I have a lot of freckles. I’m not sure of the exact amount, but my niece and nephew once started to count them, gave up and decided to play connect the dots with them instead. Regardless of my actual freckle population, I am what dermatologists refer to as “fair skinned” and the cosmetics industry refers to as “classic ivory.” The rest of the world would consider me pasty white. My husband swears that when I am in the sun, he can hear new freckles popping out. My only hope of ever having a tan is that one day all of my freckles will meld together.
With my fair skin, a yearly visit to the dermatologist for a full body freckle inspection and mole patrol is a necessity; one that I have been avoiding for the past six years. The last dermatologist who examined me was more interested in selling me laser treatments or creams to de-freckle me than actually inspecting for potential skin cancer suspects. My dad has had various types of skin cancers removed and this past year, two dear friends have gone through procedures to remove cancerous cells from their faces. I decided that my pasty whiteness was a liability I could no longer ignore and made an appointment with a new dermatologist who came highly recommended.
Immediately after I made the appointment, I began dreading it. Skin is everywhere. It covers every nook and cranny of your body which means that every nook and cranny is exactly where the doctor is going to need to look. Ugh! I rationalized my discomfort of the thought of being inspected, at close range with a magnifying glass, as a necessary evil that might save my life. Besides, the doctor would be looking at me intently through a magnifying glass, focusing on small areas of my body at a time, not taking in the full view. The delusional part of my brain convinced me that this would be like going to the spa for a massage. I would lie on the table and be draped with a warm blanket which the doctor would remove section by section as he inspected areas of my body. I was really hoping my delusion would become reality.
On the day of my appointment the nurse brought me into the examining room and asked me the standard questions. She opened a drawer, pulled out what looked like a folded paper towel and said, “You can leave your underwear on, but please put this gown on.”
Now, I know there are several interpretations of the word gown: ball gowns like Cinderella wore, wedding gowns, gowns suitable for the Academy Awards ceremony and hospital gowns. This “gown” the nurse handed me wouldn’t fit in any of those categories. Even a hospital gown, which is not exactly flattering or generous enough to cover all of your assorted parts, would have been better than what I was given. What I held in my hands was more suitable for soaking up a medium-sized spill. It was, by no means, enough material to qualify as a gown.
I undressed and unfolded the square of paper towel I had been given and realized it was essentially a paper towel vest and not even one made of high quality paper towels like Bounty. I would have had more fun if the nurse gave me a roll of paper towels and duct tape then told me to fashion my version of a gown. I could have created a paper towel toga or maybe a paper towel wrap dress with a duct tape belt. Anything would have been better than this vest I was now clothed in.
Once I was suited up for my exam, I tried to arrange myself in the chair in a position that would offer me the most coverage possible without tearing the delicate “fabric” of my gown. It is very hard to appear sophisticated and nonchalant while sitting around in your underwear wearing a paper towel. Between strategically holding my Kindle and crossing my legs, I managed to cover as much of my personal real estate as was humanly possible just before the doctor entered the room.
The doctor took a brief history and then asked, “What do you like to do in the summer?”
Oh, good, I thought, a bit of getting to know you small talk before the inspection. “I like to garden and read in my hammock.”
“It sounds like you are getting too much sun,” he admonished.
Great! I was being scolded while wearing a paper towel. It’s difficult to present a convincing defense while sitting in your underwear, but I tried. “Actually, I always wear 45 SPF sunscreen, a big hat, sunglasses and my hammock is in the shade. My sunscreen is so thick my husband says it’s like a sweater oozes out of the bottle when I squeeze it,” I said cheerfully, trying to bring some levity to this situation.
The doctor had absolutely no reaction. Our little chat was over. He told me to hop up on the table while he strapped on a magnifying glass headband. There I was splayed out on this narrow examining table like a Thanksgiving turkey while every inch of my skin was being scrutinized. As he was peering into my armpit I was wishing I could be unconscious for this examination. When he got down to my legs I said, “I have a few little bright pink dots that don’t seem to be freckles. They’ve appeared in the last year and I’m not sure what they are.”
Without looking up he replied, “I don’t see anything I’m concerned about.”
Relieved that it wasn’t a collection of rogue freckles, I asked, “But what are they?”
He definitively said, “Nothing to be concerned about.” End of discussion. The mystery of the bright pink freckles will remain a mystery, albeit one that won’t harm me.
Then, I was asked to turn over. I was seriously concerned that I was going to flop right off of the narrow examining table and onto the linoleum. As soon as I turned on my side I heard a tearing sound and my paper towel vest fell to the floor. Thankfully, the vest was the only thing that fell to the floor that day. The doctor continued his thorough inspection on my reverse side and asked, “Do you have any children?”
I thought maybe he was warming up to me and starting a conversation. I replied, “No. No children, but I do have two cats.”
“I only asked because I wanted to know what kind of skin protection you are using with your children,” he said flatly.
I had had enough of the humorlessness. Humor is my coping mechanism when I am feeling stressed or uncomfortable so I said, “Well, they are indoor cats so I don’t feel the need for any skin protection.” That response didn’t even garner so much as a smile.
He concluded the exam by sitting me up and picking through my hair to check my scalp. I felt like the orangutan I had seen in the National Zoo. When he was finished with his thorough evaluation of my skin he pronounced that there was nothing suspicious, but because of my freckles, fair skin and family history I’d need to be examined every year. I can’t wait!