I hate going to the doctor.
Still, I go every ten years or so, whether I need it or not.
Mostly. I hate all the waiting. Who else has a room specifically named for waiting?
Then you wait in the examination room for the doctor. He bops in, chats about your maladies, and you wait again while he goes and looks up what he’s supposed to do about them. Most of the waiting is done half naked, sitting on the edge of a half bed, like you don’t feel vulnerable enough just being sick.
I want the most arrogant person in the room to be me. I want to make other people wait until I grace them with my appearance. I want to burst into the doctor’s examining room saying, “I’m so sorry I’m late. The traffic was terrible!”
Doctors don’t let you burst into any room, to prevent you from walking in on the doctor with his thumb up your banker’s butt. It’s just wouldn’t be good for any of us. And how could I resist saying, “Looking for his head?”
I would do just about anything to avoid going to the doctor. Just about anything doesn’t include cancer, so when I developed an ugly growth on my face, I went to a dermatologist. Anything that looks ugly against the background of my face deserves special attention.
At a glance he said, “It’s cancer. Let’s take it off right now.” He began sharpening knives. “Don’t worry,” he added, “it’s the good kind.”
I didn’t know there was a good kind of cancer. I tried to imagine my friends saying, “Hey – nice job on the cancer. Good choice.” As I figured out, the “good” cancer doesn’t spread around, trying to recruit all your other organs to join the revolt. It just looks ugly. The “bad” cancer kills you in a year.
“Close your eyes,” the nurse instructed. I learned closed eyes keep you from seeing your own blood squirt from your head like a squeezed lemon. He cut off the lump, leaving a teaspoon-sized crater. Then they proceeded with the “Mohs” technique, where he chips out a little bit at a time, tests each tidbit, and comes back for more if he doesn’t get all the tumor. The idea is to leave as much of your face as possible, which I appreciate, but it psyched me out every time they came back and knifed at what had already been cut. I’d like to send fan mail to the guy who invented Novocain.
What’s left is an impressive scar by my left eye. I like how it looks. It gives the favorable impression that I’ve been in a fight, although the only knife fight I was ever in was over who got the last 50%-off chef’s knife at Linen’s and Things.
While removing Big Ugly, Doc also clipped a tiny fleck off my back, a mole I didn’t even know I had. Two weeks later the biopsy revealed it was cancer too. The bad kind.
There are two ways to treat The Bad Kind: 1) Cut it out, or; 2) “Palliative Care,” which means make yourself comfortable for your last months on this Earth. The week-long wait to learn whether you are Scot-free or on the short-timer’s list is a weird one.
They don’t do the Mohs technique for The Bad Kind. They clear a swath around it. The scar I have looks like I partied too long in Juárez and someone stole my kidney.
But after another weird week, I learned the doctor got it all.
Just to be safe, an oncologist checked me over like mechanic buying a ’57 Chevy. The only thing slower than a doctor’s office is the radiology office. There were only two other people in the Waiting Room. A chest X-ray takes 20 seconds. I waited for an hour. Even the elevator felt slow.
But hey – you’d say – at least I still get to ride elevators.
The curious thing I learned during that week was that I wouldn’t change much about my life if I had only a year to live. I cherish time with my wife. I love my home. I steal every opportunity to drive my convertible. I suppose I should wear a hat now, but that’s about it.
I’m reminded that I don’t have forever to get those new songs recorded, to get that next book finished. No one can do it but me, so I’m motivated. But it’s odd to have such a Big Mortal Warning, and to change so little about my life because of it.
The other curious thing I learned: the mechanic found a mole under my right big toe. Who knew?
Thanks to my newfound vulnerability, I get to visit the oncologist and the dermatologist twice a year from now on. Can anyone recommend a few good, long books?