Monday, December 12, 2005


Vivien Leigh

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.


rdl said...

phewwwwwww, well that's a relief!!!
I shoulda read the end first.

Kerstin said...

Oh wow, what a chiller! As a firm believer of "if I ignore it, it will surely go away" I can so sympathise with this process. The Argentinian doctor sounds lovely but now of course I will never again believe a medic who tries and tells me it is 'nothing'!

I love the humour and heart with which you tell your stories; even with a subject like this there is something very comforting in the way you share your tale.

I am really glad it all turned out ok :)

Take care, Kerstin

Sharon Hurlbut said...

Holy cow, Patry! What a story, what an emotional ride. I'm so very glad he got it all, and glad you finally let 'tomorrow' be today.


Anonymous said...

That sounds like really, really good news. Cancer absolutly sucks.

MB said...

Patry, I know all about tomorrow. (She said, ruefully.) I'm very, very, very glad it all turned out ok. Very glad.

Matthew said...


robin andrea said...

That's quite a story, Patry. Glad that they were able to remove all of it, and that you have been pronounced well.

I wonder why we procrastinate about our health? I often think it has to do with how we have lost the sense of community with those who practice medicine. Your Argentinian doctor reminds of what an office visit should be like.

liz elayne lamoreux said...

wow. I say again. WOW. So glad you are okay. I appreciate the simplicity of the way you tell this story - how we often just keep going because avoiding seems like the easier path. I hope you can take some moments to sit in the quiet and take all of this in. Thank you for sharing this story with us. So glad you are well.

katrina said...

I am in tears, Patry. I'm so grateful you finally went to someone, but what an utterly terrifying story.

Mary said...

Oh my goodness! Yes, this kind of thing DOESN'T go away. I just had something medical checked out as well - false alarm but reading this has made me realise it might not have been. So glad your story finishes happily.

Patry Francis said...

Thank you all so much for your kind words and your concern. Hope everyone takes a lesson from my foolishness! (Maybe even me)

Anne Bauer said...

Glad it turned out okay! I found a mole like that on my husband some years ago, and it was cancerous. Now I'm paranoid about every skin discoloration on his body. The poor man can't even get a zit without my examining it.

Bless that nurse who wouldn't let the matter drop.

Vickie said...


Shame on you! There is no time like the present.

You were lucky, however, had you taken notice of that dang thing in the beginning, it wouldn't have turned into quite the story that it did, but you would have been done with it! I'm glad it all worked out.

And, yes, that nurse deserves a Christmas card. The fact that she put you in a tickler file and called you about the appointment makes her very special in my book.

Now, promise me you won't do anything to jeopardize the existence of my newest favorite author...

I'm waiting....

Patry Francis said...

I've been trying to respond to commenters on THEIR blogs, rather than here, but can't resist a few words:

Anne and Vickie: I sent the nurse a card today at her workplace. So many people truly do not know the good that they do.

And Vickie, that thing you said about me being your favorite author made me smile all day!

ed!! Ignoring an appendicitis sounds pretty painful. Don't even think this notorious procrastinator could do that. So glad you lived to tell your wonderful stories!

Russell CJ Duffy said...

totally ignoring your fine post (please forgive me but reverting to a 12 year old AGAIN) isn't that picture of you taken in or around London's docklands?

Patry Francis said...

c.j.: I would love to go to London someday, especially now that I've "met" so many amazing people from the U.K. But that particular picture was taken in the beautiful city of New Orleans. I replaced my old picture with this one in the hope of reminding people of a place that is in danger of being forgotten. So thank you for asking!

Tom.... said...

Patry...glad to hear you are on the mend, and that you took the steps necessary to make it so...none of us wish to face our "supposed" weaknesses/decline/ illness...but better to do so than regret later..take care of yourself, not only for yourself but for those who love you.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Now that's a great ending for a story! (I have a little skin thing too, which I've neglected, and an appointment in January.) Well told as always, with suspense and an appealing light touch, and the mixture of feelings and moods that always signifies reality. BTW I blogrolled you a few days ago.

Joel said...

Congratulations! Glad to hear that you headed that off!

Anonymous said...

Oh Patry, you should have been nagged and nagged until you did something about it at once. I don't think we can always rely on ourselves for
self-preservation. Anyway, thank God for the wonderful nurse and Argentinian medic and the happy conclusion of your, as usual, beautifully told true story.

Russell CJ Duffy said...

doh. story of my life. sorry.

Elena LaVictoire said...


I found your blog through TSO's blog. I very much enjoyed this story (Glad you are okay!!!) and I'm enjoying my visit!!

Anonymous said...

What a heartwarning story and fabulous doctor. Glad you stopped putting off gettting it checked.

P. A. Moed said...


The news is great, but you should still be cautious. We know from personal experience not to trust one MD's reading of a pathology report. Sad but true. Get a copy of the pathology report (this is routine, so don't worry about offending anyone) and have another MD take a look at it, preferably your primary care physician. I don't mean to scare you, but you should be extra, extra careful. You just can't take chances with skin cancer. Email me if you have questions/concerns.

Patry Francis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
P. A. Moed said...

Great, Patry. I'm relieved you've heard it also from the nurse practitioner who was so helpful!

Anonymous said...

baby alarmhttp://www.alarmmonitorsecurity.infoI brought some batteries, they weren;t alarm

Anonymous said...

Hi Ms. Francis,
not sure if this blog is still active, but a patient saw my name and forwarded the link. Thank you for giving me credit. I now work in dermatology full time - my true calling.
I hope you are well.

Patry Francis said...

Hi Ellen! it's great to hear from you. I'm so happy you are now working full time to help others the way you helped me!