3.15.2010

Vanity, thy name is woman

I spent the early years of my life in the sunny climes of Arizona, happily sunscreen-less for years.  I was a poster child for the desert life—bleached blonde hair, brown, glowing skin.

Alas, I’ve paid a bit of a price in later life.  My fair skin has developed age spots that no amount of cover-up covers up.  So I was intrigued when our family doctor’s practice sent a brochure announcing their services for all kinds of skin care, including age spots treated by laser.


Now I admit I’m really naïve when it comes to stuff other than wash-n-go skin care.  I was thrilled in the consultation to hear of a 20-minute treatment where I might feel a sensation of a snapping rubber band on my skin, then voila!  Permanently fixed.  I studiously counted the main spots at home in the mirror and figured on six or seven big snaps.  Piece of cake.  Small price for my return to the flawless glow of youth.


I settled back in the comfy chair and gave myself up to the nurse’s pre-treatment facial.  Ah, bliss.  Some things are just worth the price you pay.  Next came a cooling gel to help the laser do its job.  Then some special protective goggles to protect my eyes.  Nice, I thought. 


A twinge passed through my brain when she said she’d start with the most sensitive area, my forehead.  I couldn’t remember one of the spots being up there that high, so of course I asked.  “Oh,” she said.  “We don’t do just the spots, we do your whole face.  There’s all kinds of spots under the skin you can see, so this takes care of them all.”


Now my brain was really twinging.  My whole face?  How had I missed that little item?  I was trying to picture what a rubber-band snap on my whole face would feel like.


Then deep concern settled into the pit of my stomach when she handed me a rolled-up towel.  You know, the stick-between-your-teeth kind of thing.  WHY would I need this?!  I clutched it, suddenly dry-mouthed, with alarm bells sounding in my brain. What have I gotten myself into?


Well, I was soon to find out.  Lights off, machine whirring, a cold metal thing pressed to one side of my forehead, a blinding flash of light (yes, through the goggles), then a searing pain.  My whole body jumped like a defibrillator had just been let loose on me.  Rubber band, my foot.  Before I could react, she went to the next incremental spot on my forehead and shot me again, proceeding across that vast expanse a millimeter at a time. 


Before she was one quarter of the way through the first quadrant, I was panicking.  Pain, we’re talking pain.  You know what it feels like to burn your skin with your electric curler?  This was more like laying your regular iron on your face.  Not that I’ve actually done that but you get the idea.  All I could think was how much face we had left.  By the middle of my forehead, I was thinking, Okay, I’ve done childbirth.  This is much shorter. I’ve just got to get a grip.  Pain.  Blistering pain.


Groaning and teary-eyed, I nodded a frantic yes to her suggestion for a little break.  I didn’t want to let her know what a wimp I was, but she might have figured it out by my convulsive bodily response to each shot, the death-grip on my towel, or the sound effects.


I tried deep-breathing, but that didn’t work.  My mind went to some of the WWII stories we’re reading in school, the ones about torture in the prison camps.  I prayed.  A machine malfunction gave me a merciful break halfway through.  I, of course, couldn’t bolt as I wished, for what would I do with half of my face swollen and red (after-effects she warned me of), or half speckled and spotted like Jacob’s goats?


She comforted me with the announcement that she’d turned the machine down and that it would be better on the rest of my face.  She was right; we were now just a hair over the line from intolerable.  Somehow, we came into the home stretch, when she saved the worst for last.  Apparently the dip between your upper lip and your nose is really the most sensitive part of your face in this procedure, to which I instructed her forget it.  Never in my life had I had an age spot there and didn’t intend to ever grow one.


We were done.  I was exhausted.  She applied cooling gel that takes your surface skin temperature down ten degrees in three minutes.  Then lotion.  Then make-up to minimize the red so I wouldn’t scare my daughter who had patiently waited out front for an hour.  Instructions on how to use the ice pack and take ibuprofen to deal with the “sunburn sensation.”  Comforting words that in a week to ten days I would be radiant and youthful once again.


Well, I’m happy to say that God got the last word.  I didn’t get red, I didn’t swell up.  I didn’t need ice or pain-reliever.  The spots aren’t gone yet, in fact they are quite brown now in their death throes.  But I’ve paid the price and the worst is over.  And if any of them ever dare to come back, I just might never do this again.


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