Toad in the Hole

May 27, 2006

In Stitches

Postings have been sparse this week mostly because it's been rather busy. It's been Carve-'em-Up Week here at the Blake Street Belfry.

Monday I jaunted down to San Leandro to get my nose carved up. My nose has been annoying most of my life, but never particularly ugly except for being red most of the time. (Think Bill Clinton. But smaller. Now stop that.) However, that's where the (slow, not all that scary) cancer showed up, so that's what got sliced on. Poor nose. Goddamned nose. I'd had that bump -- looked suspiciously like a wart to me, but the various docs called it a "colorless mole" -- for years and years, but my estimable GP, Nicola Hanchock MD, was the first doc to say, "I want you to have a dermatologist look at that. I don't like it."

So I did, and said dermatologist (Teri Dunn MD, whose practice looks awfully glam to me but there was a decent proportion of fellow old farts there) sliced the whole visible thing off by way of biopsy and it was malignant. She said that most of a basal cell carcinoma lies beneath the surface iceberg-style, though, and referred me to another specialist for microscope-guided surgery.

Her slice had been so good and healed so well that the new guy, William Chow DO (!) had trouble finding the spot when I went for the first consult appointment. He had his derm and surgery certs, so I figured OK, DO or not, here goes. He seems (almost suspiciously) non-obnoxious for a surgeon, certainly personable enough in conversation, which is all to the good if one's having wide-awake surgery. The deal is that he cuts out a little bit, runs a frozen section on the cells at its edges While-U-Wait, and if those cells aren't "clean" normal healthy cells he cuts some more; repeat as needed. The frozen sections take an hour or two; anaesthesia is strictly local; the waiting room is neat but small and stuffy. Suggestions included "You could go lie down in the back seat of your car if you have that kind of car..."

The Redoubtable Emma, Taxing Woman and Terror of the AccountantSeas, came down for the weekend and took Monday off to drive us down there. Local anaesthesia or no, I knew I'd be in no shape to drive the freeway afterward; in fact, to keep myself from rising up and biting someone and getting shreds of flesh in my braces -- the nose is one of the more instinctively guarded places of the body, IME -- I took a leftover tab of some benzodiazesomething before leaving. I do have some self-knowledge and even experience in nose slicitude; see above.

The usual pre-op interview started with the interesting question: "Is this your first skin cancer?" Point taken.

So I was numbed, sliced, and be-cottonballed before 11AM and told to return at noon. We decided to look for lunch, and found a Japanese restaurant just down East 14th Street. (Alas, the Gray Wolf bookmine is closed Mondays; we were right in the neighborhood.) I ordered tonkatsu, figuring it was unlikely to get screwed up. In fact it was quite nice, for all that everything came in styrofoam boxes like a platelunch. I should've had a beer, but was feeling conscious of proprieties and had enough to worry about re: getting lunch out of the braces before a close-up face exam. It will surprise no one who has ever laid eyes on me that I dislike and am apprehensive about getting looked at closely by strangers anyway.

The good news was that the frozen section was clean; Dr. Chow had got it all in the first go. I couldn't tell you if he was using a magnifier then or what, as there were two very bright lights in my eyes and a paper sheet with a nose hole in it over them. Anyway, this time he just did the stitching; toward the end the anaesthesia was wearing off -- no pain, but a definite feeling that I was being sewed. Sewn. Whatever. I asked if he'd maybe embrioder a leaf on it, as it was basically a line that would make a good midrib, but he declined. Pity; I might have started a body-mod fad. I swear if he'd done it I'd then see about having the braces beaded.

The (nurse? PA?) put what she called a pressure dressing over the slice, gave me those care instructions they give you, set up a followup, and we all went home and I took a nap. The pressure dressing was a big round cotton ball taped over a bit of gauze, and I was sorely tempted to color it red.

Wednesday I took my nose, now covered by a mere bandaid, to the orthodontist's for a braces adjustment. I'd've left it home but it remains stubbornly attached to the rest of me. The new wires are stiffer yet and I was warned my bottom teeth might ache. They do, but not much; it's all easier to take now that I know what to expect, sort of. Anyway, it's all bright and shiny now and I have glow-in-the-dark brackets again. Don't tell Joe. I keep forgetting to suck on a flashlight and scare him at bedtime.

One note about bandaids, aside from the term's becoming a generic noun like aspirin and kleenex: the "latex-free" plastic jobs from Nexcare (sp?) smell nasty. It's a plastic-industrial smell and I'd never noticed it before, but this one was on my nose, yeuch. I had to find another one, cloth or something, and replace it a few hours after I'd put it on. Also, it's hard to find interesting-looking bandaids in a one-inch width. I might have to resort to hand-coloring what I have. What a nasty color -- "flesh" my ass; have you ever met anyone of any race whose skin is that color? Barbie, maybe.

Yesterday Joe had his long-overdue dental surgery. I found a free and long-term parking spot near Alta Bates -- his periodontist-surgeon's office is in that building complex around the hospital -- so rather than go home while he was being worked on I took a stroll to the Elmwood post office and other attractions including the bird store, where a mid-size macaw was holding forth at great length about something alarming, and Mrs Dalloway's bookstore, where our old friend Elise White was working so we had a nice chat.

