Wednesday, April 13, 2011

And the loser is

The scab on my right cheek, directly below my eye, is my reason for flying home. It's small, but rough, and makes my face appear overly flushed; in the past few months I've been speculatively diagnosed with: rosatia, lupus, and shame. None of these are correct. What we have here, my friends, is an Actinic Keratosis, a precancerous spot that is the result of chronic sun exposure. A gift from the Rotarua, New Zealand, under whose ozone-free skies I basked, sunscreen free, for three scorching months when I was 16.

I can identify the actinic keratosis because this is not my first. Happily, they're easy (if not pleasant) to get rid of.  They burn off with a little liquid nitrogen, it takes ten seconds. I could do it myself with dry ice, if I had the balls.

But, thanks to the way of the health insurance world, I have to fly back to Vermont for the 'procedure'.

It's alright. I love it there.

I wake up at 7am Eastern time, which is 4am Seattle time, which is The Wrong Time To Be Alive in Melina time. An hour later I'm at the health center in Woodstock, coughing into my sleeve in the waiting room, trying to make myself unrecognizable so I don't have to acknowledge the presence of my high school history teacher who is sitting four chairs away. I have two appointments set up.

First thing in the morning and they're running forty minutes behind. It's alright. When they call my name I sit by the window in a red-upholstered chair, resting my face in my hands. My doctor ticks away at the list on the computer screen, writes the scripts for another round of migraine medicine, a second kind of migraine medicine, migraine preventatives, anxiety pills, sleeping pills. Warheads, licorice bits, anise drops, root beer barrels, peppermints.

To pass the time between appointments, I take a walk into the village of Woodstock. My beautiful, idyllic town is wintered in- dark and sparse and ice-brittle. The coffee shop I loved so much, the one owned by Mary Urban, my high school classmate, is gone. The Manhattan landlord jacked up the rent and sent the little business toppling, and now the space sits vacant. Now nobody is getting anything out of the space. Allechante, the one other coffee shop in the town, left after Christmas, nobody is quite sure why. A new place has taken over, and from the instant I walk in I know it's not going to last through the summer. Not in this town. It's got clunky furniture and mismatched decor, but it falls short of the country charm it's aiming for. I order coffee but my stomach turns rudely at the sight of it. I go outside, hold onto a granite hitching post and cough my brains out. I tell myself it's just the dry air.

"I'm sorry I'm late," says the dermatologist as he opens the door to the room where I've been sitting, heals banging against the metal table, for forty five minutes.
"It's alright," I tell him.
"No," he says, looking me in the eye. "It's not." He can't be more than 29 years old and he sighs like an old man. Cutting the small talk, he pulls out a metal spray gun. "Liquid nitrogen. -197 degrees Fahrenheit." He says this like I should be impressed. Which I am, sort of. The gun is aimed a half inch below my eye.  "This will sting." He pulls the trigger.

He's blasted me twice when a voice comes over the intercom. "Would the owner of a blue Subaru outback please come to the front desk."

That's my car. Of course it's my car. The dermatologist man tells me we're not done, but he'll wait. He's quite nice, actually.

My right eye is starting to swell as I walk to the front of the clinic, where I find an older woman talking to the receptionist, visibly agitated, ringing her hands like a stage actress.

"Is that your car?" She asks, gesturing towards the parking lot. "I just hit it. I just backed right up into your car."
"Oh," I say, peering outside. "It's alright. It's probably just this weather. Slippery."
"Nope," says the lady. "I really wasn't looking."
She takes me outside, shows me the damage. It's barely anything. The frozen air gnaws at the burned spot on my skin.
"It's alright." I say again.
"What can I give you?"
"I want to give you a hug."
"That's alright."

Back at the room, the dermatologist is staring out the window, still holding the blast gun. "If you don't mind," he says as I walk in, "I'd like to blast you one last time."

Bronchitis is unfurling like a fiddle-head in my lungs as I walk from the clinic back into town. For the past few weeks it has lived deep in my lungs, curled up asleep but still present. Now it's coming awake again, stretching and rattling around the ribcage. I bend at the waist and cough. At the pharmacy, I buy bottles of ruby cough syrup and ask for my prescriptions. The lady hands me one orange bottle of pills and begins to ring me up.

