You know how they say, “Wear sunscreen? Well, let me be your cautionary person-writing-this-blog-post and say, up front, WEAR YOUR SUNSCREEN. On that note of “The more you know” (did you just hear the music?), let me also share that we need to watch our skin for more than just those changing moles we always hear about. Yesterday I had a Mohs procedure on a superficial basal cell carcinoma on my face (yes, skin cancer). My only clue this was something that needed attention was the fact that, all summer, I had this spot on my nose that would scab up for a week or so, and then heal. Scab, then heal. Scab, then heal. It was a shiny piece of flesh-colored skin that maybe looked a bit callused – no pigmentation, no mole appearance, just a regular area of skin that looked and behaved a little differently. A visit to my dermatologist revealed it was problematic, and that leads us to the Mohs procedure.
In order to fully get the root of the tumor, a Mohs surgery can be lengthy. The skin is numbed, the surgeon draws, and then they cut. They take that piece of tissue and essentially put a cross-hair on it,
mapped to match the area from where it was removed. This is examined to see if all the bad cells are gone (I never said I was an expert). If they see anything remaining on the sample, they know exactly where the offending tissue lies; my surgeon had to come back one more time in true, if-at-first-you-don’t-succeed fashion. There is a wait time of 30 minutes between each sample, which is why this isn’t generally an in-and-out procedure.
After this was all taken care of, I expected my doctor would just swab some antibiotic ointment and slap a cutesy Band-Aid on and that would be it. But I was wrong. I actually had to go to a different part of the building. “I’ll meet you over there, “ my handsome, thirty-something, Mediterranean (Middle-Eastern? Spanish? Who knows) hunky doctor said. Then a nurse walked me through some doors, shoved some things into my arms, and said, “Go ahead and put your clothes in the bag.” Um, what? I am just getting my nose bandaged!? What’s going on?
In the shock of suddenly realizing I needed to strip down, I couldn’t remember if the gown was to open in the front or the back. I tried it one way, spun it around, then twisted it back the first way. Finally with it half on, fabric clenched in my hands to cover my behind, I stuck my head out to call, “Hey, what’s the story on the gown? Open in the front or the back?” The back, definitely the back.
I continued with my booties and the ever-lovely surgical hair-net thing. I was placed in a bed and my nurse brought me a warm blanket -- other accoutrements included an automatic blood pressure cuff, and a pulse ox on my right index finger. My nurse sat and chatted with me for a bit, over such everyday topics as allergies to any drugs (none), was I supposed to take my bra off, because I did (there are so few places outside of one’s own home where I can do this, so why not? But no, it was not required), and the fact that we both were breastfeeding mothers (can’t remember how that came up).
I was actually wheeled, wheeled, I say! into the surgery (that sounds so Doc Martin, but unlike the European definition, this was the place in the surgery center where they do surgeries, not the office where docs do visits). When my doctor came in, I was kind enough to remind him that it had been a couple hours since last my nose was bee-stinged beyond feeling, so I would love some more drugs to numb that region. Here is the comment that started it all: “I think I have a pretty high pain tolerance, but I don’t want to feel this if I don’t have to.” His response was, “Oh, why do you think that?” I shared I had 4 babies with no pain meds. He and the two nurses all gasped. Oh, I had one more coming, “And the last one was born at home.” My nurse fainted to the floor.
Okay, not really. But I they were still abuzz with a lot of questions, that all sounded like “Why?” (Let me come down off my high-horse now.) “I wasn’t planning to have my first without pain meds. In fact, I said, ‘I have seen women give birth naturally, I think it’s pretty crazy; I am totally getting an epidural.’ Well fast-forward to an unneeded induction, and I wasn’t able to get an epidural. My fear of throwing up won out over my fear of having a baby, so I somehow was able to give birth to my first baby without an epidural or narcotics. It took some time to work through mentally, but eventually, I was happy about it.”
By this time in the surgery, my bed has been lifted up, the doctor has cleaned the left, upper quadrant of my face with iodine, my eyes stinging from the closeness of the fumes, and my face has been covered with a piece of paper with a circle cut out of it so only my nose is exposed.
I continued on…“With my second baby, I wondered what could birth be like if I actually planned to not use any medications? I got a midwife who delivered in the hospital, and I waited to go into labor on my own. Third baby, the same. Fourth baby, we moved here, there were no hospital-based midwives, so I found a licensed midwife who came to our home to help us have our baby there.”
“Why would someone choose to not have pain medications? It is painful to have a baby!” he stated, with much authority (at this point, I did question how he knew this, had he ever experienced it? To which he conceded, no, but he had seen it a lot). So I asked him this: “Why would someone choose to climb Mt Everest?”
“That’s different,” came his reply, “I can understand that. You want to see what you are able to
accomplish physically. You are challenging your body, working toward a goal...” My pulse-ox’d finger interrupted him, pressing, pressing on its imaginary quiz-show buzzer – or maybe it was my voice -- “DING DING DING! You got it!”
I couldn't see him because my face was covered, but his hands paused in their stitching. “I…could see that,” he came around, slowly. The hands resumed their stitching. “I am not sure what the big deal is about drug-free birth though. There is so much pressure to have a natural birth, but we don’t have the longitudal studies that show epidurals, or even c-sections, have life-long health risks.” On the spot, under the cover of plastic-y-paper, I couldn’t think of anything incredible to counter with. I did cite that babies born via cesarean birth have higher levels of allergies, and that was about all I could think of.
I joined him, then, because I do feel it’s the truth, “There is a lot of pressure for women to go all natural, I see that. It is very similar to the pressure we put on women to breastfeed -- ” Okay, this is when he cut me off!
“ – But those stats are there, we know breastfeeding is beneficial, we have that information.” Interesting! Super, hard-cord breastfeeding advocate, not so much on the normal birth platform! I decided, since I couldn’t present any compelling evidence-based studies or data from Cochrane, I would just keep it simple and stick with his line of thinking. “We are humans, though, and we know as mammals, breastmilk is the optimal, species-specific diet for our newborns.” He agreed. "Doesn’t it stand to reason, then, that vaginal birth, as unhindered as possible, is the norm for us as well? And even though we have the option for epidurals and cesarean births, that vaginal birth would provide the most optimal way for our babies to be born?” Honestly, I can’t remember what he said after that, only I know he wasn’t trying to refute anything.
The cover was lifted off my face and it was time for the nurses to step in and dress my wound. As he stepped back to let them take over, he asked, “Are you a medical professional?” I paused before my
answer, and then said, “No, I am a birth doula, a childbirth educator, and a La Leche League Leader.” He shook my hand, nodded his head to me, and then departed to fill out my discharge papers.
What fun! It made all those 5 bee stings to the nose worth it. I can actually say, due to that conversation, I rather enjoyed my day at the dermatologist. The staff was incredible and attentive (and I am assured my scar will be minimal). You never know where great birth conversations will happen! But the opportunity to have 20 minutes, one-on-one with a surgeon (albeit a derm surgeon), was pretty darn fun.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)