Skin deep

Most people have a secret addiction of some description. Some, unfortunately, are P addicts, others are into marijuana – my addiction is cryotherapy. If you are unfamiliar with the term it relates to the removal of unnecessary skin thingies by the application of liquid nitrogen. There is something almost medieval alchemist-like in applying liquid nitrogen to the skin, feeling the deliciously cold, painful fizz, and then over the next few days watching unwanted body bits dissolve and fall off. If that sounds seriously weird – I plead guilty.

Dry iceWhen I first came across liquid nitrogen (or LN2, if you prefer) it was available once a week at my GP who stored it in a vacuum flask and applied it with a long cotton-wool bud. Upon my first visit to the skin clinic I now attend every 18 months or so, I was overjoyed to see that they had it in a pressure gun. The skin doctor was a male who seemed to have the hunter/gatherer – ‘if you have a gun you should use it’ gene. After telling me the scores of strange things on my back were all harmless he offered to zap a few if I liked. I bravely (or stupidly) told him to zap the lot.  He immediately set to work enthusiastically scouring the prairies of my back like an old-time Wild West sheriff shooting all the misfits he could find.  By the time he had finished you could have hung me on the wall and used me for a peg-board.

Since that first visit, I have had female doctors who seem to have a gentle reassurance – ‘wait and see’ gene and they tell me nothing really needs zapping. I usually insist on at least one or two zaps to make me feel I have got my money’s worth, and they humour me.

Several years ago I was told on one visit I needed a surgical procedure to remove a growth on one ear. The doctor explained the options that included using a specialist plastic surgeon. The cost was eye-watering and probably required re-mortgaging the house. The other option was using their in-house general surgeon, which was much cheaper. Not being a particularly vain man, and having reached that stage in life where the only real function for ears is as a protrusion on each side of your head to hang reading glasses from – I chose the cheaper option.

dry iceOn the morning of the procedure, I attended the skin clinic, which shares premises with a gynaecological and reproductive health clinic. I was directed to a very small waiting room in the surgery unit. When I arrived, there were two women who totally ignored me as I sat down close beside them. After a few seconds, I could not help but become aware that they were loudly engaged in an immensely detailed conversation about parts of women’s’ bodies that men should not know existed. Desperately I looked around for a magazine to focus on.  The only reading material was an illustrated children’s book. I picked it up and buried my head in it and read and re-read it for the next 15 minutes. This experience is the reason why that although I sometimes don’t know what day of the week it is, I can recite from memory the entire text of ‘The Gruffalo.’

Eventually, as the women’s vocal competition for worst medical experience reached its zenith, I was rescued and taken to see my surgeon. Instead of wearing gumboots, blood stained apron and wielding a hacksaw, he was a dapper man in a dark suit who could have passed for a lawyer, accountant, or even a better class of politician. I had a pleasant conversation with him as he delicately operated on the top of my ear.

After the surgeon had finished bandaging my ear, he told me to carefully remove the dressing in a couple of days and apply an antiseptic cream several times a day that he would prescribe for me. He warned me not to be surprised if the cream came in a packet saying that it was eye ointment, as that was one of its other uses, but it would be the right stuff. He then grabbed a nearby prescription pad and scribbled out the details.

On my way home I called into my local pharmacy. The pharmacist was at the counter. He looked at my heavily bandaged ear with interest, read the prescription for eye ointment and noted that the printed prescription paper was advertising a Gynaecological Clinic – he then burst out laughing.


By Terry Carson.

This is another of Terry’s posts on GrownUps. If you like Terry’s work, you can read more from him here.