The Eyes Have It

Who needs another goddamned growth experience?  Not me — but there I was, in the doctor’s chair, feet up, forehead exposed, being sliced like an onion.

“You might get a black eye from this,” the dermatologist mentioned, motioning toward my pesky little basal carcinoma.

She was doing mohs surgery, which I can reliably testify is less painful than childbirth, but lasts nearly as long.  Cut a little.  Get specimens.  Test for good margins.  Come back and cut some more, as required.

They kept coming back — twice, in fact, which the doctor attributed to “that hot Texas sun.”  Then, they sewed and patched me up like my face was a football that had split its seams.

“Definitely expect a black eye,” the doctor said, shaking her head.

Oh, great.  It’s not bad enough just getting old and wrinkled?  Nope, now I was going to have a face like a pugilist’s.  I reclined and reminded myself that I’d also been promised some Tylenol with codeine for my apres-surgery pain.  Who said there aren’t silver linings in this world?  I hadn’t had Tylenol 3 since, come to think of it, childbirth.

I staggered into the waiting room, where my husband noted I looked like hell, being bandaged as tightly as a war refugee and everything.  Then we tried to hail a cab during rush hour.

“I don’t go west,” the first taxi driver said, locking his doors and driving off.

That’s what the second driver probably said, too, but he drove off so quickly we couldn’t quite hear him.

“Those fuckers,” my husband said.  “They’re legally required to take us.  Law-breakers.  Creeps.”

“They may be discriminating against us because of my bandage,” I said.  “Did I tell you I’m going to get a black eye from this?”

My husband started complaining about all the malevolent looks he’d be getting, escorting a battered woman in public.  I told him I was already in pain and didn’t want to hear his petty objections.  Where, oh where, was my Tylenol 3?

We got home, via the democratic bus system, and I sprawled on the couch.  Pain started pounding, but after a couple of pills, I was feeling more chipper before I passed out and fell asleep.

The next morning, I peeled off the bandage, washed the wound (a good three-inch slice, I should add), spread ointment over it and popped a bandaid on.  According to the wound directions, I wasn’t supposed to be shocked by all the discoloration around the cut.

“I don’t have any discoloration at all,” I proudly reported to my husband.  I just loved that.  Every time I encounter the medical profession, I’m always dying to prove I’m not a typical patient.  I realize that’s a sad commentary, but it’s hard to get over A-student behavior when it’s defined you your whole life.  (“How do you think,” I once asked my oncologist, “I’m doing on chemo — compared to most cancer patients?”  Give me a grade!  Tell me I’m swell, exceptional!  Don’t tell me I’m shameless; I already know it.)

Similarly, no black eye would confer the same kind of medical status.  You know, defying the odds.  Showing the doctor she didn’t know everything.  Proving my body’s toughness.  “I’ve always been hardheaded,” I planned to modestly tell the doctor when she raved about my lack of a black eye.  Hee, hee, hee.

Another codeine-free day passed and my right eye started to get red.  It swelled gradually, and my eyelid felt like it was as heavy as your average dumbbell.  “You know that black eye?” I told my husband.  “Well, I think I’m getting it.”

The hours passed.  Technically, I should point out, my eye was red, not black.  But by the late afternoon, it looked like a hammered slit, like I was a plastic-surgery victim, like I was ready to try out for Cirque du Soleil.

My husband had gone back to his usual mantra that I looked “just fine” to him — the usual safety harbor for a man who doesn’t want to die a terrible death.  He and I took a subway to get to the best ramen place in New York.  When I took off my sunglasses, I noted, people stared at me longer than usual.

“People are staring at me,” I told my husband.

“You look just fine,” he insisted.

“Then why are people staring at me?”

He looked closer.  “Well,” he said, after a long pause, “you do kind of look like you caught a sword in the eye.  You know, like you had a fencing accident.”

The subway creaked to a halt and we got off.  You know, it’s kind of a drag to realize — once again — you’re not exceptional, not medically special, that black eyes catch up with you, as predicted.  But a fencing accident — now that was kind of a cool idea.  Somebody had yelled “en garde!” and you just hadn’t gotten out of the way quickly enough.  Anyway, it beat the hell out of the whole mohs story.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read about the the curse of the red leopardskin glasses

17 comments… add one
  • Ahhhh, Ruth. Love the fencing accident angle.  Moh’s is laborious to be sure. Hope you are feeling better and that your black eye doesn’t scare too many people!  Tell them to take a T3 and chill out!  On second thought, save the T3 for yourself and chill out while the black eye recedes day by day by slow day.
    Best to you!

