Context: Hillbilly Haven (Part 1)
I downplayed the whole leg/foot thing, even when doing so put me in a ton of pain—like the semi-daily family basketball games. I powered through them even though playing hurt like a bitch. I didn’t want Chuck to think I was just another lazy fat person making excuses. My weight was one thing about me that Chuck didn’t like that he didn’t do the best job of hiding. Every now and then he would come up behind me and squeeze my love handle or fat on my back and get a chuckle out of it. It was annoying. I just made it a point to play that much harder hoping that soon there’d be nothing for him to squeeze.
I could play through my leg pain, what I couldn’t play through was my asthma. I was long off the antibiotics so the bronchitis I came tothem with hadn’t been an issue. Then one day, we were out playing Vollyball in the field behind their house…near the grass they grew out for hay bales and well, the combo of hay fever and exercise didn’t work out too well for me. I tried to stay in the game but my breathing just got more and more labored till I was in a full-on asthma attack. Caroline ran into the house and grabbed one of Jake’s inhalers and I took a few puffs they made me sit out the rest of the game.
That evening, Chuck introduced me to this thing called a Peek Flow meter. Apparently, it’s was this thing asthmatics were supposed to have on them to monitor their lungs… but that I’d never even heard of before. He instructed me to take a deep breath and blow into the tub as hard as I could. I did what he said and Chuck made a joke about me having the lung capacity of a 70 year old grandma.
Caroline asked me why I didn’t have an inhaler. I explained to her that when I first ended up on the streets, I used to be able to get them from the Grady Clinic in the West End where Crossroads took us for doctor’s visits but at some point after DFACS sent me back to my mom, they cut off my Medicaid and when I went to the doctor to get a refill they wouldn’t see me. It wasn’t a big deal, I thought.
“I usually only have asthma issues when I’m sick and then I just go to the ER at Northside or St. Josephs for a breathing treatment. Sometimes they let me take an inhaler with me, but the last time I didn’t get one”
That was one of the first times I saw Caroline generally lose her cool. About my mom, about the system. About everything. It was evil, just evil, having an asthmatic child out on the streets without any way to get an inhaler. I could have “ended up dead on the streets because of those incompetent idiots!”
A few days later Caroline took me to the doctor. I got a quick physical and an inhaler. All was fine and then Caroline brought up my swollen foot. Like all doctors, I don’t think he had taken the time to compare the feet to see if they were the same size in the physical. So, the doctor looked at it and told Caroline, “oh, that’s just some lymphedema, you can get a pair of compression hose to keep it from swelling up like that.” Then he asked if my whole leg swelled like that. I said yea, then I explained to him about the surgery I’d had as a kid and explained that they had taken out some “lymph nodes or something” so the blood “doesn’t drain out right.”
He said that I wasn’t making any since and asked me to pull up my pants leg so he could get a better look at my leg. I did and both Caroline and the doctor gasped at the sight of my hideous birth mark and accompanying swastika stitches. The doctor poked and prodded at it with his fingers. “You said you had cancer” he asked
“I don’t know” I replied, “My grandfather said I did, my grandma said I didn’t, my mom was too young to know. I had double casts on forever and they took skin from this leg and put it on this leg. I was supposed to have a second surgery that didn’t happen. I think our insurance ran out or something.”
“If they told you to come back, it’s likely the mole was cancerous or likely to become cancerous and they wanted to keep an eye on it. When was the last time you had a biopsy?”
“What’s a biopsy?” I asked.
“It’s when we take a little piece of it out to check it for cancer. Do you have any other moles that look like that?”
“None that big, but I have some that are the same color.
I pointed out to him the eraser-sized bluish green moles, on my chin (which he somehow missed), wrist, forearm, and stomach and then a slightly larger quarter-sized one on my left calf. There was only one centimeter sized one in each spot, but the dude looked at me as if I was the kid from that Crash Test Dummies song with the moles all over his body. He cleared his throat and announced that he was going to schedule me to come back in a week.
“we’ll do a partial biopsy on some of those, just to make sure they’re okay”
For the next week, Caroline and Chuck joked about me being officially white now—cause black people ‘don’t get skin cancer’ (not true btw). Despite their post-joke reassurances that I would be fine, and that it was just a minor procedure that Chuck had to do all the time, I was terrified. I was only partially comforted by the realization that Caroline and Chuck must have actually cared about me. The must have. Being out of Dfacs, I didn’t have medical insurance. They had either called in a favor to get the doctor to see me or were paying out of pocket for everything.
That realization made me furious. How could these people I barely knew give more of a fuck about me than my parents, my family, the staff at Crossroads, or even my fucking caseworker who was LEGALLY SUPPOSED TO GIVE A FUCK. Maybe if they’d given a single fuck I wouldn’t have gone so long without having this shit checked out, maybe if they did I wouldn’t be probably having advanced skin cancer! All of a sudden I went from being afraid that I could have some cancerous cells in one of my moles to hoping I had stage 4 cancer that I’d die from so everyone who’d neglected me could be exposed for all the bullshit and made to live with the guilt.
I wasn’t lucky enough to have revenge cancer. The most I got out of the experience was an embarrassing doctor’s overestimate pain thresholds for black girl’s when giving analgesics story. At the next appointment, I tried telling the Doctor that he needed to drug me up. I explained to him about waking up from the surgeries that I’d had as a kid and about the time at Crossroads where I’d had a toenail removed and the doctor had to give me like 6 shots to numb the toe and I still felt it. But The doc brushed my warning off. He also took back his whole “I’ll just take a pinprick” biopsy of the moles and opted to completely remove them “just in case something turned up.”
The first mole he took off was on my stomach. That was my favorite mole, the only thing my mom ever said was cute about me. I tried to protest that one being removed, but Caroline told me to stop being a baby about it and just let the doctor do his job. The doctor gave me a shot first and waited a minute before touching it and asking if I could feel the area. I said yes, so he rubbed some numbing cream on. Then he repeated the touch test and another shot of anesthetics. I finally said no, but when he cutting in and a giggle fest ensued.
Caroline looked at me like I was crazy. The doctor told me I had to stop moving, I giggled out the words “it tickles” and then he too looked at me like I was crazy, and then gave me yet another shot in the gut. With that one down, he went to get a slightly bigger one out the back of my leg and there was no giggling. That shit hurt. It hurt so bad I screamed out loud. I didn’t want to do the rest, but Caroline again told me to stop being a baby… cause not wanting to have large chunks of my body cut out made me a baby. The doc then took a chunk out of the big birth mark and then the one on my forearm. By then he had the right dose of pain meds so the last ones didn’t hurt.
When he got to my wrist, I begged him not to take it. It was my second favorite mole, and it mattered a bit more to me because it matched my little sister’s mole on her wrist. I legit begged him to leave it alone and unlike my stomach mole, he gave in, telling Caroline that cutting into the bone area would have been too painful. He opted to not even try taking the mole on my chin for the same reason.
“But if any of these come back abnormal, we’re going to have to take it… it would be better to get them all out the way now so we can have them taken care of no matter what comes back.”
As the doctor was stitching up the last mole (the one on my forearm) Caroline tried encouraging me to go ahead and get rid of the rest… but didn’t push it too hard, which was good. A phone call a week later verified they were all benign so my final ‘let me keep my mole whining got me to keep my matching sister-mole’ saved me from getting a giant scar on my chin for nothing. I already had enough scars on my face from acne. I didn’t need anymore.