Friday, December 06, 2013

That's one for the books...

I haven't related a tale from my misspent youth in quite some time. Basically, every time I think of something funny or interesting, I find that I already talked about it here. Did I really run out of stories? Then my friend Emily posted a funny anecdote on FaceBook about a recent visit to the doctor and his comment that he'd never seen "one so big" in his entire career. She had a cold sore. It must have been very very large. ;)  It reminded me of an amusing incident from when I was 12 or so.

As I've related a few times in the past, I was an outdoorsy child. Not by choice, mind you. My mother would chase us kids out of the house and tell us not to return until the street lights started coming on. So I spent a lot of time sunning myself while reading. I also spent many many happy days avoiding the summer heat at the pool on the local air base. Back then, most Moms didn't worry about sun exposure. If we started to get red, they'd make us sit in the shade. As a result, I'd be dark brown by the time summer vacation ended. Nicely toasted. As winter arrived, that summer tan would fade and I'd have a nice new crop of freckles on my arms, legs and back to admire.

One year, the tan had faded everywhere but my left shoulder. I still had a large patch of dark skin there covering my shoulder blade and up over the top of my shoulder. I was 11ish. The next summer, the dark patch vanished as the rest of me turned the same shade of dark brown. But once again, by winter, the tan was gone everywhere but that large patch on my shoulder. This time, the area was covered with dark hair. I was a hairy child anyway...a fine peach fuzz of light brown. But my shoulder looked like it could use a shave. For a young girl headed into puberty, this was NOT acceptable.

My mom pointed it out to our pediatrician. He poked at my skin, scratched his chin and decided to send us to a specialist - a dermatologist at Children's Hospital in Boston. This was not our first visit there. I already told the story of my spinal curvature, I think. Now my mom was nervous. I started hearing whispers of "cancer" and other horrible possibilities. My vast and active imagination went into overdrive. Could that persistent tan KILL me?!

The dermatologist was very nice. He had a big magnifying glass with lights built in. He studied my skin carefully. He took a scraping (OUCH!) for biopsy. He consulted a couple books. Then he asked if he could bring in some colleagues. I was feeling particularly vulnerable in my backless hospital gown, but sure. The more the merrier, right? First it was 2. Then it was 4. Soon it was 6 or 8 people poking, squeezing, pulling and staring at my shoulder and conferring in varied whispered tones.

The doctor finally approached me and said, "This is extraordinary. We've never seen a some scientific term I no longer remember this large before! May I take some photographs? I want to submit your case to some medical publication I no longer remember and possibly get it published in some medical text book I no longer remember too!"  He seemed very excited. I nodded numbly and he took a bunch of photos of my back from various angles. I still had no idea what was going on. Was I going to die? Hello?

Finally, the doctor explain things in simple terms. It was a giant mole. "See how the darker skin is slightly raised? That is also why the hair there is darker. Moles often have more and darker hair." Ah. Still wasn't feeling better. I already felt like a freak of nature. This was just confirming things. He went on to stress that I use sun screen and avoid too much sun exposure. There was a higher risk of melanoma. I remember THAT word. He gave us a bottle of something that might possibly fade the skin discoloration a bit and make the "mole" less noticeable.

I did use the skin bleach stuff a few times, but it was hard to apply myself and there was NO way I was asking my Mom for help. Hello awkwardness and body shyness. Puberty is so so much fun.

The next summer, I hardly ever took off my swimsuit cover-up. I wanted a suit with wide straps. I spent most of my teens hiding my shoulder. It wasn't until I was a senior  in high school that I got a strapless prom dress. Even then, I had a cardigan.

To this day, if I get too much sun, my shoulder darkens. So I wear a swim shirt now. You won't find me in tank tops either.  And I never did find out if my back was featured in any medical publications. Any dermatology students out there? You might have seen me.

1 comment:

Emily Suess said...

Too funny! So glad it only mortified and didn't kill you.

And yes, the cold sore WAS huge! And it's still hanging around. I hate these things. :)