WARNING: Squeamish readers beware. It gets pretty descriptive further down.
“I would prefer to take that out,” the doctor said a month ago, squinting through the skin-scope-thingy. “I mean, you don’t have to do it today, or this week or anything, but I would do it within the month.”
She looked at me hard before I left, and repeated: “Within a month. If we don’t hear from you, I’ll be calling you myself. I’ve even set a reminder.”
Cue reluctant phone call to medical centre just inside a month later. If there’s one thing I can’t take, it’s a scolding from a medical professional.
Plus, I’m super brave, right? This is for my health. That mole might be a ticking time bomb. (Or, as I’ve suspected for a while now, it might be a cute little brown spot that’s called my back home for the most part of my life. It might be called Steve.)
If you’ve read me before, you know that I have an intense and all-encompassing fear of needles. I hate those pointy bastards. So it stands to reason that submitting to a series of needles and then having some of my flesh cut out is not something I’m entirely comfortable with.
Mum endured the same procedure only a few weeks ago: two incisions on her back, one on her neck.
“The neck was fine,” she told me, gesturing towards the dressing. “It was the back that was the most trouble.”
Had I told her at that stage that I was going to get a mole removed from my back? I’m not sure. If so, she had pulled a real dick move.
“How was it trouble?” I asked, stupidly.
“Well,” she said. “For one, it’s been the more painful of the two sites in healing. I can’t really sleep on my back. And then there was the thing with the anaesthetic…”
“The thing with the… what?” Is she serious with this shit?
“Well,” she said again. “She’d put the anaesthetic in and was all good to go. Then she started cutting and I could feel it.“
I gaped at her. “Did you scream?”
“No,” she said, waving her hand. “I just told her and she put some more in and then it was fine. Actually it was lovely having the extra, because it was numb for about eight hours afterwards.”
Lovely is not the word I would use, but surely my mother was just one of those weird people who doesn’t react properly to certain medicines. Like those poor souls who go in for surgery and somehow remain conscious (and aware of every sensation) for the entire thing, but have no way to communicate this to the surgical team.
Well, not quite that dramatic. But close.
“I think it was just because she was working so close to my spine,” Mum reassured me. “Nervy area, you know?”
Oh, I know.
I left the house and drove the three minutes down the road to the medical centre.
“You’re getting it out at the GP?” my boyfriend had asked a week before.
“Yeah,” I said, wondering if he was about to tell me some horror story. “She said I could go to a dermatologist, but that would cost more, and it’s only on my back, so I don’t care as much about the scar.”
“Did you ask her if she’s done this kind of thing before?”
I hadn’t. But she’d spent a good deal of time prodding the area and describing the size of the potential scar, so I figured she knew her shit.
I pulled into the car park and wondered for a good moment whether I would be in a fit state to drive myself home after the procedure. I could always call someone, I figured. A year ago, my dentist’s receptionist hadn’t wanted me to drive home after I had a tooth pulled, but this was different. That had been traumatic.
I walked in and announced myself at the front desk. A large sign asked me whether I’d had my shingles vaccination. (I haven’t, if you’re wondering, but weirdly enough my brother came down with shingles two weeks ago.)
I took a seat against the wall and waited. The waiting is the worst part. Any time to think about the impending procedure is not welcome. They should just stick with the needle as you walk through the door.
When my name was called, I smiled woodenly and followed the doctor down the hallway to a room that housed two beds surrounded by curtains.
“Have a seat there,” the doctor said, indicating the closest bed.
I hoped that she wasn’t expecting me to maintain a seated position through this. I was already in danger of passing out.
I removed my shirt and she greeted my mole with an “ah”. After some more prodding, she bid me lie down and elevated the bed.
“I’m going to mark out where to make the incision,” she told me. (I’d already asked her as we walked in not to say ‘cut’.)
When she was happy with her lines, she walked to the head of the bed and explained the risks.
Bleeding. Infection. Scarring. Further incisions if the mole proved to be sinister. (She didn’t think it would be.)
“So, is that all good?” she asked.
“No,” I laughed. “But go on.”
“We’ll put the anaesthetic in to numb it,” she told me. “That’s the worst part. It does sting.”
‘Sting’ is what a bee gives you. Don’t get me wrong; bee stings hurt like a sack-whack (I assume from the similar facial expressions), but this I would describe as something deeper. Sure, if ten bees pooled their resources into a long metal needle and poked their way under your skin to deliver a shot of painful venom in a very small area, then yeah, it stings.
“Ok,” the doctor said after the ‘sting’. “And now I’ll do the other side.”
I was left alone for what I imagine was five minutes, and the doctor spent a further few minutes making sure the equipment was prepped, and washing her hands.
“That should have done the trick by now,” she announced upon her return.
I could only agree with her. I’d never had local before, and it was such a small spot that I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was numb or I was just unaware of it. I was still suffering the after-shock of the ‘stings’.
“Sharp or dull?” the doctor asked, lightly pressing some metal object against my mole.
“Dull,” I answered after a moment.
If you’ve ever had nightmares about being cut, then you will sympathise with me here. You also might want to stop reading. (As if, though; you’ll be right.)
I was expecting pressure. I was expecting a tugging sensation. I was not expecting another ‘sting’.
“Sharp!” I gasped as she started to slice. (Gross. Sorry.)
She stopped. I could hear doubt in her voice when she asked, “What does it feel like?”
“Like you’re dragging a needle across my skin,” I answered.
The only answer was more anaesthetic. The ‘worst part’ again. Fantastic.
Two more jabs of searing sting-fluid would do it.
I should clarify that the anaesthetic wasn’t totally ineffectual, and I didn’t scream through a procedure where I could feel each cut intensely. But it was not completely numb. Some spots were worse than others. Some I truly couldn’t feel.
“Can you manage it?” the doctor eventually asked, after I’d whimpered in pain at another cut. (Even after what I can only assume was a double dose of local.)
“Yes,” I replied, gritting my teeth.
I was already there, already brave, already cut. I couldn’t quit and come back to face it another day.
And so it continued until the mole was off. If you’ve had a tattoo (I haven’t), you’ve probably experienced a similar (or worse, let’s be honest; you guys are tough) sensation of stinging and dragging. But you’re expecting it. You don’t get a tattoo if you’re not.
I had nine stitches in total. I felt all of them. The pain was vague, but it was enough. And it was not supposed to be there at all.
By the last stitch, I’d nailed my deep breathing, and I joked to the doctor that I thought the anaesthetic might finally be working.
I walked out of there a mess. I’ve only just stopped shaking. I shouldn’t have driven, but here I am, alive.
“Next time you’re having something cut off, let them know that they need to leave quite a bit of time for the anaesthetic to kick in,” the doctor told me on my way out.
Next time I’m having something cut off, they will have to knock me out and tie me down. Nuh uh, sister.
(The irony is that now I can’t feel it at all. Just like Mum said!)