The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease. -- Voltaire
I shivered with cold, or was it nervousness? Every object in the dark room was bathed in the red glow cast by the large Asian lantern that hung in the corner. An obese gray and white cat sat staring up at me from the wooden floor. To think I had considered taking my problem to a real doctor -- that instead of relaxing on this experienced blue velvet couch, someone I hardly knew could be scrutinizing me in the harsh light of a sterile examination room. I looked to the bald man on my left for comfort as the bald man on my right took my left hand in his. I turned my head away in apprehensive anticipation. Ohmygodthisisgoingtohurt! What am I doing? My heart beat faster, my breaths came quicker, and my teeth clenched involuntarily. Then I thought of Renee. She had undergone the same treatment, and not only did she survive the antiquated remedy, she had also been healed. But did I need healing?
It was almost two years ago when I first noticed a lump the size of a Milk Dud under the skin on the top of my left wrist. As a hypochondriac in denial, I assumed the lump was cancerous, and therefore decided to ignore it. My plan worked until I took up the piano, at which point the lump began to grow and make itself noticeable to others.
"What the hell is that?" my friend Ollie asked.
"A lump. It's been there for a while," I answered.
"Jesus, it's huge! Hey, if you draw a little face on it, give it a hat and a purse and take it shopping, I'm sure it will be your new best friend," he snickered. I didn't want a lump for a friend. Since denial was no longer an option, I decided to do online medical research.
According to emedicinehealth.com , my new "best friend" was a ganglion cyst, defined as "a tumor or swelling on top of a joint" that "looks like a sac of liquid. Inside the cyst is a thick, sticky, clear, colorless, jellylike material." Ew.
Up to 75 percent of these cysts disappear on their own. The woman who answered the phone in my doctor's office told me I would only be referred to a specialist who would either drain my ganglion or surgically remove it, and that neither procedure was covered by my insurance. Since my new friend seemed harmless, I chose to welcome it as I would a houseguest for an unspecified amount of time.
At parties I flaunted my cyst, enjoying the sensation of my mouth when it formed the word, "ganglion." Many of my friends were grossed out. Some were curious. One was angry: Three months ago, Renee marched up to me at an art show, thrust her arm before my eyes and snapped, "Are you happy?"
"Huh?" I had not yet noticed the little lump jutting out on the dorsal side of her hand where thumb meets wrist.
"All I know is, first you have one, and now I have one. You jinxed me. Are these contagious?"
"Renee, they can happen to anyone, at any time. But mostly to women between ages 20 and 50," I said, remembering statistics from my research. Thinking myself quite "punny," I shouted, "Hey, now we're 'cyst-ers!'" Before the night was through, I managed to talk Renee into touching her cyst to mine, thus forming a powerful superhero bond.
Last Saturday, this bond was broken. Or, to be more accurate, it was whacked away. I learned of the severing via an excited phone message left by Renee's husband, Kip. It sounded something like this: "Barb, it worked! It's gone! I can't believe it! Tim whacked it!" Upon hearing his message the next day, I couldn't punch Kip's number into my phone quickly enough.
"What do you mean, it's gone ?" I said when Kip answered, not bothering with time-taking pleasantries, like "Hello, how are you?" Kip didn't miss a beat.
"Brandon was going to hit it with Spain, but Tim just grabbed her hand, massaged it a little, and then whacked it! You should get him to do yours!"
I had read in my research that ganglion cysts are also known as "Bible bumps" or "Gideon's Disease," for in the old days (around the same time they used leeches to cure headaches) doctors would prescribe smashing such a cyst with a large book, the biggest of which was usually the Bible. In Renee's case, the biggest book on hand was a travel tome about Spain.
"Let me get this straight," I said into the phone, in my most sarcastic voice. "Tim punched Renee's wrist and her cyst just went away ?"
"Is she in pain? Did it hurt? Wait a minute, what am I saying? It doesn't matter, it's not like I'm going to ask Tim to whack me, that would be just plain stupid."
In the days that followed, I paid close attention to Renee. Her wrist seemed fine, and she swore up and down that the whacking hurt no more than someone poking you in the arm. Maybe calling Tim wasn't as stupid as I had thought.
"Alright, Barbie," Tim said, in response to my request that he work his magic and doctor my cyst. Then, in the manner of a surgeon prepping for a face transplant, he announced, "On Wednesday, I whack."
David was against it from the beginning. He was convinced that Tim, an athletic guy who is higher on life than Rodney King has ever been on PCP, was going to break my wrist. "Do what you want," David said. "It's not like you ever listen to me anyway." But each time I mentioned the impending whack to a friend, David would roll his eyes and shake his head back and forth, his nonverbal communication for "You are an idiot."
I had thought, given Renee's success, that this would be a sure thing. But now, in the face of invited danger, I beseeched David for help with my eyes and received only an "I told you so" smile. I cringed in fear and tried to pull my hand away from Tim, who was caressing my cyst as though it were a child in need of comfort.
"I think this is going to work," Tim said. "I'm going to whack it...right about now."
I held my breath and took a peek. Tim's hand was made into a fist with his middle knuckle protruding. He lifted it and brought it down quickly, but not very hard, upon my cyst.
"Well that didn't work," I said, after letting my breath out in a blow of air. "I could hardly feel that."
"That's how hard I hit Renee," said Tim. He looked perplexed, but determined. "Let's try it again."
"I don't know, maybe I should -- OW!" This time it was more a knuckle-punch than a whack. "Okay, thanks, but I don't think it's going to work. My cyst is a lot older than Renee's, and well, it's clearly more resilient."
In a sudden burst of cooperation, David reached over and held the growing lump on my wrist with his thumbs and forefingers. "There, try it now," he said. "I think it was moving away when you hit it." I looked at him in horror. Either he no longer believed Tim was going to break my wrist, or he was out to get me. Another whack.
"AAHHH! OKAY! Really, you guys, it's not going to work," I whined. Tim jumped up and, in two long strides, reached the other side of the room. After rummaging around in a corner, he found what he was looking for and raised the object -- a huge sledgehammer -- high above his head.
"That settles it. You are categorically insane . There's no way I'm letting you take a swing at my wrist with that thing," I said, cradling my arm, which was beginning to throb. "And you! " I snapped at David. "I thought you were afraid I'd get hurt! How could you condone this?" Tim handed the sledgehammer to David, and my lover taunted me by brandishing it in my direction, perhaps as a mocking form of punishment for not listening to him in the first place.
"Thanks, Tim. You tried your best, but I think I should go to a real doctor now."
"No, no, Barbie, this is what we'll do. Give your wrist a week to heal, and then we'll try it again, with the hammer. I know I can do this," said Tim. I looked into his eyes, ice blue sincerity. He sounded so confident.
"Yeah, sure," I said. "I'll think about it."