Sunday, January 12, 2014

It's just a birthmark!

Told ya.  Lots of medical stuff has
been taking place!  
During the last month, in the midst of all the holiday celebrations, I've had a lot of medical stuff going on. No worries - none of it has caught me by surprise. To summarize: in the last month I have had ankle surgery, a wisdom tooth and molar removed, and a laser treatment on my birthmark.

Whenever I am out and about, I just about always expect staring due to my birthmark. I expect weird questions and statements…and sometimes the occasional stupid remarks. The thing is though…When I go to a hospital or a dentist office, I don't really expect many ridiculous stories to unfold - at least not because of something hospital employees say. I guess I go into those buildings thinking that those who work there have a bit of knowledge that maybe the average Joe doesn't have. Maybe they don't know why my face is purple and pink, but I guess I've always assumed that they realize, as they work in their field, that there are many different kinds of people that don't necessarily look, or even act the same as others. I guess I also assume that they have trained themselves or have learned to have a professional filter somewhere between their brain and their vocal cords. But, I suppose that even people who work in the medical offices are also human…and can also give me a story to tell.

All of the stories I am about to tell you are true. And they've occurred within the last few months.

As I was preparing for my ankle surgery, I had to have a few podiatry appointments that included me going for x-rays of my ankle and foot. While waiting to be called back for the x-rays, a young lady (who works for the hospital) came in the waiting room, saw me, and asked, "Oh, are you wearing face paint or something?" I looked at her and said, "No...It's just a birthmark…"

This lady then became super embarrassed and flustered saying, "Oh, well, I just thought that since it's
My fun knee caddy/scooter. I've
even decorated it a little more since
this photo. 
time for Halloween and some know...yeah...Sorry about that." Holding back my laughter, with a smile I said, "It's ok - don't worry about it!" She then walked out.

After I was called back for my x-rays, the same (embarrassed) lady ended up assisting the person I was with. The poor lady kept looking at the ground and wouldn't even make eye contact with me. She even asked the x-ray technician if she "really" needed her assistance. I could tell she felt bad. And awkward. I actually began to feel bad for her, but didn't know what to say to help her feel better about the situation...and it really did take all I had not to laugh - so it's probably better that I stayed silent!

Before I had my ankle surgery and before Christmas break began, my mom had me get the flu shot. Although I got the shot - I can't say that there wasn't a lot of protesting on my end…But eventually, I caved. Probably a good thing too, since I work at an elementary school and get germ-filled snot and slobber on me constantly…Just thinking about it makes me shiver.

Turns out, I'm allergic to the flu shot! I had a red and feverish spot on my arm that kept growing, even a few days after receiving the shot. Eventually it became the diameter size of a baseball and mom had me call the nurse hotline for advice. The nurse on the other of the line told me to go to the ER and that I should have called about it sooner.

As I am called form the ER's waiting room to see the triage nurse, the nurse asks me what I'm there for. I responded, "I'm having an allergic reaction or something to the flu shot." Looking at my face and with a monotoned, yet tired voice, she pointed and asked, "Is that the reaction right there??"…What????

I mean, I guess that's a valid question. I don't know. She wasn't the only nurse who had that thought that night. Valid or not…I just laughed in disbelief and a part of me wanted to respond, "Yeah…because we all get our flu shots in the face, right?" But I didn't. I just held onto my laughter until I left the room and I just cracked up once back in the waiting room with my mom.

About a week later I went to an oral surgeon for a pre-op appointment for the surgery to remove the two teeth removed. We introduced ourselves, and with a smile he looked at me and asked, "Oh - you have Sturge-Weber syndrome, don't you??" (Which, honestly…I'm not sure how to explain Sturge-Weber Syndrome. I have it in addition to the birthmark, but it is caused by the birthmark. I haven't learned much about it, but from my understandings…it's basically all the complications that a port-wine stain can cause, like my glaucoma. Except, I have it easy in comparison to a lot of people with the syndrome.) Looking at him amazed, I told him, "Yeah…I do."

The oral surgeon got really excited. Seriously. He was like a kid in a candy shop!! I think I made is day by just walking into his office. Before pulling down a book to read about my birthmark and the syndrome, he commented, "I don't know the last time I operated on someone with Sturge-Weber syndrome. Actually, I'm not sure if I ever have…at least with it on the gums. I wonder if you'll bleed more, since it's caused by extra blood vessels. I'm quite curious!"

Even the kiddo (my cousin) likes to take
a joy ride with the scooter/caddy! Who
can blame her?? 
Confused, I asked him how he knew about my birthmark. He told me he not only went to a school to learn about dentistry, but also went to medical school to learn more about the face so he could be better
prepared as an oral surgeon and dentist. I then told him the story of the ER nurse, telling him that I am impressed he knew so much when someone in a hospital setting knew so little. I hadn't expected a dentist to know anything about it…at all…but it really felt good to know that he made an effort to learn and still wanted to learn more.

I didn't go back to have the two teeth removed for a couple of weeks. Once I had them removed, he told me to make an appointment for the next week so he could make sure I'm doing okay and to remove the stitches.