Joe came out walking but woozy and stuffed with gauze till his face went all pear-shaped and his speech was mostly unintelligible, which made the visit to the pharmacy for the post-op 'scrips entertaining. His turn for a nap while I went out for groceries. He's in much better shape today, and given my own experience of many years ago I credit good pain control for part of that. But I do suspect we'll be having a lot of barbecued soup for the Memorial Day weekend.

Posted at May 27, 2006 04:45 PM


So THERE you are! Goodness, I've missed you. Must plan a food excursion soon.

Posted by: V. at May 28, 2006 05:54 AM

Oh, poor Ron! Poor Joe, too. Thank goodness the slice showed clean margins, at least. Maybe your "first" cancer will also be your last. Fingers crossed.

When do you get your braces off so you can dine without fear of dental consequence? It must be awful living where you do, with all those fantastic culinary options (oh, the farmer's markets at this time of year!) and having to think about how much cleaning time and other fun each bite will cost you.

I know what you mean about "flesh" color. You should see my fake foot. No one who isn't suffering from liver disease combined with a bad instant tanning lotion experience is this color. No one. I will be doing something about this in time. I'm thinking an all-over paisley pattern. I just need to find an ink that can stand up to my lifestyle.

Meanwhile, I wonder if you could supplement your income as a bandaid designer? I think a lovely little flower -- and you know your lovely little flowers so well -- could be very cheering, and tasteful. Or you could just use a magnifying glass and write in tiny, tiny print, "What are YOU looking at?" heh heh

Best wishes.

Posted by: Sara at May 28, 2006 02:15 PM

yeeks, the week of mid-sized medical-dental horrors! glad they got clean margins on the first try.

there are colorful and patterned bandaids for little kids, if you happen to like neon or sponge-bob, but they are probably smelly, too.

Posted by: kathy a at May 28, 2006 05:40 PM

Yeah, kathy, and I am about over Spongebob; the rest were worse. I suppose I could go all ironic with some princess or other, but I don't wear much in the pink-n-pastel-purple color range. I was all for the bright-colored ones but the ones I found were all too narrow.

Sara, the braces went on just before Christmas (poor planning on my part) and stay for at least two years. I'm adapting. So far I can handle lots more than I'd thought, armed as I am with a folding knife in my purse. Carrot sticks are out, but I never was one for virtue. I will miss banh mi, though.

About that foot: are there washable paints you could use to tattoo it? Or paint on a sixth toe, or root tendrils, or a slug mantle? Or pigeons?

Bandaid designer... Now there's a thought. Whoever did the crayon bandaids showed genius. Maybe a zipper?

Posted by: Ron at May 28, 2006 06:42 PM

ah, well. i'm partial to those fabric bandaids, myself, for reasons of comfort and flex. ugly devils, though. an artiste might be able to make something of them with colored pens, or stickers. or henna, even.

sara, you have style! xoxo

Posted by: kathy a at May 29, 2006 12:14 AM

With regard to bandaids and their diverse ilk, what I don't understand, since all of us come in so many different colors (often on the same person, even) is why clear isn't the default color. They know how to make 'em clear now. If they aren't going to be cleverly or adorably illustrated, why aren't they all clear?

With regard to ink, although the idea of a zen project that I wash away every day has its appeal, what I really want is a good permanent ink that will stand up to a lot of -- oh, "abuse" is such an ugly word, but -- abuse. I don't want to hijack (a very strange-looking word at 3:30 in the morning) this thread, so I'll go on about it at some length elsewhere when I get more into my leg "pimping" project. However, the kind of abuse I'm talking about is lots of severe friction as shoes come on and off and move around while in use; exposure to the elements which must happen when shoes that don't entirely cover the foot are worn and life is lived in a variety of environments; and occasional soaking in a rubber boot I don't realize is full of possibly muddy rainwater and couldn't be bothered to take off right away. I'm thinking permanent calligraphy ink and a process of injection much like tattooing only less automated. However, if you have any other ideas you'd like to suggest, I'm all ears -er- eyes, I guess.


Posted by: Sara at May 29, 2006 08:50 AM

Oh Poooor both of you. Yikes. Wish I had some veggies coming up already I could grill and make soup out of for you. If it would warm up a LITTLE, this might happen soon. (Careful what you wish for, they tell me...)

Hang in there, both of you.

Posted by: Pica at May 29, 2006 05:36 PM

Pica, we'd cheerfully take a rain check. We're both feeling much better -- except for the various sore joints and muscles (Joe: "I think I broke my hunker.") from two days of yard work. Being able to do two days of yard work speaks for itself, I hope.

Sara, and anyone else: Let me state here that I have no problems with hijacking on principle. I'm not trying to run some sort of organized discussion here. I like taking off in all directions.

