I recently had a dermatologist look at something that I'm fairly certain is skin cancer, though the patch of skin in question had unhelpfully healed just prior to my appointment. The doctor assured me that this is common enough, given the lag time between scheduling an appointment and actually being seen, and he handed me a mirror and a pen to have me point out the section of skin that concerned me. I took the pen and began drawing a large circle around the tip of my nose before I stopped and said, "Wait. Did you want me to use the pen as a pointer or to actually draw on my face?"
One guess which one he wanted.
For the next 15 minutes, I sat in the exam chair trying to appear thoughtful and serious as I listened to the doctor speak, all while the tip of my nose was outlined in a very prominent circle of blue ink. It should come as no surprise that this doctor also happened to be quite handsome. In short, everything about the encounter made me wish for a skin cancer that would at least kill me swiftly, if not instantly.
This kind of experience is fairly typical for me, but in my defense, I am not always the one perpetrating the awkwardness at my medical appointments. I once had an Aussie doctor pull the top of my gown aside to perform a breast exam only to say, with an odd enthusiasm, "You'll never have any trouble examining those!"
I was too busy staring at the cat poster on the ceiling for her comment to fully register with me, but I must have muttered something like, "Wha-?" because she felt the need to continue.
"Oh, it's ok," she assured me. "Flat-chested women are far more intelligent!"
I suppose I should have taken offense, but her accent was both beguiling and somewhat unintelligible, so I just accepted that I had heard a compliment buried in what she was saying and thought to myself: The doctor has spoken. Then I silently praised my genes for investing more energy into my brain than my bust.
But that was twenty years ago. These days, there's something about being in a doctor's office that sends my IQ score plummeting, despite the intelligence conferred by my small breasts. Whenever I am handed a hospital gown, for example, I immediately forget the nurse's instructions and am left in a mild panic wondering which articles of clothing I am supposed to remove. My instinct, when handed a robe, is to completely undress. This would seem a reasonable assumption in most cases, but I once stripped down for my annual exam only to have the doctor arrive to tell me that yearly pelvic exams were a thing of the past. I tried to convince her that I had just wanted to air out a bit while I waited, but in truth, I simply expected to be uncomfortable and exposed in an exam room. It's part of the experience.
Then again, life is generally an uncomfortable experience for me. When I am not smearing ink on my face or stripping needlessly, I am still marked by my awkwardness, so plainly and painfully exposed most of the time. I've never been good at hiding my feelings or biting my tongue. I can get deeply personal with casual acquaintances. I tend to say the wrong things at the worst possible times. But if the Aussie doctor is any indication, we're all capable of acting like a boob from time to time, no matter how poised and gracious we might otherwise be. Most people forgive me my quirkiness. Some even keep me around solely to bear witness to whatever buffoonery I get into. They may laugh with me, but they always have my back. Even the dermatologist, amused as he may have been by my error, still wiped the ink from my nose before letting me walk back into the world. That’s good medicine, and I take comfort in it.