January 26, 2006

And Not Only That. But...

…for some reason I decided that last week would be a great time to have those darn skin tags taken off my face and body. Actually I made the appointment a couple of months ago, and up to the very morning of my big explosion (see previous post) I was anticipating an unstressed week when I’d enjoy skipping a couple of hours of work for a jaunt to the dermatologist’s. They’re just humdrum-looking skin tags, nothing grotesque, one near each eye, upsetting my vanity because they made me look older; and a handful on the neck and armpits that might as well be zapped off at the same time. Also I had a small blotch of tan on my cheekbone that I thought might be precancerous.

By the time the appointment came around, it had become one of the many forms of penance I was hoping to subject myself to, as well as a needed distraction; and as upset as my wife was at me, she took a collegial interest in the vicissitudes of my skin. Perhaps we both needed the entertainment. (We were avidly watching DVDs of the TV show LOST that week. I was thinking how great it would be to be shipwrecked on an island.)

So off I went. The dermatologist was a trim, brisk, compact man in his sixties, with neatly parted white hair, and the diplomas on his wall told me that he’d done his residency at the Mayo Clinic and, before that, in the army, had earned a citation from a general for service during some community emergency. This was a doctor I had confidence in before even seeing. I began telling him of my concerns, and before I’d finished saying my first paragraph he’d diagnosed my blotch as a mixed lesion of seborrheic and actinic keratoses (keratosises?), the latter possibly cancerous in the long run and thus eminently eligible for immediate destruction.

On the little exam room desk, sitting quietly, was a thermos-like metal canister with a long spray tube. This, I soon learned, was the doctor’s best friend, constant companion, and trusted assistant: a canister of liquid nitrogen at 160 degrees below zero. “We’ll just freeze ‘em off,” he said, as he must do twenty times a day, and almost before I could say, “Yes,” the canister was lifted toward my face. I closed my eyes, although he hadn’t been so rash as to instruct me to, and instantly felt the first blast. Something too cold to feel cold was hitting my cheek in a steady spray; after a few seconds, the non-sensation became a burning. I like to use such occasions as opportunities to test the efficacy of meditation. I watched my breath, in and out, in and out. It all became rather pleasant.

“Most people are jumping up and down,” the doctor said. I suppose he was a little disappointed not to have a moving target to play with.

He blasted a couple more lesions, then was about to proceed to the one in the corner of my eye. “Er, excuse me, sir, but given the fact that it’s right near my eye, are you going to take any special -- ?”

“I’ll just put my finger here to block your eye,” he said quickly, and as I was saying, “Oh,” the blast hit the corner of my eye. The guy was great. Because my eyes were shut, I didn’t see how far away he was shooting from, but his aim was perfect. And I guess his finger is accustomed to being in the blocking position and getting hit with peripheral sprays of friendly ice. He could probably have hit that lesion in his sleep. I was glad, though, that I wasn’t one of the first patients he had ever treated, years and years before. I imagined him as a young doctor practicing his marksmanship in the off-hours. Did he practice on a bullseye? A teddy bear? A fellow resident? I imagine what he talks about to his wife at dinner: “Today I zapped a writer, a bus dispatcher, and a city cop.” And his dreams: Zap, zap, take that, monsters! Saving the world and winning the girl with a little canister of liquid nitrogen.

It was all over in about the time you’ve read this, and he told me that the frozen areas would swell the next day, followed by weeping and crusting, and then would fall off after a week or so. (It’s been a week and they look almost ready to fall.) “Enough of a workout for today?” the nurse asked me cheerfully on my way out, and I laughed and said yes. I felt fine, but as I drove home it did occur to me that I felt like I’d received serious burns in several spots on my face, neck, and trunk. I lay on the couch for a while and drank some water.

Any minute now I’ll start looking five years younger, rather than scabby and swollen as I do.

What was my score for vanity?