Ah, there’s nothing quite like the smell of burning flesh in a doctor’s surgery. Especially when it’s your own. After much badgering from my mother – she spotted a dodgy mole on my back during The Cruise – I finally went to a skin cancer clinic yesterday. At first, it was just my pride that hurt, when the doctor announced the “moles” on my back were actually “age warts” (are there two sexier words in the English language?). Then she found a suspicious red, scaly patch on my shoulder and started talking excising and biopsying and scarring and plastic surgeons and scary shite like that.
I had to make a decision between big scar on the spot or a biopsy and potential plastic surgery scar down the track. I went for option b. The doctor stuck a needle in my shoulder and started digging around with a scalpel. It stung. I briefly pondered being brave, before deciding to say “ouch” and getting another needle. Fortunately I said “ouch” because after removing a chunk of my flesh she cauterized the wound. Hence the smell of burning flesh.
I was reminded of the last time someone poked me with a scalpel. It was in New York at Halloween. I wrote a blog about it for Wondertime magazine. I’d planned on rerunning the blog on October 31, but I figure now is as good a time as any:
“Halloween was a pretty scary time for my family this year. And it wasn’t crazy New Yorkers in costume who inspired the fear.
On the Friday morning, we visited a fire station with my four-year-old’s preschool class. Nothing scary about that, you might say. Tell that to the two-year-old who tagged along, then suddenly started screaming the place down. Between choking sobs, she finally managed to explain that she was scared of the big, red fire truck. So scared, in fact, that I was forced to take her outside and wait in the cold until the visit ended. I missed seeing all the spunky firemen demonstrate how they slide down their fire pole – I didn’t realise they still had those – it was so disappointing.
In the afternoon, I went to the doctor for some festive slicing and dicing. I’d gone to see him a month earlier with a bad case of the flu. While he was listening to my lungs with his stethoscope, he said, “Hmm, don’t like the look of that mole on your back.”
Commonsense told me that my scalpel phobia needed to be overcome in the face of a possible melanoma, so I reluctantly agreed to have a biopsy at a later date. But perhaps Halloween wasn’t the best date to choose.
Actually, the biopsy procedure was surprisingly civilised. The thing that hurt most was the anaesthetic needle, which stung a lot. As the doctor started cutting, he asked me if I could feel anything.
“Only fear.” I replied wanly.
As I was being sliced open, I casually mentioned I was having sinus problems and my usual medication didn’t seem to be working. The doctor said he’d draw some blood and do some allergy tests for me. Oh goody, another needle!
After he sewed me up, the nurse drew a vial of blood out of my arm. Then, she cheerfully showed me the chunk of my flesh in a specimen jar. “See, that’s the mole, that’s your skin, that’s some fat …”
I wasn’t a Halloween fan before coming to New York. It didn’t feature in my childhood and I found it disturbing when costumed kids started roaming the streets on October 31. It seemed a bit too American and contrived in Australia.
But celebrating Halloween in New York is obligatory. You simply can’t avoid it. All the shop windows are decorated with pumpkins and ghosts and other ghoulish stuff. There are more Halloween events than you can poke a stick at, from pumpkin sailing in Central Park, to craft activities in museums and libraries, pumpkin patches in playgrounds and a massive parade in Greenwich Village.
My family had been gearing up for the big night for weeks. We’d searched the internet for the perfect costumes (both girls decided to be bats), we’d bought cheap candy buckets and a spider web to decorate our living room window, and borrowed heaps of Halloween-centric books from the library to get into the spirit of the occasion.
The weekend prior to Halloween, my husband staggered home with two pumpkins. Carving them turned out to be much harder than it looked (even with instructions from the first issue of Wondertime) and I winced anxiously through the arduous process, expecting him to lose a finger at any moment. The final creations might not have won any prizes, but they looked quite fetching on the window-sill with tea lights flickering in them.
When the two-year-old woke from her nap on Halloween afternoon, we headed to the Museum of Natural History for its annual fright night. It sounded like a good idea in theory – trick or treating among the dinosaur skeletons – but the reality was bedlam, with loud bands, endless lollies and hundreds of kids (and a surprising number of adults) in costume running in all directions.
The two-year-old ate her sweets just as quickly as she collected them. I tried to intervene a few times, but it got ugly, so I gave up and let her have her sugar rush.
When the museum closed, we hit the streets to experience “real Halloween” close up. Residents had draped their buildings in fake cobwebs and there were spiders, skeletons, pumpkins and orange fairylights everywhere. Michael Jackson’s Thriller blasted out of open windows. It was amazing and lots of fun.
The kids walked along, wide-eyed, holding up their candy buckets for more booty every few steps. They almost had to be man-handled onto a bus to go home.
Chocolate smeared and almost comatose, we finally tottered up the hill to our apartment and spent the next 90 minutes wrangling two sugar-addled kids into bed. Much hysterical crying and threatening ensued before everyone finally collapsed into an exhausted sleep.
“When will it be Halloween again?” were the first words out of my four-year-old’s mouth when she woke the next morning. She still can’t quite believe there’s a parent-sanctioned celebration that involves being given your own body weight in free lollies. Neither can I.
Now, I just need to think of a sneaky way to get it all out of the house again that doesn’t involve toddler ingestion or indignation …”
Results of the biopsy are in a week.