I found the bump one morning in June as I ran my fingers through my hair. That’s new, I thought, twisting my hair up into a chunky tortoiseshell clip. I peered into my magnifying mirror to examine what I quickly discovered was a slightly raised and discoloured circle of dry skin on my right temple. No pain or redness, no itching or signs of an insect bite. Just a small, brownish patch about the size of my little fingernail. Hmmm, I thought. I’ll keep an eye on that. Having spent three years in the scorching equatorial sun of Borneo, much of it outside either on or in the water, I’ve long kept a watchful eye on any new marks appearing on my naturally pasty, northern European skin, regardless of how insignificant they appear. But for the next few weeks there was no change so I decided it was just the latest addition to the sprinkling of freckles and moles I’ve had for years.
On a Monday morning in late July, though, I realised the bump had suddenly doubled to the size of my thumbnail and darkened in colour. Still no pain, redness or itching, but I reached for my phone anyway. I scrolled through to my GP’s number and, following the protocol that the practice put in place at the start of the pandemic, sent her a brief text message, detailing my symptoms and requesting an appointment as soon as possible – but suspected that this would probably mean the end of the week at the earliest. She responded within twenty minutes, though, offering me an appointment at the surgery in village for later that morning.
“Avanti, avanti!” called Dr. Rinaldi cheerily and beckoned me into her bright and airy consulting room as a young mother came out, carrying a rather wan looking toddler on her hip.
“So you’ve found a new mole,” she began as she picked up a bottle of anti-bac spray and swiftly wiped down the top of her desk and the wooden chair placed in front of it.
“Yes, it doesn’t hurt or itch at all, but because it’s recently doubled in size, I wanted to get it checked out.”
“Very sensible,” she replied, tossing the paper towel in the bin and tugging on a fresh pair of blue latex gloves. “Take a seat and let’s have a look.”
I sat down on the freshly sanitised chair and tipped my head to the left as she picked up an instrument that looked like an elongated jeweller’s magnifying glass, pressed the cool metal tube to my right temple and peered in through the eye-hole. Saying nothing, she slowly and carefully slid the lens back and forth over the growth to examine every last bit of it. The only thing to break the silence was the sound of my heart pounding in my chest.
“I’m certain it’s a keratosis, so nothing dangerous,” said the doctor after what felt like an eternity. “But for peace of mind it’s probably still a good idea to have it removed, so you’ll need to see a dermatologist.”
I exhaled deeply, suddenly aware I’d been holding my breath. She snapped off her gloves, pushed her thick chestnut hair behind her ears and sat down at her keyboard.
“I’ll give you a prescription, one that will ensure you’re seen within ten days. This will just be an initial consultation, though; you’ll need to make another appointment actually to have the keratosis removed.” She handed me the prescription that had just rolled off the printer as I tried to slow my still pounding heart. “So, just take this along to the pharmacy and they’ll be able to make the first appointment for you. Let me know how you get on.”
I put the prescription in my bag and gave her a slightly shaky smile as I bade her farewell and left her consulting room.
“Well, I can offer you a slot in …… Osimo ….. and …. Urbino this week, although that’s probably a bit far to go….” said the white-coated assistant as she scrolled through the schedules on her screen. I was sitting in the fancy new pharmacy that has recently opened on top of the supermarket just outside the village centre and barely five minutes’ walk from Dr. Rinaldi’s surgery. “….or Ancona…..and…… Cupramontana next week, but still within ten days.”
Savouring the delicious cool of my almost spa-like surroundings, I weighed up the options. Osimo and Urbino are both fairly small places with correspondingly small hospitals, so they weren’t wildly attractive. But I did want the growth removed as soon as possible – for peace of mind, as Dr. Rinaldi had rightly said – so they were certainly tempting. Cupramontana was definitely out, though: as well as being much smaller than either of those two places, it also meant a longer wait. Then again, if I did wait until the following week – and since the keratosis was apparently harmless, a few more days surely wouldn’t make any difference – I could go to the big, modern, university hospital in Ancona…
“I’ll take the appointment in Ancona, please.”
“No problem. So that’ll be next Wednesday. Is 3pm OK for you?”
“Yes, that’s absolutely fine,” I said gratefully.
The pharmacy assistant tapped at her keyboard. “Right, that’s all confirmed. I’ll just print off all the details for you,” she said and hit the return key with a flourish.
“That was quick!” said Mr Blue-Shirt as I pulled onto the drive a few minutes later and little over half an hour since I’d gone out. “What did the doctor say?”
“She says it’s a keratosis,” I said. “Which is nothing serious…” I swallowed hard. “… But she recommends getting it removed anyway.”
“So how that’s going to work?”
“Well, I’ve already got an initial consultation with a dermatologist in Ancona, but not until next week,” I said and ran through my reasoning for my choice of hospital.
“Makes perfect sense to me. A bit of a backwater this week or the region’s main hospital next week: a total no-brainer,” declared Mr Blue-Shirting skimming through the A4 sheet on which the pharmacy assistant had helpfully circled the key details of the appointment with a pink magic marker.
“Fantastic result!” he exclaimed.
Part of me felt just as impressed: from my initial enquiry to an appointment just over a week later with a specialist at a major teaching hospital had taken under three hours. Which was indeed a fantastic result, except…
I am a seasoned worrier with an over-developed tendency to seek out the worst-case scenario in every situation, so the combined effect of “I’m certain…but…”, “… a good idea to have it removed…” and “… ensure you’re seen within ten days…”, far from reassuring me that I had nothing to be concerned about, had simply set my internal alarm bells ringing more loudly than ever. It was going to be a very long nine days…