“Sorry to keep you waiting young man – how are you?”
The doctor walks in, eager to begin where we left off. A return visit to this office suddenly reminds me of a simple truth discovered last year. Each and every member of this kind man’s staff is so incredibly friendly. The receptionist answering the phones, the medical assistant working to ensure I am comfortable while she takes my vitals. Such kindness makes this process slightly easier to bear, evoking a feeling of gratitude instead of a sense of loss.
“Put your chin up for me,” Dr. Cohen instructs, his eyes trained on my visible scars.
“How does it look?” I ask, nervously awaiting his response.
He quickly mentions something about steroid injections, taking his hand and patting the giant blue seat reserved for patients smack dab in the middle of the room. A nonverbal cue intended to encourage me to change seats.
He starts talking about the scar under my nose, noting its size and the need to correct the formation of “hydra atrophy” – a fancy word referring to the noticeable buildup of scar tissue.
“As long as your breathing is better,” he says, paying homage to the goal that has been ever present in the work we have done together over the last several months – the preservation of airflow.
He walks towards me wielding a large needle. The moment the metal prick meets my skin, a sharp pain goes running up and down the affected area, causing me to cringe as he sticks the needle ever deeper. The sensitivity of the area under one’s nose causes tears to automatically flood my eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he repeats compassionately, quickly grabbing a tuft of gauze in order to wipe away the blood and ooze emanating from the affected area. “Breathe,” he says quietly. “Breathe.” He continues this routine for a few seconds afterwards, applying cloth when needed in order to restore some semblance of dignity to a process that has often stripped me of such a feeling.
In these moments, I am reminded of the fragility of the human experience. How easy is it to feel as if we are in control, to feel as if we are able to effectively determine the way our life unfolds? Until you place your face into the hands of a doctor, willingly handing over the keys with the hopes of achieving a better result. We rely on these medical professionals to help write chapters of our own story, hoping that they will somehow be able to use their considerable knowledge and skilled hands to produce a desirable result.
After the doctor dabs my face with gauze for the last time, he sits back down in his chair, making a few notes in my chart. My mother points out how much better my neck looks - the red scars considerably faded after my most recent laser operation – while I point to the scar under my chin.
“It’s a lot easier to shave around the area, and fills in better when I have a beard,” I tell him.
“We want to get your nose to the same place,” he says quietly, appearing to be mulling over next steps.
“Let me see you back in six weeks,” he says.
I ask what happens next, inquiring if another laser operation is in the offing.
“I don’t want to commit,” he says, indicating he wants to see how it looks in six weeks before making such a determination.
I appreciate his willingness to engage in a wait-and-see approach, his refusal to engage in the act of making empty promises, a common experience from the past. This time, the future fails to scare me in the way the unknown once did. Just a few years ago, the thought of an event occurring outside the realm of my stated plans would have caused me great distress.
My mind wanders back to a rather silly scene from my high school years. Re-living the near devastation I once felt over my failure to receive a signature in my personal copy of a book written by a presidential candidate. Agonizing over this perceived loss, I asked my mother the reason behind my inability to let go of this rather insignificant example of what might have been.
“It’s because you have a running narrative inside your head,” she said, a script determining the way my life was supposed to unfold.
I marveled at the growth achieved in gaining the ability to throw out the script.
Instead of striking fear, Dr. Cohen’s words generated a sense of acceptance. I am now willing to face whatever waves may or may not come my way. For those of you possessing a predilection for sticking to a plan, I hope you’ll join me in doing the same. For we all know that our attempts to guide the unruly waters of life often prove futile; and besides, I think Dr. Cohen is more than able to handle the task ahead.