Since I know so little about the faux-foot materials and construction -- I didn't know you could slosh it around in a bootful of water without harm, e.g., though it makes sense when I think about it -- I have no bright ideas. I could ask my more artistic friends, though. Hm, would a "real" tattoo artist work on it? It'd be painless, anyway. Too bad the damn things are so expensive or you could have interchangeable costume feet.

If it were me, there'd be glow-in-the-dark stuff involved, that's all I know.

Posted by: Ron at May 30, 2006 03:51 PM

Heh heh -- okay. I type really fast, so I am able to spew more digressions per minute than your average fruit fly (love that expression; never did thank you for it). This can be obnoxious, I know. Good to know it doesn't necessarily bug you.

So the insanely ugly "cosmetic" foot form around the metal springery that makes the fake foot function is made of "flesh" colored rubber of some sort. It's not as soft as a pencil eraser, in fact it is absolutely hard enough to take out the genitals of any would-be attacker, but it is, well, rubbery. I think tattooing it, injecting vertical lines of ink about two mm deep, especially with the elaborate pattern I have in mind, will be kind of a protracted process, and this is why I'm taking my time planning it. I will take pleasure doing it myself, but I only want to do it once, you know? Or at least not too often.

I like the idea of interchangeable costume feet, and agree that it is too bad that prohibitive cost makes this option impossible. Although, who knows? Maybe some clever hobbyist could supplement his or her income making skins for fake feet, like they have for cell phones. I LOVE the idea of glowing in the dark. I have also often toyed with the idea of applying fake hobbit hair to the insultingly badly sculpted fake toes.

My goal for this summer is simply to finish affixing small irridescent glass daisy beads around the black metal ankle cuff and up the back seam of the carbon fiber shin. I started this process last summer, but quickly found my limits in time and humidity. I am hoping that the glue I have selected will ultimately hold up to both, but I need several days of enough dryness and nowhere to walk before I dare bother applying.

Now I will probably blog this at my own place at some point, but since we're on the subject, and so as not to keep you in suspense or anything...

As for the water-filled rainboot thing, well, I didn't really ever think about this before a week or so ago. It rained really hard here for days, maybe weeks. We went out in it, naturally, and the thing is, when I take off my leg, I don't necessarily take of my shoe because more often than not it's the same shoe I'm going to wear next time I want to walk. However, when the rain finally receded, I took off my boot preparatory to putting on a real shoe and had a bit of a surprise. Yeah, the boot had like an inch of standing water in it. My fake foot smelled like athlete's foot and had odd purple blotches on it. Also -- and here's the freaky, freaky part -- it had pruned.

None of this was anything an hour of fresh air and sunlight couldn't fix, but this is just one example of the kind of exposure my eventual artwork will face.

Posted by: Sara at May 31, 2006 04:34 PM

"smelled like athlete's foot and had odd purple blotches on it. Also -- and here's the freaky, freaky part -- it had pruned."


Holy moly, how sure are you of the material's um provenance? I'm glad it dried out OK, at least.

I trust your blogging about the project will include photos.

Skins wouldn't be technically too hard, would they? Latex or neoprene or wotnell's that blue stuff they make nonlatex gloves out of? I'd imagine they'd take less of differential sizing than socks, even.

I remember a million years ago when I was working hospital, idly designing jewelry for tracheostomies. They use silver anyway, wotthehell. Blame it on nightshift musings on the changing meanings of "carbuncle."

Hobbit hair. OK. How about werewolf claws?

Posted by: Ron at June 1, 2006 12:15 AM

Oh, and those toes. Why the hell didn't They, whoever, just make a casting-and-mold of someone's foot? Or, hell, your own other one, and flip it. Sheesh.

Posted by: Ron at June 1, 2006 12:17 AM

Actually, you can get a casting-and-mold mirror of your own remaining bits or someone else's. They just cost -- forgive me for this -- an arm and a leg. And no, most insurance does not cover any such thing.

When I was interviewing my prosthetist before my surgery ('cause I wanted all my ducks in a row if I was going to commit to this), he showed me an example. It was definitely rubber and even replicated every freckle and hair. Except for the jiggling (think Hallowe'en monster mask kind of jiggling), it was extraordinarily lifelike. I just wondered why the patient hadn't had her toenails cut before having her foot cast. They were long enough to be gross.

I declined such services. I thought it was creepy. Also, I really don't need my fake foot to resemble a real foot. It's not. Besides, it's stuck on the end of a black carbon-fiber pipe. Kind of a dead giveaway that it might not be the original unit, don't you think? LOL

I've written a long rant on this at my blog, but I haven't posted it yet because, frankly, I think I've been ranting too much lately, and I want to post some more amusing, recreational, and instructional things before I start complaining again. (Balance, you know. Amputees are big on balance.) However, I'd be happy with something that looked like this:

What do I need an artistic impression of fake toes for anyway?

The most insulting part is when you flip it over and see that the bottoms were "sculpted" by somebody just drawing lines between where they thought toes ought to be. Why? Why?

This foot, including the springy bits inside, which are the most important parts, cost my insurance company $1,628,99. A rubber shoe last in my size over those same springy parts would not only have been less offensive, but probably cheaper.

Posted by: Sara at June 1, 2006 05:52 PM