A not so ‘a-peeling’ sight

Published 7:32 am Tuesday, February 21, 2012

When I was a young boy, I was fair-haired and freckled faced. That is to say I had very fair or white skin. The first dermatological advice came from my dear, old Granny Roberts. When she knew that I was headed for the fields, she would say, “Be sure to wear a hat.”

By hat, she meant one of those broad-brimmed, straw hats that, all by themselves, covered an acre of land. They were huge and I had already begun to hone that great and manly attribute of stubbornness, so I simply smiled at Granny and headed off to the peanut patch to pull the weeds without the aforementioned hat.

Mother Nature, through lots of practice, had perfected those hot days that were characterized by cloudless blue skies and a ball of fire more commonly known as the sun. My brother and I would work out in those fields day after day. I’m thinking child abuse now, but since that term was not known to Daddy, I never mentioned it back then.

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Now, at the ripe old age of whatever, I visit a man with lots of letters behind his real name, and some of those letters explain him to be a doctor and dermatologist. He has earned all of those letters through years of anatomical and biological studies and I respect his opinion on what is going on with my skin. His greatest bit of advice always seems to be, “Be sure to wear a hat.”

That’s what my Granny Roberts told me more than 50 years ago and I don’t remember her having any letters behind her name, and I’m not sure she knew the epidermis from Epsom Salt. She, also, would see me without an appointment, took more time with me than the doctor, and, never once used that most common phrase around the doctor’s office, “That’ll be $150!”

This past week, I had one of those PDT treatments from my dermatologist. Let me tell you about it, but, as the news accounts of some stories might say, “This report involves some graphic information.” I’ll try to keep it appropriate for this family-oriented newspaper.

A PDT treatment is the acronym for Photodynamic Therapy. A better definition would be Procedure of Deliberate Travesty. I should have been wary when the doctor refused to answer, directly and clearly, my most important question.

I am not unlike all of you when it comes to wanting a complete documentation of what is going to happen during a medical treatment, but the most important question is always, “Will it hurt?”

The doctor gave an evasive answer. Actually, he lied.

To my question, “Will it hurt?” he answered, “Well, there will be some tingling and, perhaps some discomfort.” That’s like an old sawbone taking off your right leg and informing you that there could be some inconvenience involved. It was the turn of his head and that devilish, little smile that worried me.

Tingling? Oh, that’s the way I felt when I first met Donna Sue. I can handle tingling. Discomfort? That’s the way I feel when I can’t go to the bathroom. It only lasts for a short while, hopefully.

Okay, I can take a little tingling and some discomfort. My friends, if they had placed a red-hot poker upon my forehead and left it there for five minutes, that would have felt like ice water compared to this PDT treatment.

After the chemical has been applied, there is a certain amount of waiting period so the chemical can soak into the skin and, then, seek and find those dastardly pre-cancerous cells just below the skin surface. After the waiting, a blue light to simulate the burning rays of the sun is placed within a few inches of your face. The purpose is to activate the chemical and burn off the top layer of skin — sort of like a very bad sunburn.

Sometimes, medical things can be full of irony and this is one of those times. The greatest cause of skin cancers and deterioration is the damage that comes from the sun. Yet, this treatment, which is supposed to combat the pre-cancers, simulates the rays of the sun. Go figure.

Another aspect of the treatment that was positive, I thought, was its brevity. I could have opted for a two-week treatment of another medicine. The PDT treatment lasts 16 minutes and 40 seconds. Once again, my mind tells me that I can stand anything from 16 minutes and 40 seconds. What was I thinking?

I felt that it would hurt maybe a third of that time. There would be a build-up of intensity that would take at least five minutes, maybe even eight. Then I would have to endure just a few minutes of real pain. Imagine my sorrow when the searing and intense pain began after only 30 seconds. I knew I was in trouble, so I did what any grown man would do. I began to cry!

I now know what the phrase “Pray without ceasing” means. That’s what I did for the remaining 16 minutes. Plus, the nice nurse who was with me kept spraying me with water from a spritzer bottle. I must have sounded like a blackjack player in Las Vegas. My refrain was a constant, “Hit me.”

Finally, the nurse said those great words, “Less than 30 seconds.” The doctor said this is a “one-time” treatment, meaning that he would never have to do this again. As the saying goes, “You got that right!”