  • Seems like it’s just one damn’ thing after another for you these days, Ruth. Chin up – but look out for the sword.

  • Ruth, anyone who can be funny about dermatology is funny indeed.  And to get from basal cell carcinoma to a fencing accident — that’s got to get an A-star!

  • Winston Link

    My dear, you did have a trace of plastic surgery.  No doubt, that doctor knew of your long history of A-student behavior.  She’d already read of it on your chart– not that one, the chart from the FBI she’d commandeered via labyrinthine Hippocratic protocol.  Oh, she knew you’d gloat over the lack of a black eye.  Not wanting to surrender her own position at the head of the class, she hatched a face-saving plan– hers, not yours.  Look in the mirror.  During that third trip under Ms. MD McThing’s knife, she performed a wee bit of nip & tuck, surreptitiously implanting a time-release color patch near the corner of your eye.  She knew the Tylenol 3 you’d eventually swallow would be the catalyst that would start it ticking.  And voilá, by the third day Ruth had a shiner that would eclipse the coal eyes of a January snowman!  Right now, beyond a curving cedar-lined driveway somewhere in Connecticut, a Machiavellian doctor is seated at a red lacquer dining table cackling over her second platter of steak tartar.  Doesn’t that just get under your skin?

  • Indeed a fencing accident sounds better.
    I had to laugh at wanting to be an exceptional patient. My sis is forever being told (through her chemo and medical care in general) that she has reactions to things that docs have “never seen before.”
    It would be funny, if those reactions weren’t so scary sometimes.

  • A fencing accident!! Very glamorous!
    Hope you heal up quickly, but enjoy the notoriety while you can!

  • Scrumptious writing, Ruth!  Cannot wait for your book.  Hope this whole mohs business fades fast and is soon a distant memory.

  • “The usual safety harbor for a man who doesn’t want to die a terrible death”. That my friend is laugh out loud funny.

  • Hope you’re recovering! That is horrible about all those cab drivers rejecting you. Maybe you could have called a cab and then they’d be obligated to take you? 🙂 Glad you’re keeping a good sense of humor about the mohs surgery.

  • You wrote: “You know, it’s kind of a drag to realize — once again — you’re not exceptional…” Isn’t that true, though? I guess for all (each?) of us in some way? Ah! Yet another growth experience you can attribute to your Moh’s – another angle. I had Moh’s 14 years ago but it was not as intensive as yours. The first pass in was enough. It is  nice to know, though, that day, that they have it all.

  • Here I thought you’d be looking for sympathy, but instead you’re making the rest of us smile. Loved the all the metaphors and little details that made me smile. BTW–I think I’ve been in the cab in NYC too (Midtown, was it?)

  • Ouch!!! I am terrified of doctors going near my eyes. Glad you can luagh about it. I would probably just whine!!!

  • I *love* this – a fencing accident! Much more interesting than saying that you knocked out a mugger in the park.
    I’m sorry you had to deal with this. It’s been a crazy few months for you. 🙁

  • I’m so with you, girl. Enough of these health challenges as “growth” experiences. At least you haven’t lost your sense of humor through it all.
    Take care & stay well for the remainder of 2010, okay?

  • A friend once told me, “Nobody likes the FGOs.” I frowned, trying to work it out, and she said ‘fucking growth opportunities.’  That still makes me laugh, and I say it whenever possible.

  • Ruth, you make reading about MOHS surgery and a black eye enjoyable. I hate to hurt your feelings but even though I was supposed to get a black eye from my MOHS surgery, it never happened. That’s okay though because the rest of my face swelled up.

  • Richard C. Link

    after 4 days of Mohs recovery I’m developing a second black eye and the original black eye is getting LARGER! I was a slow healer the first time, though. Thanks for letting me express myself. And the good news is I lose medical coverage tomorrow (no more surgeries)! Aloha…

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