Skin Deep

Sometimes I think my well-meaning doctors just don't get it.

I spend way too much time hanging out with doctors these days.

I know if they are having a good day, if they are stressed, when they got back from vacation and, even more scary, where they went and what they did on holiday.  I even know what kind of holiday excursions they generally favor.   

All this I find nearly as pathetic as when the customs agents at SFO greet me like an old friend.  (That generally means I have been traveling way too much.) It can only get worse if stewards and stewardesses remember you from past flights; that’s an even lower low in my mind.  

So, clearly, I need to get a bit more of a life.  One that doesn’t include weekly doctor visits would be nice. 

My dermatologist just returned from an apparently restful respite in Hawaii (where he sensibly stayed in the shade and out of the blazing skin cancer-creating sun). 

He was in a fine mood.  He spent enough time with me to teach me a few things about skin cancer; the most interesting being that, while most of us have heard tales about "pre-cancerous" lesions our entire lives, apparently, in the medical profession - at least, according to Dr. Imhotep - there is really no such thing. 

"Pre-cancerous" is like being "a little pregnant" -  you either are, or you aren’t.  Certain lesions, however, lend themselves to developing into skin cancer.  Meaning, some types of lesions are more likely to develop into skin cancer than say, the average freckle. 

Apparently, though, the insurance companies like the term "pre-cancerous."

I don’t blame them; for an insurance company, burning/freezing something off that is likely/maybe/could evolve into skin cancer has got to be far more cost-efficient than treating full-blown skin cancer later on.  Not all skin cancers are cured by cutting them out the way my first lesion apparently was. Still, it was nice to sit there and watch actual tiny wisps of smoke waft off my porcelain white skin while the liquid nitrogen did its magic and froze off each offending bit of skin. 

In truth, this procedure only stings, a discomfort far more tolerable than an actual biopsy.  So, I chatted away while the doctor froze off three spots ─ only one of which he said was extremely likely to evolve into skin cancer.  The doc indulged me on the other two, which is the key when dealing with me.  I am betting that, smart doctor that he is, he figured out I was much more likely to go away for months at a time if he indulges me.   

It’s true - take away anything that smacks of cancer and the doctor won’t see me ever again, if I can get away with it.  I don’t get that option any more in my life -  avoiding doctors forever, I mean - but I try to limit visits to real needs and being proactive, like with the skin cancer thing. 

My oncologist, alas, has a very long memory.  He will just not forget the time I was going through chemo and my BFF and I, gauging that I was feeling up to it, went to a Sharks hockey game.  We were in traffic, at a standstill with all the other cars and some young 20-something girl chatting merrily away on her mobile phone, proceeded to plow into my BFF’s rear bumper.  She actually hit us pretty hard, though my BFF has a tank of a vehicle and the damage was minimal, at least to the car.  My BFF has awful joint issues and a bad back and neck.  She is on intimate terms with any number of cracker-jack chiropractors who actually do a lot of good for her.  We both knew nearly instantly that her neck and back had been thrown out of whack.  As for me, my head jolted.  Hard.  I could literately feel my brain jar inside my skull and, for the record, it's not something you want to feel.  

My BFF immediately ordered me to call my oncologist because she was scared.  I wasn’t in pain, mind you, but I was going through chemo.  So, I did as told and called, leaving his answering service a message.  Then, I got to watch my BFF - who had been very nice to the girl who hit us, up to that point - lose it. 

The girl had been driving her father’s car and was in her early 20s, so do the math and figure that this young lady just knew she was going to lose car privileges.  She kept trying to talk to me, find out if I was hurt, and this while I kept trying to leave a message for my doctor with the answering service folks.  She was young and pushy and then had the questionable judgment to demand to know why I was calling a doctor for a simple fender bender.  My usually mild mannered BFF verbally knocked her block off, yelling that I was going through chemo and to SHUT THE HELL UP so I could talk to my oncologist.  She quietly went back to her father’s dented car and my BFF watched in her rear view mirror with some satisfaction while the young lady sat in the front seat and proceeded to totally freak out.  I am certain she thought I was going to sue her for all her daddy's worth.   

I never so much as thought about making a claim.  I figure this was the wisest course of (non) action on account of actually not being hurt and generally being as honest as the day is long by nature.  The ending of this story is that, a few minutes later, my oncologist called me back and did his job by asking all sorts of questions about how I felt with respect to possible symptoms.  We were at the Shark tank by this time and the most festive part of the conversation went like this:

 “Wait a minute, Julie, what’s that noise?” 

“Noise?  Uhhhh….that would be people, Dr. C.” 

“People?  Around your car? Wait, where are you?” 

“No, we parked the car, it was drivable.  We parked it in the parking lot.” 

“The parking lot, I see…Julie, can you tell me what parking lot and why it’s so noisy?” 

“Oh sure. The parking lot is where the car is, not us, we are inside.  The car is in the Sharks parking lot. Did I mention we were en route to a hockey game?”

“Wait a second, are you telling me that just a few short days after chemo and after getting in a car accident you actually went to the hockey game and that that’s where you are right now? AT A HOCKEY GAME?” 



“Ok, ok, but I can explain!” 

“Oh for this, I cannot wait - please, enlighten me.” 

“Calgary is in town.  Mikka Kiprusoff is in net.  We hate Iginla.  He’s the worst.”

 “I see.  Of course he is.”

“I’m glad you understand doc - say, it’s OK to stay, right?  I mean, it's Calgary, so it’s OK, right?” 

At this point in the conversation, I could almost see his face, his eyes closing in pain, wondering why he spent all those years in medical school only to end up dealing with crazy patients like me.  

“I am sure it will be fine, but call me if you experience any of the symptoms we talked about, OK?” 

“Sure, doc, and thanks!  Go Sharks!” 

I thought that was the end of it, and that I’d won, but turns out, my doctor remembers this incident to the point that every time I see him, he gets a real kick out of reminding me about it. 

 “Been to any hockey games recently?” he will ask, and before I can answer, he’ll chime in with,  “Because if you get into another car accident, you cannot go to a hockey game, OK?”

 Yeah, yeah, ok, ok, sheesh! Some people can get so testy.   

I’m spending too much time with doctors.

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