Whack-a Mole en Espanol
One of my mother’s distinguishing features has always been the button mole located front and center in the middle of her chin. Since I was an adolescent, I had my own version of the family mark, but mine was off to one side, dangling down off the bottom of my chin. There is something pleasing about such a mark when it’s symmetrically aligned, but through my adult life, my offset imperfection slowly grew to the size of a pea, obvious at a short distance, especially when it grew large enough to catch a razor blade.
A few years ago, Mom was visiting and she said, “That thing’s growing, and you ought to have it whacked.” Usually, we struggle to find similarities to tie us together, so I knew her concern was real. I am, however, not a huge fan of the American system of allopathy, with its endless redundant forms and waivers, and the Byzantine labyrinth of insurance claims. I would have to make a visit with a GP, and then go to a specialist to have the mole biopsied, and then be referred to a plastic surgeon, none of which would be covered. The total cost in the US would probably range around three to six thousand dollars, depending on the plastic surgeon; the cost as well as the hassle kept me from doing it.
Fast forward a few years, and my wife and I are enjoying a beach vacation in a tiny village on the Mexican Pacific coast. The town has two streets, and a long yellow beach, sparsely populated by a mix of natives and tourists in varying states of undress. Along the two hundred yard main street is a hole-in-the-wall pharmacy, doing a brisk business in sunscreen, and selling a surprising variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications. The sign outside also reads, “Doctor en Residencia.”
Inside is a twelve foot wide storefront with a counter, and a little back room behind a curtain. Doctor Jose Luis has a round, brown face common to Oaxaca, and wide, kindly brown eyes.
“You are the Doctor?” I ask in Spanish.
“Si,” he nods, smiling, “what can I do for you?”
“You do some surgeries?”
He nods again, “Si, some surgeries. I have a team. What do you need?”
I thoughtfully tugged at my mole, a habit that probably got me to this impasse, and said, “I’m thinking of having this removed. It’s growing, very slowly.”
He raised his bushy salt-and-pepper brows and kept nodding. He reached across the counter, “May I?”
“Claro.” He pinched my mole a few times, and said,
“No problema, thirty minutes, one or two stitches.”
Now it’s my brows going up, and my chin nodding up and down, “Bueno. Ahora mismo?”
“How about tomorrow, at ten o’clock.”
The next morning, my wife accompanied me to the pharmacy, more out of curiosity than concern. He was there, punctually at ten to raise up the clattering corrugated metal door, and wave us inside.
“How are you today?”
“Very well, thank you, and yourself?” I had grown to love the formal courteousness of even the most casual encounter.
“Very good. Are you ready?”
“Yes, but before we begin, I would like to say that I’m sorry about our new President. He’s a disgrace to our country, and I hope you and your people understand that the shame is all ours. The stupid wall is about his own insecurity, and doesn’t have anything to do with you.”
Jose Luis smiled and nodded again. His whole demeanor seemed predicated around agreement and understanding. “We can hope that he will not do as much harm as he promises to. I think your electoral College does not serve your people. Look what happened to Al Gore in 2000. Why do you do it this way?”
“That is a very good question.”
He opened the curtain and motioned us into the back room. His assistant was a short, dark-skinned woman with the classic Mayan face, a sharply pointed nose, and long almond-shaped eyes over broad, square cheeks. She smiled encouragingly, and held a chair for Crissy. Jose Luis motioned to the only other thing in the bare back room, a short couch with a white sheet spread over it.
“Señor, you lie down here.” I lie down, and my lower legs are hanging off the end of the couch, which had no arm rests. Jose Luis begins to fire off a long list of things he will need, and his assistant busies herself with collecting them from the shelves. He takes a minute to squeeze and pinch my mole again, and then the assistant hands him a pretty sizable syringe and a bottle of lydocaine. He draws about 4cc into the syringe, and said,
“Pica un poco.”
Crissy winced as he put the tip of the syringe into the base of my mole, but in truth, the chin in general, and my mole in particular are not very sensitive. I’ve had nose hairs plucked that caused more pain than that. Then he proceeded to turn the needle this way and that, squirting lydocaine all around the inside of the mole. He pulled out the empty syringe, and began to cover my face and neck with gauze. He and the assistant had a rapid conversation about which scalpel to use, and then she handed him a sealed paper packet. He ripped it open, looks at the shiny steel blade, and then took a hemostat in his right hand.
“Does this bother you at all?” I can tell that he’s clamped it onto my mole only because of the weight hanging from my chin.
“Y aqui?” He moved it and clamped again.
“No, ni un rato.”
He dabbed my chin with iodine, pinched my skin between his fingers, and I can tell by the way Crissy is fidgeting that he has begun to cut. He begins to replace bloody gauze pads with clean ones, and dabbed the incision with more iodine. I felt nothing, but tried to stay as still as possible. I looked up, the only direction available, and watched the dozens of spiders moving around in their dusty webs as Jose Luis poked and dug at my chin with his scalpel.
“Mm hm, here it is,” he said, holding up the hemostat. I craned my head sideways and peered at it. Without the aid of my reading glasses, it looked like a pink blur, about the size and color of a pencil eraser, with a little pigtail. “Do you want to keep it?”
“I don’t think I can leave it here; it doesn’t have a visa. We will have to throw it back over Trump’s wall.”
Both he and his assistant chuckled as he pitched my mole into the bin with the bloody gauze, and then he asked her for a suture. I watched as he put the base of the hook-shaped needle into the jaws of the hemostat, and then his hands were once again busy under my chin, invisible to me as he deftly made three small stitches. I could feel him pulling the knots tight, and I’m surprised at how hard he has to pull, like he is lacing figure skates. He took one more piece of gauze, dabbed it with alcohol, and wiped my chin and neck. Then, he pulled out his Android phone and took a few photos of his handiwork. He turned the phone around to show me, and I saw a pink line held together with dark knots that looked very much like the spiders above.
“How do you feel?”
“Great. A little lighter, maybe.”
“Y mas guapo, quizas.” The assistant nodded encouragingly, and Crissy said,
“Wow, there it is, your new chin.”
“Still love me?”
“I’m working on it.” I looked over, alarmed, and she smiled.
A few minutes later, we stood at the pharmacy counter again, and Jose Luis gave me two little bottles of pills, “This is a prophylactic antibiotic, and this is an anti-inflammatory. If you have any problem, or discomfort, any questions, you can call me or come to see me here.”
He pushed a little slip of paper across the counter with an itemized bill and instructions for taking the pills. My tab came to two thousand, one hundred and fifty pesos, or just over a hundred dollars. I paid in cash, and there were no redundant medical history forms to fill out, no insurance claim to fight over, and by the looks of it, very little scarring to remind me of the most courteous, professional, hassle-free and affordable medical procedure of my life.
If you ever need a minor surgery, ask me for Jose Luis’ card. You will save a ton of money even with airfare and hotel, and you can recuperate on a gorgeous beach. Bueno.