The doctor came into the room with her supplies and set them on the counter. She turned to me and told me to lie face down on the bed. “I’ll be right back with the nurse,” she said. “If you need to hold her hand during the procedure, let me know, okay?”
“Okay,” I said.
After she left the room, I stepped onto the bed and lied down. I had to adjust my mask because my breath fogged up my glasses, and while I did so, the doctor came back with the nurse. I heard the nurse grab the supplies and set them on the metal tray beside the bed. The doctor stepped toward my right and pulled my shirt collar down.
I grabbed onto the corners of the bed.
“You have very nice hair,” she said as she brushed it away from my neck.
I chuckled and said, “Thanks.”
“I’m going to spray the anesthetic now, okay?”
“Okay,” I said. The spray felt cool.
The doctor grabbed the #11 scalpel blade. The nurse placed one hand behind my back and held my shirt collar down with the other.
“Yeah, hold it there,” the doctor told the nurse. To me, she said, “I’m about to make the first cut, okay?”
“Okay,” I said.
I squeezed the bed and held my breath.
I sat in the waiting room and took some photos of the landscape painting hanging on the wall. The ceiling light hit the glass cover and caused a glare that made taking a clean photo difficult. As I tried to get a better angle, I heard the nurse call my name. I put my phone away and followed her inside.
She walked me toward the scale and told me to step on it. I took my boots off and saw the digital reading go up to a number I didn’t like. She wrote the number down and led me into another room. She walked toward the end of the room and told me to sit down on the chair.
She grabbed the sphygmomanometer and told me to take off my jacket. I did so and then gave her my arm. As she checked my vitals, she asked me a few questions about my reasons for coming in to see a doctor. I told her and after she wrote my words down in her laptop, she asked to see my neck.
“Oh yeah,” she said, “that’s a big one.” Her eyes softened when she asked, “And how long has it been like this?"
“About a week.”
She nodded and said, “Okay. Please wait here. The doctor will see you in a bit.”
“Okay,” I said.
When she left the room, I took my phone out and opened the camera app.
Two weeks ago I went to see a doctor I’ve never met before. For over a week I had been battling this pain in my neck from what I now know was an infected sebaceous cyst. It wasn’t pretty and it didn’t feel good, but I thought it would go away on its own. It didn’t. Instead, it gave me headaches and made sleeping difficult.
This was the second time in a few months I setup an appointment to see a doctor. The first one was because of some back pain. I’ve had back pain before but never as bad as it was then. Getting out of bed was a struggle, and when I did, I had to use the back of my chair to be able to stand upright. I couldn’t bend down to put on my socks and when I tried, the pain would shoot up my back and make life miserable. This went on for a few weeks, but by the end, I was able to tolerate the pain enough to at least dress myself. Like with my cyst, I thought the pain would go away on its own, but when it didn’t, I called the clinic and setup the doctor’s appointment.
My doctor’s solution to my back pain was to buy a heating pad and sit on it for a few hours. I was skeptical, but after a few days with it, I felt the pain soften quicker and quicker with each passing day. I’m now a firm believer in heating pads and would recommend them to anyone with back pain.
But I’m grateful I experienced the few weeks of pain on my own. Because it was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life, I grew a tolerance to it I didn’t know I’d need so soon thereafter.
A few minutes after the nurse left, I heard someone knock on the door and come in. It was the doctor.
“Hi, Mario? I’m Dr. Henderson. How are you today?”
“I’m doing good. You?”
“Good. So I hear your neck’s been bothering you. What’s going on?”
After I repeated everything I told the nurse, the doctor asked to see my neck. “How long have you had it?” she asked. She sounded startled.
“A little over a week,” I said.
“And you haven’t felt any fevers or chills?”
“No,” I said. “Other than the occasional pain, I’ve been feeling pretty good.”
“Okay,” she said and looked at my neck again. “This looks like an infected abscess. What might’ve happened is that, as you went along your day, you cut your neck on something and over time, bacteria formed in the wound and hardened. You said you had this bump on your neck for a few years now, right?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It never hurt before last week, so I didn’t really think much of it. It was just this bump I thought came with getting older.”
“It’s called a cyst, and sometimes they can be serious. Sometimes the bacteria in these infections can seep into your bloodstream and cause sickness.”
My eyes widened.
“But you’re talking to me just fine, so I don’t think anything like that has happened yet.” She looked at my abscess again and said, “Well, we’re going to have to cut it out, okay? I have to make a few incisions across the abscess and then we’re going to push the infected tissue out. Unfortunately, you won’t be under any anesthetic, but I do have a numbing spray I’ll spray over it. It’ll help a bit with the pain.”
“Okay,” I said.
I sat at the edge of the table and felt my arms shaking.
The nurse came back into the room and asked me if I was okay.
“Yeah,” I said. I lifted my shaking arms and said, “My adrenalin is making my arms shake.”
“I bet,” she said. “You did really good. Most other patients would have been yelling.” She made exaggerated groaning noises that made me smile.
I shrugged. “The pain was fine,” I said.
“Have you ever watched Dr. Pimple Popper on YouTube?”
“No,” I said.
“When you do, it looked just like that.”
The first cut didn’t hurt. The second cut didn’t hurt either.
“There it is,” the doctor said.
“Oh yeah,” the nurse followed.
I felt the blood trickle down my skin.
“I’m going to push now, okay?” the doctor told me.
“Okay,” I said. I took a deep breath.
While the nurse pulled my shirt collar down with one hand and had the other placed on my back, the doctor pushed against my abscess with all her strength.
She stopped and I breathed again.
“This is a big one,” the doctor said. She pressed down again.
“There it goes,” the nurse said.
“There’s another one,” the doctor said.
“Twins,” I said and laughed. The doctor and the nurse laughed, too.
She pushed down hard on my neck again.
“The first one’s out,” the doctor said.
“How are you feeling?” the nurse asked me.
“Fine,” I said. “I didn’t know I was having babies today.”
The nurse laughed and said, “Yeah, those were some big ones in there.”
“Okay,” the doctor said. “Let’s get the other one out now. Mario, are you ready?”
“Let’s go,” I said.
During the week after the appointment, I took antibiotics and changed my dressing daily. The wound closed a few days after and has been healed for about a week now.
Like I wrote about that day, that doctor’s appointment was one of the funniest and best experiences I’ve had with a doctor in my life. We laughed and made jokes and otherwise made a potentially scary situation into a very warm and human one.
While I lied on that table and felt the doctor push and push against my back, all I felt was gratefulness. I was grateful I lived in a world with doctors and nurses, with people who chose to help people, who spent time and energy learning about the human body and how to heal people. I felt grateful I had insurance and access to these people and these facilities. The procedure hurt, but my feelings of gratefulness overshadowed everything else. It also didn’t hurt that not too long before, I experienced some of the worst pain of my life.
2020 was a strange year, but we made it out alive. How can you feel nothing but gratefulness after that?
Hey, my name is Mario Villalobos.
I am a writer, photographer, and IT director living in western Montana.