So, I went to see ol’ Doc McTigue Monday for a couple of puzzling little dots on my scalp. My general practitioner told me a few months ago the dots might be pre-cancerous growths and set me up with this town’s renowned dermatologist. Every time I told someone I was going to the dermatologist, they’d say, “McTigue? She’s the best.”
Which I love because it begs the Q.: What criteria determine who’s the best doctor in this or that field? Natch, such a ranking is easier here in B-town because there’s McTigue and a handful of other skin plasterers. Acc’d’g to Angie’s List, there are fewer than ten dermatologists around these parts. But people back in my beloved hometown of Chi. used to say the same thing about their various docs and, as an example, there are some 212 dermatologists in Chicagoland; at least that’s the finding of a review site called healthgrades.com. A couple of years ago, Chicago mag ran its listing of the best specialty MDs and came up with a dozen top dermatologists. That’s more than exist in total in Bloomington. So how could anyone say So-and-so is the best? Yet they did all the time.
Anyway, if one can trust word on the street, M. Kathleen McTigue puts all the other Bloomington dermatologists to shame. That’s why it took a few months for her to see me. At the time I was scheduled I asked my primary doc if perhaps urgency might be called for in the case of my possible pre-cancerous dots. Like, shouldn’t he call for an ambulance with a police escort to get me over to Bloomington Hospital immediately? Or maybe even have me medevac-ed to the Cleveland Clinic or Johns Hopkins?
“Nah, don’t worry,” he said.
Naturally, that’s when I began to worry.
So, all through August and September and October I fretted that my scalp was turning into a fertile field for a dizzying collection of tumors. Would I become something like the Elephant Man? I refrained from googling skin cancer and melanoma because I knew I’d find photos that’d put me off my feed for days at a time. Big Mike’s Dictum No. 3,047: Stay away from the internet as much as possible when you’re diagnosed with this or that malady or even only told you may have it. In fact, especially when you’re told you may have something, don’t go digging too deeply into the web for info. You may not have the disease but the sheer terror, horror, and hysteria people throw on the interwebs surely will shave years off your life.
I started asking myself how long I had left in this mad, mad, mad, mad world. Do cancerous scalp dots kill swiftly or will my demise be lengthy and tortuous? I even started growing out my hair — that is, what’s left of it on my pate. I’ve got hair in spades all around my body, in my nose, my ears, and even on my toes. Yet my coconut is as near to billiard cue ball-ness as it can be. What nature hasn’t deprived me of, my barber clippers do.
I’d stopped shaving my dome with a razor a while ago, when my dots first appeared. That’s how I discovered the dots, as a matter of fact. I’d slice them open while shaving my scalp. I got tired of drawing blood so I settled on running my barber clippers over the expanse instead. Set to low, the clippers made me look less like Michael Jordan than, gulp, a cancer survivor.
At least I wouldn’t be slowly bleeding myself to death.
I’d noticed my incipient baldness as far back as the age of 22. For some odd reason, I’d decided to look at the back of my head, bouncing the image off a hand mirror to the bathroom mirror. To my horror, I noticed the foliage was shockingly sparse back there. I’d read later that a balding man loses the vast majority of his hair between the ages of 18 and 24. I would be, I concluded, a balding man. That realization is my gender’s analog to the female finally accepting that her perky breasts one day will be saggy. It ain’t a happy day for either sex.
Perhaps my thinning wool has been the cause of my coming fatal battle with cancer. That’s what I was thinking as summer turned to fall and I waited to see McTigue. If only I’d worn a baseball cap as I manned third base for my Sunday afternoon pickup baseball games on the Lakefront back in the ’80s and ’90s. But no, caps made my head hot. I went capless and now the price would be a horrible death.
Of late, my dots have been becoming more like lumps. Well, not lumps, exactly. Maybe something like how Uluru (Ayers Rock) appears from space.
Uluru Or My Dot?
My Ulurus, I’ll admit, scared the bejesus out of me this summer. How many would there be? And how big would they grow? Worse than a horrible death, would they become so gross and unsightly that people would think I’m an old man?
Kill me now, please!
So I started growing my hair out even more, to a Curly Howard-esque coif, the better to hide them. And I pointed them out to my regular medic. That’s how I wound up at M. Kathleen McTigue’s skin factory.
She’s a hoot and a holler, I’ll tell you. She slapped me on the back and told me what a magnificent beard I have. (She has impeccable taste, I might add.) She told me to strip to the waist and then whipped out her special flashlight. She pored over my skin like a chimp inspecting a new tennis ball. All the while she kept up a patter that seemed more a tummler‘s than a medical specialist’s. She whacked me on the back one final time and told me I had nothing to worry about. My dots-turned-Ulurus were nothing more than “wisdom markers.”
Translation: Old age growths.
“You’re like an old battleship,” she said. “You’re getting full of barnacles.”
And that was that. She pumped my hand, grinning, as if she were sending off a beloved uncle on a sea cruise. She muttered a few instructions to her assistant and then she was gone as quickly as she appeared. The assistant dutifully handed me a pamphlet before leading me out the door.
As I walked to the car I flipped through the pamphlet. Its title: “The Care of Aging Skin.”