IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, summer means “fun in the sun!” In the sprinklers, at the pool, or on the beach, that’s where I spent my summers – from age two, to twenty-two.
Sunscreen was for sissies. Us cool kids infused baby oil with iodine, rubbed it on our skin, then fried our hides in the sun like pork rinds.
I distinctly remember the pleasure of undergoing a “good burn,” then admiring my healthy glow in the mirror afterwards, feeling the heat radiate out from my skin, and through my clothes. (Yep, ignorance is bliss.)
My first boyfriend taught me to body surf. My second boyfriend taught me to board surf. He had a car, so my summer with him was all about the beach. Ten hours a day, six days a week, for twelve weeks solid. That totaled 864 hours of direct sunlight in three months. (Give or take an hour.)
By the end of August, I no longer looked Caucasian. I looked African American. My skin was the consistency of aging leather, my hair was dry as dust, and my eyes had faded from bright blue to a dull gray. (Did I mention, we didn’t wear sunglasses in those days, either?)
The Friday before Labor Day, I came home from the beach and fell asleep on the couch. I slept for three days. Whenever I awoke, all I could see was a bright, white light and some hazy figures in the background. I would grope my way to the kitchen, guzzle a gallon of lemonade, then crash for another six hours on the couch. I don’t think I even made it upstairs to my bed that weekend.
For some bizarre reason, I never saw a doctor for this condition. Now, decades later, I realize I’d had a good case of heat exhaustion. (Actually, not-so-good, ya know?)
But soon enough, adult responsibilities kept me out of the sun. And aside from retaining a good crop of freckles across my back and shoulders, my skin pretty much recovered.
Until I reached the magical age of sixty. (Hey, I’m Grandma to eleven grandkids, so I can be sixty!)
When I was fifty-five, a black spot appeared on my face, and my dermatologist faithfully biopsied it each year, while it faithfully grew a little each year. Shortly after I turned sixty, I dreamed I had a hole in my cheek where the spot was. So I found a new dermatologist ASAP.
He took one look and proclaimed, “I’m taking that one off!” It was melanoma. So I underwent successful facial surgery. And now, five years later, I am still cancer-free.
But something keeps bothering me. If I’m such a high-risk patient, then why did my dermatologist – even though he was my hero – take such a cursory look at my mostly-naked body, each time I went back in for my bi-annual check up?
There’s a lot of skin on a human body (especially when it’s grandma-sized), and it takes a while to ogle it all, inch-by-inch, for problems. (Ask me how I know!)
My insurance company switched me to a new dermatologist this week. And wowser. My first visit with The New Guy tickled me absolutely goofy. (Tra-la-lalaaa!)
“I surfed when I was a kid and my bikini exposed a whole lotta skin to a whole lotta sun,” I informed New Guy’s assistant, when I entered the exam room. “I’m taking everything off!”
Five minutes later, in walked The New Guy – a tall, slender young man, sporting a lab coat and spiked hair. About the age of my oldest grandson, I figured. We chatted for a bit, and then I shed my robe. And that’s when the good times began.
“Stand closer to the light,” he commanded, and I backed up while he positioned a huge spotlight on my back and began to run his gloved fingers systematically across my skin, studying every inch of my back and buttocks, and categorizing and commenting on every anomaly he found.
Wow, I could hardly believe my good fortune. Close scrutiny at last!
“Here’s a doohickey,” he commented. “No problem, just a sign of aging.” (Awesome!) “And that’s a whatsit,” he continued. “Only a mole under your skin. Not a problem, either!” (Yippee!)
(Yes, I know those aren’t scientific terms, but I’m writing this from memory, so my thingamabobs will just have to do the trick, for all you whosits out there!)
He found a diddly on my right shoulder and we both agreed: “Slice it off!” Then I bent over the table while he brought the spotlight down lower, ran his fingers over the back of my legs, flipped me over like a flapjack, then ran his fingers and his gaze over the front of my legs, too.
New Guy’s commentary continued as he studied every nook and cranny – punctuated only by my occasional question and his immediate answer.
But I was in ecstasy. Here was the dialogue and the attention I had been craving for years, and within minutes, I was smitten with the man.
When the time came to examine my chest and abdomen, I was completely enthralled. I sat there on the examination table, following New Guy’s every move and chatting amiably with him about first one diddly, and then another. (All together, he found four. Clever boy!) We paused for a minute to formulate a plan of attack – him in his lab coat, and me in my birthday suit – and then, he recommenced his inspection.
I lifted up the more pendulous parts of my anatomy so he could scope out the situation underneath each pendle (yes, I just invented the word). Then I carefully put each one back in place, so he could study the derma on top.
Heaven . . . ecstasy!
Imagine! There I was, starkers and unashamed, being systematically and categorically ogled in the all-together . . . and tickled absolutely goofy in the process. A few decades ago, I would’ve called being starkers and unashamed in the presence of a young man a honeymoon.
But in my granny years, I’m dubbing this momentous occasion – a doctor-moon. (Think about it!) And from where I’m standing, that’s some kind of wonderful.