Self-diagnosis

After one hour of lying awake, unable to fall asleep in the dark next to my slumbering partner, my brain decided I had skin cancer. My thesis defense was over. My dissertation had been handed in. I had moved across the country. I just settled into my new job. Now, with no other major life events to distract me, my mind settled on the slightly suspicious bump just above my hairline and declared war.

Channeling my inner Woody Allen, I educated myself on the finer distinctions between basal and squamous cell carcinomas, having ruled out the much more serious melanoma. I cringed as I reviewed online photos of lesions, comparing them to mine. I debated seeing the one out-of-network dermatologist who was open on weekends, or waiting until Monday.

This decision was complicated by the fact that my terrific medical insurance would run out in five days. The insurance provider contracted by my new employer appeared to be a joke:

  1. Their website belonged in the early 1990's.
  2. Their instructions for how to look up doctors who take their insurance were wrong, so I still cannot figure out which doctors are “in-network.”
  3. In their enrollment form, all the links to additional documentation were broken, even the ones labeled required reading.
  4. Rather than enrolling online, they required you to print your application, give it to your HR administrator, and then wait for the once-a-month sending of these printouts to the contractor’s offices, for them to presumably type back into their own database. Based on their own estimates, I’d be uninsured for up to six weeks.

My partner alternated between compassionately listening to my fears and jocular teasing about my self-diagnosis. After his initial efforts to distract me failed, he shaved off part of his beard, leaving a mustache. I squealed at its hideousness. I got used to it after an hour, at which point, he shaved it off too.

On Sunday morning, my partner sat me down, and combed through my thin, fair hair. “E, you have more,” he informed me. I thought he was pulling my leg, just to make a single bump seem less worrisome. “Here, you have three — no four spots of discoloration.” They were all across my head, in varying sizes. I rushed to the mirror, awkwardly bending my neck to try and see one. Then he made me promise not to try and look at them anymore.

We decided to go for brunch. I put on overly fancy shoes, just for fun. We walked through our new neighborhood, past cute houses and a lawn full of rose bushes taller than me. We stopped and breathed in their fragrance, careful not to sniff too close to the pollinating bees.

When the waitress later messed up my bill, I shrugged and let it go. It didn’t seem like a big deal. “I mean, I might have cancer,” I remarked, with a hint of humor. “Exactly!” he said. We started to laugh.

My partner’s perspective on death and dying were different than mine. He’d survived a bomb blast. I’d only read about them and looked away from the pictures. I’m uncomfortable contemplating my own inevitable death, while he already had.

The following morning, I slipped myself into a local dermatologist’s office, thanks to another patient’s cancellation. They biopsied the cause of my worries, deemed the rest of the spots benign, told me to spray my scalp with sunscreen, and sent me on my way. I felt sheepish about all the alarm I’d felt starting so late at night, just a few days prior.

I called the phone number listed on the website of my soon-to-be new insurance provider. Regardless of which choice I entered into their automated answering service, it hung up on me or looped endlessly with a glitch, like a broken doll. I called my mom, reporting to her all the ridiculous details, laughing and sighing at how Kafkaesque it was. At least I get a story out of it. Oh, and an excuse to wear cute hats.

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