A month ago, I was conducting my usual morning routine of admiring my pasty whiteness in the bathroom mirror when I noticed a small patch of lighter skin on my upper right arm. It was purple, but a lighter shade of purple than my skin tone. A small child might have thought it it was a kiss mark from the tooth fairy. A normal adult would have thought nothing of it and continued their life in peace. Being anything but a calm and logical person, I jumped straight to the conclusion that it was malignant melanoma. A hickey from the angel of death.
I did my best to not let it bother me. That lasted almost halfway through my drive to work. Once I hit my first red light, my sleeve was up and my eyes were locked to the mysterious skin lesion like a tween glued to a smartphone. I stared more at the purple patch than I did the road as I continued on towards the office, not realizing that I could have been the first person to be pulled over for performing a skin inspection while driving.
“Maybe it’s a patch of thin skin.” Maggie said when I entered her cubicle and shoved my flabby arm in her face. “You know how some people are thick-skinned? Maybe this is your one weak point.”
In order to test her theory she tried calling me an asshole directly to my purple patch and then to my other arm for comparison. I took the same amount of offense to each.
“Wait, let me try calling you an egotistical, misogynistic shit head.” She pleaded as I walked away.
I needed my primary care physician to set me straight. I’ve never left her office without feeling a sense of relief and confidence. Like the time she told me my large amount of excess fat was nice and evenly distributed over my vital organs.
Every time I have unrealistic health concerns about rare diseases and conditions, my doctor examines the situation, tells me why I’m full of crap, and sends me out into the world to continue living my life as I was before. Every time my doctor has realistic concerns about my weight and eating habits, I examine the situation, tell her why she’s right, and go out into the world to continue eating my way through life as I was before.
I expected her to take one look at my arm and tell me it was it was a small fat build-up on the top layer of my skin that was slightly discolored from a tiny, minor blood vessel leak on the surface level of my vein roadway. And that this extremely natural and common series of conditions was nothing to worry about.
Her actual answer didn’t thrill me.
“That’s odd.” She said as she inspected my arm closer, poking the patch with her finger to see if she could wipe it off.
“I hope that stands for Ordinary Dermatitis Disease.” I replied.
“I’m going to refer you a a dermatologist,” She went on. “It’s probably nothing, but I just can’t say with confidence that it’s benign.”
I took her advice and scheduled an appointment two weeks down the road. For those two weeks, the only time my eyes ever left the purple patch was when I was online reading about other people’s purple patches. It bothered me immensely that I couldn’t find anyone with a similar situation.
Typically, when I frantically research a symptom online, I’m able to diagnose myself with almost one-hundred percent accuracy. It’s amazing I’m still living considering all the illnesses I’ve had in the past fifteen years. I’ve had a touch of skin cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, brain cancer, throat cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma, several bleeding ulcers, liver cancer, liver disease, herpes, AIDS, bird flu, and a broken foot.
I remember each scare vividly. Some led to sleepless nights. Some led to tiny bruises on my stomach from extensive tumor searches. Many of them led to the acceptance of death as an inevitability. All of them had me repeating common sense to myself late at night, lying in the dark.
“If I spend every moment of my life fearing death, isn’t that like being dead already?”
But every time one condition clears up, another begins a few months later. Another cold. Another minor foot injury. Another headache. Another purple patch.
And I will worry and beat myself up for worrying so much, especially once I find out for sure that the life-changing symptom I’ve been wasting my life panicking about was…
“Definitely not cancer.” My new dermatologist assured me. “In fact you have very healthy skin.”
“Thank you.” I replied. “I play video games all day in the dark.”
“Good for you.” She said. “Now you and your purple patch can run along. I’m sure you have important stuff to do.”
I didn’t. I thought about taking the rest of the day off to celebrate my survival. But my purple patch had a job to do. He had to stay right where he was and stand guard. So that every time I roll up my sleeves and look at him, he can tell me to quit being a pussy and get back to whatever it is I’m doing at the time.