I sat wearing nothing but my boxer-shorts and a heavy coat of anxiety. This date had been circled on my calendar for awhile and the anticipation was palpable. The morning of, I had called my dad to ease my nerves and quiet my fears. “It will all be fine.” While I knew everything would go smoothly, the fear of the unknown hung pretty heavily.
After all, I had never been to the dermatologist before.
I’ve always had an irrational fear of having something wrong internally. It probably stems from having control issues and things like cancer or other disease being well out of my control. When I was referred to a “specialist” for “abnormal” conditions on my skin, well, it wasn’t exactly the news I was hoping for. So I sat there, wearing almost nothing, waiting for the doctor to arrive.
Finally the door opened and in walked, well, a whole team of people. This wasn’t what was expected—this was far worse. Mentally I had prepared to stand in almost all of my glory for one doctor. One. But instead there was a dermatologist and two nurses. And a student because, why not? This was not what I had bargained for.
They had me stand up in the middle of the room, arms out, legs apart. Holding onto the few strands of dignity that remained, I stood there trying to avoid all eye contact as the doctor inspected every inch of my body while the nurses took notes and the student did what students do—not much.
“Nice shorts, are those water guns?”
Taking the time to inspect my clothing hadn’t even crossed my mind in preparation for this appointment, so while getting dressed I had just grabbed the next pair of boxers in the drawer. Instead of a respectable plaid or a stately striped, I landed upon a wild array of water guns firing in all directions. The word embarrassing doesn’t do justice to what was going through my head as I mumbled a polite “thank you” and watched the student snicker while the nurses continued to document every detail.
The doctor used a purple pen to mark my body as he made his rounds. “This goes; check this; this one too,” he remarked passively as ink marked my skin and simultaneously the pads the nurses were scribbling on. After a few excruciating minutes it was over and the team left the room leaving a single nurse behind.
Unfortunately, the fun was just beginning.
The nurse started with small injections at every location the doctor had marked. “A little stick and a burn,” she said. Seven times she said this. I’m not even sure what the burn is supposed to feel like because all I felt was the stick. The nurse gave the lidocaine about thirty-two whole seconds to take effect. Each of the injection sites started to puff up a bit, raising the skin and the nasty moles in question outward for the world to see—or the two of us in the room at least. A moment later she started her second phase which involved taking a small razor blade—surgical grade I’m sure—and slicing the top layer of the skin-puff off. This was completely unwatchable for me.
I’m not exactly squeamish, but there are some things I just don’t have a need to see. If you’re going to draw my blood, I don’t need to see the vial fill up. Those TV programs that show surgery? Not for me. What I really didn’t need to see was a piece of my skin being shaved off and placed into a small container. Seven pieces of skin into seven small containers to be exact.
So I stopped paying attention. I just sat there and moved where she told me to move while the little pieces of me ended up in plastic jars. After a few minutes, it was all over—at least it was supposed to be over. As the nurse explained how to care for these new surgically inflicted wounds covering my body, my vision started to narrow, my ears stopped processing sound, and I started to drift off.
Prior to this experience I had never fainted before. As it was coming on it was equal parts exciting and terrifying. Exciting because it was a new experience that I was well aware of and terrifying because of that whole not being in control thing. I never completely blacked out. Despite not being able to fully see or hear, I was still functioning—almost. I knew where I was and what was happening, but I wasn’t exactly aware of much else. It was a very interesting experience.
The nurse helped me to lay down and brought in a cup of water and a wet rag. I guess no matter the level of medical care you are receiving, the wet rag from childhood cures all. After a few minutes my vision and hearing began to return and she told me to take my time leaving the room.
After such a fun morning, I now had the delight of paying for it.
I slowly made my way up to the front desk to pay the receptionist. Whether it was an office policy or a personal decision to be comfortable, the receptionist was wearing scrubs. For some reason I thought this was very odd in my semi-coherient state of mind. I swiped my card and paid my fee for a day’s fun—the bills for each of the small “surgeries” would come a few weeks later to heighten the memory of the experience. After scheduling my follow-up appointment, I made my way to the exit.
Staggering onto the elevator I reflected on a morning of firsts: first time I had been on display for a crowd to see, first time I had been dissected for future testing, first time I had fainted (basically), and the first time I had paid money for being completely humiliated. Over the few years since that morning of firsts, I have learned to not be anxious or embarrassed in front of the dermatologist—it’s only taken about a dozen appointments. I’ve learned that going through this ordeal is the cross I have to bear for being of the fair-skinned persuasion and spending my teenage years thinking sunscreen was for squares. While the visits continue to get easier…
I’ll always remember my first.