"I'm sorry but- I should have a few more than this."

"Hmm...let's see..." This woman has worked at the pharmacy since before time. She knows everything I've ever been on. "I see your Imitrex, Celexa, your...Sorry but, your insurance won't let you fill these for another thirty days.

"But-" I stutter, "I haven't refilled those for months-" I stop. It's a losing battle.

"Would you like to speak to the pharmacist?" She asks politely. Through the cut out window, I can see Jim, white haired and mustached, frowning as he counts out rows of pills.

"It's alright." I say. Jim is my neighbor out in Pomfret, as close as neighbors come in Vermont. We like to discuss gardening when I come by in the summer. He's such a nice man. But son, his only child, recently died of a drug overdose, and now I don't know what to say to him.
"It's alright." I pull out my wallet. "I'll just take these."

When I get home, the three dogs are barking and levitating, hoping for a walk. I fall back into bed. Hometeam crawls under the covers with me, collapses her little body against mine. For nine out of the ten days I'm in Vermont, I'm sick. I lie in bed; when I'm not asleep, I study the ceiling. I take the dogs for two walks a day around our property, through deep snow and over hard packed snow mobile tracks. I feel okay during those walks. Relieved, calm, cleaned out by the pure air. The other hours of the day and night, I feel terrible. My mom, home from work for my visit, is visibly heartbroken. But then she gets a migraine. For days. Her migraines make my migraines look like bug bites.

Spring is a long way off. We lie in our beds.


Adriana Iris said...

wow you took me on a roller-coaster of feelings. TY for sharing... sending you love and light

Dr. Unk said...

Feels like I was reading a song..."Brick" by Ben Folds. Not quite as sad, but more just the feeling of the cold and being sick...

It's good.

Dr. Unk said...

Feels like I was reading a song..."Brick" by Ben Folds. Not quite as sad, but more just the feeling of the cold and being sick...

It's good.

Bryan said...

A few things that resonated with me. They feel too long to post as a
comment, but treat it as so.

Woodstock reminds me of some time I spent in Vermont, about a month or
two in the summer, probably 2004. I was leading a team removing
equipment and batteries from former AT&T Long Lines microwave radio
tower sites. For some time, the nations long distance network was a
series of radio towers spread across the country at small intervals.
For the majority of this time we stayed at the Ascutney resort in
Brownsville. There was a site in Brownsville, and it was relatively
centrally located, so it worked out well. I forget all of the sites we
worked at, and I can't remember what site I used to load the shipping
container as well. It's likely I drove all the scrap, except steel,
down to New York where I was doing a lot more work and loaded it into
a container there. You can see some of the old routes on this map from

I recently spent a few weeks back home in Maine, due to my father
passing away. I grew up in the small town of Surry, which doesn't
change much. It is outside of Ellsworth, nicknamed "the crossroads of
Downeast Maine," because if you're trying to get anywhere in the area,
you're likely going to pass through Ellsworth. It is also the county
seat. Consequently there is quite a bit of service industry there.
When I go back, there is always something new; the big Walmart, a
Lowes, Mardens moved to the old Walmart. The downtown street holds on
to its walkable charm, but the rest of the city is lost to sprawl.

It seems every time I return home, I get a cold. Sometimes nuzzling a
bottle of Robitussin will due, other times I've been stuck in bed with
a flu. I'm not sure if it is the weather, or spending all that time
cramped up with people in airports and in airplanes.

I grew up with a thousand acres of family woodland as my front yard.
My grandparents have been amazing stewards of the land; they respect
it greatly. I love walking the land, following the small cut roads,
hugging the unspoiled lakefront, and wandering the woods with just the
sun and a hunch as a guide to my direction. I like finding old cut
roads from tractors or even the horses, admiring how the stands have
grown and the patterns of succession have played out.

Anyway, I should be working. Thanks for warming me up.


dig this chick said...

You are such a captivating, honest, beautiful writer.

The earth will warm. Deep, clear inhalations will happen. Wounds heal. Snow melts.

While all of these things are true, it is important to honor thethis-isn't-what-I-had-planned feelings. Sitting with them, writing about them makes the warm, deep, clear, melting moments crisp and real.