Just beneath the surface of normal

From the Archive: Fun With Plastic Surgery, Part I

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Instead of actual writing, here’s a piece from 2006 that I was pretty proud of at the time. I’ll post Part II tomorrow.

It all started in October, as we were dressing for my boss’ wedding. I was putting in my contacts, because my glasses aren’t suitably styled for formal occasions, and touched the mole on my eyelid as I raised it to insert my right contact lens.

“Man, I hate that thing,” I mutter to myself.

“You DO?” asks Jim, intruding on my internal conversation. “I always thought it didn’t bother you.”

It mostly doesn’t, except when I’m not wearing glasses. But I hate how everyone I meet spends the first ten minutes staring at my eye, which has this giant, vascular lump protruding from above it. Even Jim admitted that it had bothered him a bit when we first met.

“Well, why don’t you get it removed?” he asks innocently, as though I hadn’t wished for just that a million times. Unfortunately, mole removal is considered elective plastic surgery and my HMO won’t have anything to do with it.

I explain this, and he sweetly offers to pay for it, as long as it isn’t prohibitively expensive.

So I make an appointment with a plastic surgeon with experience doing eyes, just to be on the safe side.

I feel really embarrassed going into his office. It is full of posters advertising such vanities as permanent hair removal and makeup tattoos. Of course, I know in my heart that this is no less vain.

I sit on the table and after a single glance he points out FIVE moles on my face. Suddenly I’ve gone from one hideous growth on my eyelid to having more moles than the CIA.

And of course, it works like a charm because now I want them ALL gone – I want to rout out that pesky mole infestation that has so clearly prevented me from experiencing true happiness all these years. Never mind that I hadn’t really noticed them thirty seconds before; now they HAD to go.

He offers to remove them all for $250, so I make an appointment for this morning.

This morning I arrive early for my appointment, I sign a paper and leaf through an old issue of Glamour, and thank goodness it’s a “men’s point of view” issue, in which the readers are implored not to take themselves so damned seriously and to just eat a cheeseburger once in awhile for chrissakes, so I do not begin to look seriously at the various posters on the doctor’s walls.

Finally I am called in and seated on a table/chair contraption, next to an articulating chrome arm with what looks like a telescope strapped to the end of it. It is humming ominously at me.

The doctor comes in and jovially asks if I have any questions.

I do. I sheepishly pull up my shirt and show him another mole on my belly, which Jim finally admitted he wouldn’t mind seeing disappear as long as the laser is fired up anyway.

The doctor suppresses a giggle and tells me he can’t laser it off – because it’s a nipple. I now have a third vestigial nipple below my right breast. He tells me they’re very common (some even have an ariola) and that he can cut it out, but I shield it protectively and tell him I would like to keep my freakish semi-mammary intact thank-you-very-much, so that just in case I ever run out of work options I can at least join a circus.

I lie back in the chair/table, he puts metal goggles over my eyes to protect them from the laser, and proceeds to inject lidocaine into my various moles. This is the most painful part of the procedure he tells me, especially the one over my eyelid. Feeling the sting of the needle, I believe him.

Extra lidocaine goes rolling down my cheek, making numb little tearstains. My eyelid feels numb and puffy like I just lost a prize fight and I’m not sure I’ll be able to re-open it anytime soon. I wonder quietly how I will explain this to the police officer who will be handling my car accident on the street in front of the office.

I am then handed a squeezable head, which manages to drain any confidence I might have had in his assertion that the worst is over.

He starts with my forehead. It sounds like a machine gun firing, and it occurs to me that the ominous humming was the build-up to a full-on assassination attempt. It stings just a little bit, but not near as much as it jangles my nerves. He asks me if I want more lidocaine, and I resist but he injects more anyway. I still feel it a little. I decide that’s fine – it really is better than the injection.

He moves on to my cheek. Takatakatakataka wipe. Takatakatakataka wipe.

A question starts knocking around in my brain, like a stray bullet from the machine-gun laser. I try to keep it there, where it is safe, but it ricochets right out of my mouth: “what…do you keep wiping up with that cloth?”

“The skin explodes when the laser hits it,” he tells me, as casually as if I’d asked what was for dinner.

“Oh,” I say, going along with the dinner theme, “like chicken in the microwave.”

Long pause.

“Yeah,” he confirms tentatively and far less casually, “kinda… like… that.”

He does my eyelid last. Due to the drooling dose of lidocaine, it doesn’t hurt at all.

Then he tells me the worst thing of all: “these aren’t moles – they’re all warts. They might come back.”

I feel horrified. Betrayed. Embarrassed. Somehow the idea of having lived through the peak of my youth with a face full of moles is okay. It was fine for Cindy Crawford and it’s fine for me. But warts – ew! And now it’s too late and my chin is starting to sag and before long I’ll be old and wrinkled and the warts will come back and I’ll be just like the old cartoon witches. Oh, alas!

I am then covered in band-aids, given cookies and water for my adrenaline shakes and sent on my way. My eyelid works again, but all the little lesions sting. I have to keep them covered and moist until they heal; scabs are the enemy.

I go for coffee and feel the compulsion to explain to the convenience store lady why my face is covered in band-aids. “Had some moles removed,” I say, covering the truth of my shame. Because somehow telling the convenience store lady is far more humiliating than announcing it to everyone on the internet.

But now I have moved on to imagining the mortification of attending my daughter’s band and choir concert tonight with my ex, looking like Bride of the Swamp Thing.

Jim suggests a hat. I remind him that Mush-Mouth hats are not currently available at the local Target. He suggests a scarf, wrapped all around my head a la the Invisible Man.

I’ve settled on a Guy Fawkes mask. I think it will still scare the children less than my face.

UPDATE: I have since learned that a dermatologist could have identified and removed them and my insurance would have covered it. Plastic surgeons are assholes. I am probably the only person surprised by this realization.

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