Monday, December 12, 2005
"I'LL THINK ABOUT THAT TOMORROW"
Yeah, it was a great motto for Scarlett O'Hara, who smashed hearts like pomegranates, and thought about the consequences later. Not so good when it comes to issues of health.
See I had this mole. Noticed it probably a year and a half ago. Didn't think I'd ever seen it before, and it was kind of big, too. Damn, I thought, ever ready for action, I better do something about that--tomorrow. As for today, well, there's tea to be drunk and poems to be read, and besides, the phone was ringing. There was a major scandal in the workplace that had to be discussed right now.
Then last May, a wonderful nurse practitioner named Ellen McCafferty, noticed the mole during an exam. "Have you had that all your life?" she asked.
"I don't think so," I said, trying to hide the thing under my johnny.
"Well, I think it needs to be checked out. It has irregular borders. And it's larger than the head of an eraser."
She left the room and appeared with a list of local dermatologists. "It's hard to get an appointment," she said, "but I want you seen this month, not three months from now. If no one will take you, call me, and I'll make sure you get seen."
Serious words. And I was certainly going to do something about that right away. Tomorrow.
But the thing is I had novels to write and more tea to drink, and it was the busy season at work. Life was good and happy and the last thing I really wanted to think about was some gigantic mole that just might be something serious.
A couple of weeks later, this amazing nurse practitioner actually called me. "Have you got an appointment yet?"
"Um, er, well, not yet, but as soon as we hang up...I promise."
"Well, you better, because seriously, I'm worried about that mole."
So I walked around the house in a spit of nervous anxiety. Then I decided I better wait till the following day when I had calmed down a bit.
FOUR MONTHS LATER, I caught sight of that mole, and I swear the thing was bigger than a bread box. So okay, tomorrow was here. I looked frantically for that list of dermatologists. At the bottom of a stack of other "extremely important papers," I found it.
optimistically, I dialed the first number on the list and explained my plight, trying to keep the panic out of my voice. But before I get halfway through my story, the secretary interrupted: Sorry, we're not taking new patients.
Out of the next six, the best I was offered was an appointment in six months--and this with a doctor who didn't take my insurance.
"But my doctor says this is important. She says I need to be seen now," I whine. (not mentioning that now was actually five months ago.
By then, I was panicked. Didn't anyone understand--this was urgent! I wanted to yell: I'm dying here and no one in this callous medical world gives a damn! But when I hung up the phone, I saw the truth in the mirror: This is all your fault, I said to the dope who looked back at me.
Finally, the office of doctor #8 offered me an appointment in two weeks. Of course, I immediately wondered what was wrong with them. Why weren't they overrun with patients like the rest of the derm offices? But now that I had finally swung (or rather limped) into action, I figured I better go with it. If I didn't follow through now, I might forget about it for another year or two.
On the fateful day of the appointment, I got lost a couple of times trying to find the office, and, arrived in a state of great discombobulation, hypochondria, and fear, wanting nothing but a Tangueray martini.
But to my delight, the office was as confused and behind as I am. Seems there was a new computer program and all the referrals had been lost, and everyone, patients, nurses, and secretary, was having a great technology bashing fest. I immediately felt right at home.
And the doctor, who was Argentinian had a bedside manner that would put most of his American colleagues to shame. He immediately put me at ease, telling me that he was almost sure my mole was "nothing, absolutely nothing, but that it should come off anyway--just to be sure." (a lie, as he later admitted, but one that helped me sleep nights for the next few weeks)
On the day of my surgery, he distracted me by telling me stories about his days as a doctor in Argentina, how he had delivered babies in the cornfields, and how once he'd had to go out and pronounce a man dead who had fallen under a bus. He told me how he met his wife, and about their two children. Then he smiled and patted my hand, and promised me the mole was nothing to worry about. Nothing at all.
And I was okay. For a hypochondriac with an out of control imagination, I really didn't think about it much. Until today. When I was due to get the stitches out and to hear the results of the biopsy.
I sat alone in the office in my little paper johnny and made promises to God just like I used to do when I was a kid. If only I would live, I would be a much better person. And I wouldn't waste a golden minute in anger or gossip, or sitting around drinking tea. I would live! Live you hear me!
The door swung open and the Argentinian doctor was smiling. "Good news," he said. "You had a melanoma, but I got all of it. You are fine." (Spoken by a true optimist.)
He then asked me if I would make him a character in one of my stories. "Nothing racy, though; my wife is very jealous." He winked, not knowing how soon he would be immortalized.
And we exchanged sincere holiday greetings. He was on the way out the door when he turned around, "Oh, one more thing? That nurse practitioner who told you to come here? Maybe you ought to send her a Christmas card or something.
I was going to address it tomorrow, but on second thought, maybe I better do it right now.