Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Flesh-Colored Walls

In between losing my job in early December and Christmas, I was diagnosed with Basal Cell Melanoma: skin c-word. I noticed an area on my arm that was pinkish and sometimes itchy for about a year, but was reassured by my general doctor on several occasions that we would "just keep an eye on it" for now. I don't know about you, but of all the things I'd like to "keep an eye on", cancer isn't really one of them. In fact, I didn't like to look at it at all and sometimes I would scratch before realizing what I was scratching—and get totally eeked out. I was motivated to get it checked, however, by the fact that I'd lost my job and could eventually no longer have insurance. It was time to make all those doctor appointments, whether I was ready or not.

I thought the "Skin Cancer & Dermatology of Columbus" I found online through my insurance provider list sounded like the right place. After all, that's a pretty serious name, surely they must be top-notch. I made an appointment and had a biopsy. They would call me with the results and we'd go from there. Sounds easy enough. A few days later they called. I recognized the number and hit "decline" on my phone. I had that deer-in-headlight feeling. Already overwhelmed with losing my job and anxiety about the holidays, I decided to put off anything more until after the holidays. I didn't return any calls until 2012.

One good thing about me is I am forgetful. Well, forgetful in terms of "I don't wanna think about it so I'm not gonna" and I didn't.

Fast forward to Monday, January 30, 2012.

Always appropriate
For anyone that doesn't know, and I don't know how you wouldn't know, I have the best work wife ever. She's not really my wife, she's my bestie from work, and now, well, just my bestie. She insisted that she take me to my surgery, sent reminder texts (not too many to throw me into panic mode), and probably worried a little more than she led on. I have a million blogs to share with you about her, but I'll save those for later.

We got lost on the way there which was fine because work wife's are prompt and she arrived early. One of the things I love about Amber is she's funny and our times together are spent mostly laughing and bantering funny stuff back and forth. Sometimes we don't even need words to get it—just a glance or a gesture is good for a laugh.

The outside appearance of the building was nice and very typical of a brick doctor's office building—but more counter-intuitive. The entrance was on the side and there were stairs going to a half-basement area that led to another door, which didn't look very inviting. We chose the "Road More Traveled" door, which happened to be the 2nd Floor. We took a seat in the early 90's decor waiting area. The waiting area was an interior designer's nightmare. As we made note of each item in the room, carefully studying the wall color (which we named "Flesh"), and realized none of it made any sense, our nerves probably got the best of us and we got the giggles. Bad design, miss-mash pieces of furniture, a what-used-to-be-white 3" thick looped rug (or "hot lava" to elderly people), and flesh walls. That wasn't so awful but when it was compiled with the magazine selection of "Cheerleader", "Audubon Society" and "Fortune" (so the doctor likes money, girls, and birds—who doesn't?), and the amount of DUST everywhere—it felt a bit Twilight Zonish. The wait was long enough for us to catch the Penguin Series on "Planet Earth". A baby penguin was rescued out of an ice hole about 2" in diameter even though it was about the size of a chicken. I'm still wondering about that one. 

The first thing I noticed in the procedure room was a regular, household scale on the floor. I wondered if they weighed people before and after to see how much weight they lost, or if it was for the standard weigh in for your chart. Either way, I wasn't stepping on it. Not because I was afraid of my weight, but because at one time that scale was white and now it was dirt colored and calibrated at +10lbs. We agreed it was from "Harts" department store, before they went out of business in 1988ish. The other items in the room were pretty standard: an illustrated poster (copyright 1979) of a cross-section hunk of skin I assumed—complete with photos of various skin c-words—all gross (mine wasn't that gross), a lab cabinet with instruments (we reassured each other they were sterile—"no, really, they are"), a wax-paper covered patient table, and flesh walls. Let's go back to the patient table. The base of it had a thick layer of dust that totally warranted writing "wash me", but Amber went with "Really?" and quickly snapped a picture as the doctor came in.

"Wash Me"
Dr. Chen came in and got down to business measuring, reading notes, injecting my arm with 4 syringes full of local anesthetic—which I felt notably disappointed that it was not "happy medicine".
Fortunately for us, the doctor was more amused by our nervous laughter than annoyed by it. He first drew an outline with a pretty purple marker. This was a relief to me since I believe in the "measure twice, cut once" rule. It was a nice design that looked like the Egyptian Eye of Horus.

"Eye of Horus" medium: flesh

Even though my pre-game Xanax kicked in, I was still a little nervous. I thought this would be a good time to discuss the office decor and offered ideas as he seemed receptive to doing some updating. The conversation went kind of like this:

"'s...a little dreary and blah in here, have you thought about painting—maybe sprucing up the place?" I bluntly asked because I say inappropriate things when I'm nervous.

"What, you don't like the color? It's flesh colored. Well, my flesh color, not yours" He said, obviously noting his Asian descent. Remember back to the eye contact-telepathy between Amber and I? It was one of those yes-we-noticed-but-are-pc-enough-to-not-mention-it observations that make you feel awkward. He continued to make jokes about where he went to medical school—Sally Struthers School of Medicine, Phoenix, etc. I asked him if his mom taught him how to sew. He said that he learned to sew on his book bags back in school. I had a visual of him sewing through thick canvassy material as he was sewing up my delicate skin. "Wow, that looks pretty good!" he said,  surprised at his sewing job. I wasn't sure if that comforted me or not.

Flesh walls
By the end of the surgery I had a job offer (yep, to paint and redecorate his office), a bunch of stitches, some restaurant recommendations for lunch, and no more c-word.

What have I learned?

• It's cool to wear sunscreen.

• If you're not sure of something on you body, ask your doctor. Ask two doctors. (side note: mine grew back even bigger since my biopsy a month ago—these can be fast little bastards so don't put it off)

• Amber is a trooper for her photo documentation (I didn't post the "oh gross! what is that?" pics) and turned something crappy into a really great day!

• Don't judge a doctor by his office. He actually did a great job and is a pretty cool dude.


  1. Love this! So glad everything worked out. Miss you and Amber!

  2. Calm, measured tone of voice and amazing self-awareness, combined with humor and appreciation of friendship, make this Pulitzer Prize worthy. Heal well and keep writing.

  3. Okay fine. I'll go to the doctor! There's a mole along my ribs that just doesn't look right. I need to just go in and get it checked. If it's bad I need to deal with the bad instead of ignoring it. You're an inspiration!!

    I wish you were here to go with me. Amber sounds like the bomb diggity. Of course, you'd never take a wife that wasn't.

  4. flesh colored paint...nice description of a place I never wana be! thanks for sharing G. ~~

  5. nothing better than a true friend.

  6. Kelly to be honest. I never like reading so much but trust me it was your wonderful blog which made me sit tight and I didn't get up till the time I finished reading it all.

    It was kind of my school time. I used to listen to my teacher in school who use to read aloud the story from the text book.

    I use to imagine the story as if I was part of it. You very well made it happen again and I was right there with you and Amber looking at the walls while doctor was treating you!

    So what I mean to say is you are a great writer...your presence of mind and your way of narrating the experience is cool.

    I am happy you got things done on time and you keep me and all your friends posted about your recovery status. I would be praying for your fast recovery.

    Rest I am waiting for more stories from you!!!