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Those Actinic Keratoses Biopsy Blues

September 22, 2012

On Monday of this week, President Obama announced planned trade sanctions against China.  Three days later, I made the mistake of keeping an appointment with Doctor Wu, my Chinese dermatologist.  Don’t get me wrong, I really love this lady.  She’s the best Mohs surgeon I’ve ever known, and I’ve been sliced and diced by more than my share.  On the other hand, my timing might have been off, what with this China thing.

I did have one little suspicious-looking spot under my right eye, but figured a quick and easy biopsy on that and I’d be on my way.  Sure enough, she agreed that pearly bump had to be checked, but she wasn’t about to let me out of there that easily.  Fair skinned, blue-eyed and blond as a kid put me at risk anyway, but I might have overdone it.  SPF stood for ‘sunny pool fun’ in those days.  I remember layering on mineral oil and that other stuff that magnified UV rays and toned your skin copper.  If sunscreen existed in the sixties, I didn’t know about it and would have ignored it anyway.  I wanted to look like George Hamilton.  Backpacking the high Sierra was my favorite getaway then.  Two miles high, bathing  unprotected skin in unfiltered sun.  It’s a wonder I have any left.  I remember my hiking buddy, Monroe, cackling when I dove into a freezing mountain lake after a hard day’s sunburn.  My seared forehead split open like a watermelon dropped on a summer sidewalk.   Sure, I use SPF 50 these days, but the damage done then supports a lot of doctors now.

Using an ink pen, Doctor Wu circled some spots and put Xs over others.  She finished two games of Tic Tac Toe across my forehead, winning both.  Her assistant Jimmy brought her a spray can of liquid Nitrogen, which she used to blast the indelible Xs, all eleven of them.  We all know that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and holding a piece of frozen water against your bare skin is something doctors warn you not to do.  But those same doctors will spray your skin with liquid Nitrogen, at minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit.  That’s 342 degrees colder than ice.  Does this make sense?  Played on your head, it gives you one hell of a headache.  And it doesn’t even come with ice cream.

While I was regaining consciousness, my doctor crept away to freeze someone else’s brain, and Jimmy took over.  Jimmy looks about 16, though he claims a university degree.  It must have been in applied sadism.  He told me he was going to numb those circled spots so Doctor Wu could slice chunks out for biopsy.  He said it would only take three or four injections per spot, and only the first of each would hurt.  “Of each?”, I asked, “How many are we talking about?”  “Six”, he answered cheerfully.  “Six?”, I repeated incredulously.  I had never had more than two at one time.  Jimmy prepped me for painless slicing by painfully sticking a needle into my ear, face and scalp some 18 times.  To take my mind off this, he told me more about himself.  The one thing I remember is he was born in China.

The author no longer supports trade sanctions against China

Doctor Wu’s biopsies were indeed painless.  Between the liquid Nitrogen bath and Jimmy’s needle, I had lost all feeling from the neck up.  However, I could still smell.  I realized this when Jimmy plugged a soldering iron into an outlet and began burning my wounds to stop the bleeding.  An iron made in China, no doubt.  With that and some bandages, I finally escaped.  I’m still waiting for the results of the biopsies.  If any are positive, I’ll have to go back for Mohs surgery.  By then, I hope we’re picking on Iran again.

One Comment
  1. Haha! That’s great. I know this feeling…

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