocery store the next week.

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