Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot: Week 16 – Minor Surgery, Social Distance Style
Once a year I go in to have my skin inspected. That sore that hasn’t healed – is it sun damage? A genetic pre-disposition? A pre-cancerous lesion? Or is it the Big C? Usually it’s one of the first two. Once in a while, the third diagnosis surfaces, resulting in some nitrogen burns here and there. This last February, just before the lockdown, one small sore on my ear that had recurred several times turned out to be basal cell carcinoma – not too serious, slow-growing, but needed to be excised.
But then lockdown. Elective surgeries were postponed. Three and a half months later, I get an invitation from my doctor to reschedule. Outpatient surgeries which did not requre a hospital bed are being allowed to go forward.
A little bit different than earlier trips to the clinic. Entry porch is clearly marked with footsteps at six-foot intervals. Signs say “No entry without mask.” I enter, show my card to the receptionist, who is behind plexiglass. She confirms my appointment, takes my credit card for the copay, waves me to the next station, where a guard waves something in my direction which turns out to be a remote thermometer. Also behind plexiglass, he raises a paddle with a Thumbs-up sign, and I pass through the portal into the main lobby. Signs on the elevator door say “Maximum two people in elevator. Please respect social distancing.” I’m the only one in the elevator to the third floor.
The nurse who escorts me to the operating chair is masked. The doctor is masked. She ties her long black hair back firmly before tucking my hair into a cap, leaving my ear, site of the excision, exposed. A sting as the anesthetic goes in, some pressure as the bad cells are carved away, a thirty-minute wait reading the magazines I brought while the lab confirms all is clear, and then I’m done. I leave with a packet of band-aids and vaseline, and some printed instructions for cleaning the wound. I have scarcely exchanged a word that was not related to my procedure with anyone I encountered. There may have been smiles behind the masks, but they were short-circuited. Not much scope for comforting or building a relationship, but I got my $20 copay’s worth.
Having been there, please remember that in this case, vaseline is your friend. The more you use to keep the wound moist and flexible, the less follow-on injections are needed. So far, I have a scar down my cheek and another under my tracheotomy scar. The facial scar is thin and supple, the chest scar , treated with vaseline less than the cheek, is having annual injections to reduce the lumpy tissue.
Bottom line: getting old can be painful, but the alternative is less desirable.
I’m amazed at how many tubes, jars, and packets of petroleum jelly I have amassed over the decades. I expect to go through at least a few during this healing process. Wish someone had told me about not allowing scabs to form when I was a kid. Maybe my legs would not be so speckled with scars.