May 30, 2002
Dressing David


"How does it look?" David asks, as I begin peeling off the first bandage.

We are sitting on the bed, side-by-side: I've got his face turned towards the headboard lamp so I can see what I'm doing. The post-op instructions, which I have already committed to memory -- along with the surgeon's phone number, the differences between electrocautery and liquid nitrogen, and the full medical definition of sebbhoreic keratoses -- are politely euphemistic. "Wounds treated by electrocautery tend not to look nice during the first 7-14 days," it warns.

Slowly, with great tenderness and care, I finish removing the surgical dressing from David's face. Where the big mole used to be -- the one on the right side of his face, next to his mouth -- there is now a deep, oozing, bloody crater the size of a Milk Dud. It's like looking at an aerial view of Vesuvius, a day or two after The Big One.

"It looks a little raw," I calmly reply.

The wound will have a yellowish discharge that looks like pus, but is not. The wound is often surrounded by redness. The wounds will heal faster if a warm-water compress is applied for 5-10 minutes, twice a day, followed by application of an antibiotic ointment.

I drop the soggy bandage into the wastebasket and hand him a warm wet washcloth, folded into quarters. "Hold this against the wound for ten minutes," I instruct him. He takes the compress and presses it against his cheek. I am seized with a sudden desire to kiss him -- he looks so sweet and so vulnerable, sitting there on the bed holding his compress to his face -- but kissing is strictly prohibited tonight. (Along with crunchy food, exaggerated facial gestures, sneezing, laughing, whistling, shaving, bird calls, clown makeup ... anything that might compromise the incision, basically.)

"Should I look at it?" he asks me.

The wound may be covered or left open. If a crust forms, it will fall off in 10-24 days. If the wound bleeds, firm gentle continuous pressure should be applied for 20 minutes.

"I'm thinking maybe not quite yet," I tell him honestly. This is a man who once faintedin a plastic surgeon's office. He is notoriously squeamish when it comes to blood and gore, especially his own. Perhaps it would be best if he waits a day or two before he looks under any of the bandages; at least until the worst of the swelling and oozing have levelled off. He's waited a long time to have this surgery. I want him to be happy when he finally looks in the mirror.

He nods, trusting my judgement on this one. "But it looks like they did a good job, right?" he asks. "I'm going to be even more devastatingly handsome than I was before, right?"

Some crusts may blacken, scab and fall off repeatedly for 7-28 days. If the wound is very tender, red or swollen, contact the office immediately. You may have an infection. For pain, you may take aspirin, Tylenol, Datril, Bufferin, etc. Use Polysporin 2X, cover with Band-Aid as it stains.

I squeeze a dollop of ointment onto the little round bandage and gently ease it over the wound, as carefully as a new mother tending to her infant's umbilical scab. When the Band-Aid feels securely attached to his face, I dab at the leftover pus and blood and ointment with the washcloth.

"Honey," I say, "as far as I'm concerned, you couldn't BE any more 'devastatingly handsome' than you are already."

It's precisely the sort of blandly-reassuring/mildly flirtatious wifespeak he needs to hear right now. But there is more than a *molecule* of truth in it. I didn't fall in love with his mole, any more than I fell in love with his broad shoulders, his translucent blue eyes, his pretty blond hair, his elegant index toes. I fell in love with him from the inside-out. The fact that the outside of him turned out to be every bit as attractive as the inside of him was an accident of Internet romance, frankly. What matters now is the fact that he got through his surgery in one piece ... that nothing was cancerous, including the big dark scary mole on his back (which turned out to not be a mole at all, but something perfectly benign called sebbhoreic keratoses) ... that HE is happy with the results ... and that I love him very, very much, no matter what he looks like (and no matter if he IS a little oozy for the next 7-28 days). To prove it, as soon as I've finished dressing his wound, I lean over and give him a long, tender, lingering kiss.

Right on the tip of his nose.



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