I didn't make it a week. Within two days, I was back in their office. The stitches were driving me CRAZY. Being so far back in my mouth, it would literally feel like I was swallowing a piece of string.

Going back into the office, one of his assistants greeted me and took me back to a room. As I sat in a chair, the lady looked at my face and wide-eyed asked, "Oh my!! Is that from your surgery? Did the doctor do that to you?? You should of called us sooner!!" I then explained that, no, the doctor - her boss - did not do that to me. (Knowing I was having a laser treatment within the next 24 hours, I wanted to say, "You think I look bad now?? You should see me after my laser treatment tomorrow!!")

Unlike the ER nurse, I didn't find this situation to be funny. I actually felt the opposite. It frustrated me and I felt annoyed with the lady. I don't really know what the difference was. Maybe it's because I was still feeling crummy from having two teeth removed, in addition to having my cast as I heal from my ankle surgery. Maybe it's because I am tired of people who work around people in a medical type setting being totally clueless, and not knowing how to be a more classy type of clueless. I don't know. But just like my laughter with the ER nurse, I held in my annoyance with the oral surgeon's assistant.

The oral surgeon then came into the room and started checking things out. As he did so, his employee basically "told on" herself, recalling the conversation and comments she made…laughing while doing so. The oral surgeon's expression said it all - even before his words of apology for the lack of sensitivity of the lady who works for him. His face held a combination of frustration, embarrassment, and disbelief. After he apologized, the lady continued to laugh as she said, "yeah…Sorry about that!"

Yeah. Okay.

When I tell the stories that seem to continue to pile up, my sister always tells me that I need to have fun with people. She tells me I should unleash the sarcastic responses that come to my mind in response to certain questions or comments. Really, if you could see into my mind when situations arise, it can be a fun and hilarious comic strip playing out…but I always hold back. And sometimes my sarcastic responses come to my mind a little delayed.

Although I always expect people to say things, no question or comment is ever 100% the same. Somehow, I am usually caught off guard. I mean, even though the ER nurse's comment and the comment of the lady who works at the oral surgeon's office were both similar…They were not the same. At all…Each catching me by surprise!

Maybe being sarcastic in response isn't the right thing to do. Maybe it is. Or, maybe it doesn't matter…Maybe I should decide if I want to be sarcastic, depending on the person, the age, comment, attitude, etc, etc, as I can usually - and very quickly - weed out who is genuinely curious and kind verses those who are just plain ridiculously rude. I don't know.

My Deaf professors are always sharing their stories of the crazy things people tell them or ask them, along with their quick-witted sarcastic responses they give to people…and I love their stories! I love how fast they with their witty responses and often wish I could be the same way.

Maybe you work in a medical office or dentist's office. Possibly you're a doctor, nurse, or a receptionist with no medical training. If you work in either of these settings and your'e reading my blog, please take at least one thing from what you're reading.

Everyday I have to go out in public and deal with staring. Nearly everyday I am put into uncomfortable situations caused by the general, awkward public.

I get that you may not know why my face looks the way it does. I get that you may have questions about it. Truthfully, I don't expect you to know a thing about it or to go out and learn about it. But when I walk into a hospital or dentist office? I expect and hope for a decent sense of professionalism from you.

Hospitals or any kind of medical buildings *should* be a safety zone away from nonsense. Realistically, in these settings - nothing should be assumed. I mean, come on! I can't be the only "oddball" you've met.

Expect different people to walk to your doors at anytime!! Sure, those of us who are "different" may get stares and off-the-wall comments from other people in the waiting room, but more than likely - they don't work in a medical setting. Fair or not, I set the bar a little higher for the people who do.

And although it may not be in your job requirements, I hope that you have the previously mentioned filter between your brains and your vocal cords. Think before you speak! Treat me with respect. Treat me how you'd want to be treated if you were in a similar situation. Think through your words, vocal tones, and the looks you give others.

You can ask questions. Just be kind and please think about the way you phrase them.

The Travelin' Chick,

PS: By the way - if any of you near me need a recommendation for a great oral surgeon, let me know! I really enjoyed the guy I was referred too. He was really kind and had a great sense of humor as he signed my cast while I was knocked out during the procedure, and told me he took a ride with my knee caddy I use to get around.


  1. wow i like your cute toes and the collor from your plastercast xo.

  2. I had to take my daughter to the ER for an allergic reaction too. She has a PWS on her entire face. Her face was swollen from the allergic reaction, but it was serum sickness, which we already knew, so it wasn't like she was on the verge of death, I just wanted some stronger steroids. But take a kid in with a red, swollen face, they whip you right back into a room! I had to tell everyone repeatedly, that it was just the color of her face! It got old after a while. Especially since they thought i was clearly under reacting. She didn't look any more swollen than the day after a laser treatment, so maybe I was.... a little bit.

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  4. I love how honest you are about your experiences! I myself have a cafe au lait birthmark on half of my face and if I don't wear makeup then I always get some sort of reaction, whether it be questions about dirt or smeared makeup or if someone had hit me in the eye. :(
    I am gradually starting to accept the fact that I have a facial birthmark, it's just a long process. Thank you for your honest insight, I feel less alone reading your posts!