Saturday, April 9, 2011

He's Dead, Jim

None of the jobs I've had have been really dangerous like policeman or fireman (unless you count the Navy
where I could have painted myself to death), so I've never been in danger for my life while at work. I've never even had any serious automobile accidents. I still managed to get myself into plenty of trouble with the sun, however.

Growing up in Miami, we were outside all the time, deliberately getting a tan. And we didn't have any of that fancy-schmancy SPF 1,000,000 like the stuff that's available now. We slathered ourselves with baby oil so at times you could actually hear the frying noise as we cooked to a rich, golden brown burning away multiple layers of our precious and irreplacable skin.

I miss my skin. I miss my knees, too, a lot, but the sun didn't take my knees away. I did that on my own. No, the sun took my skin away.

Well, I guess that was my fault as well, who sleeps in the sun at the beach all day for days on end? What dumbbell works construction outside all day with only a hardhat, boots and little short-shorts? Hmmm?

The guy who ends up with no skin, that's who.

Of course, I can take consolation in the fact that we didn't know any better, it was our culture to get the best tan we could. And no one ever said all cultures are good. Some cultures are just stupid.

So, my first skin
cancer appeared exactly twenty-five years ago. It was my first trip to a dermatologist (certainly wouldn't be my last) and by sheer luck I selected the best dermatologist in the whole world, Dr. Robert Cott. He removed my first basal cell carcinoma from behind my left ear.

After that, we were off to the races. Over the course of years, Dr. Cott removed multiple instances of basal cell carcinoma, dermal nevi, compound nevi with melanocytic dysplasia, epithelial hyperplasia, keratinous epithelial cysts, inflamed seborrheic keratoses, compound lentiginous nevi, and diagnosed me with my personal favorite -
transient acantholytic dermatosis otherwise know as Grover's Disease. Grover's is frequently found among those of us with sun-damaged skin and has no cure. It makes me itch. I've suffered with it for more than twenty years. I use it as an excuse for my drinking (like I need an excuse!).

My back was the area most affected and as excellent as Dr. Cott was, my back still looks like a small war was perpetrated there. I haven't been in the sun on purpose for more than twenty years and here's my advice to all of you.

Stay out of the fricking sun!

But I probably won't die of Grover's Disease or the diseases associated with any of the other Muppets. I also shouldn't downplay the dangers of being in the US Navy, I did get my hand smashed up pretty good and some other nasty wounds. I'll have to tell you about that sometime.

The closest I came to dying was
at beautiful Haulover Beach in Miami. My friend, Richard Scandore's mom took us to the beach when I was maybe eleven or so. We were digging holes in the loose Haulover sand and (being an overachiever) I was trying to dig really deep and fell in head first with the hole collapsing around me.

I don't have any video
or photos of this so you'll have to use your imagination. Pretend you're this woman in the sand here. OK, now change yourself into a little boy and then flip yourself over so only your legs are sticking out of the sand. Got it? Now try to breathe with your mouth and nose completely full of sand.

Doesn't work, huh? Yeah, it didn't work for me either. From what I was told later, I was kicking so hard, no one could get a grip on my legs until this big guy came along and pulled me out with one of those wet, sucking noises you usually only hear in cartoons. I didn't hear it at all because my ears were full of sand, too.

I'd like to tell you a story about how clearly I was thinking as the life ran out of my skinny little eleven year old body. You know, something like regretting not being able to grow up and become a great doctor and discovering a cure for cancer (maybe even skin cancer!) - but I can't. I had no thoughts, just sheer, blind panic. How ordinary.

I still get sand coming out of parts of me now and again. But I learned a valuable lesson - life is all about lessons, isn't it? I learned humans can't breathe sand. And I won't forget it either.