The vast array of skin conditions Crohn’s Disease gifted me, plus the fact that my skin coloring is one shade above albino--qualified me for membership in the University of Pennsylvania Hospital’s “Pigmented Lesion Group.” A subset of Dermatology, this “exclusive clinic serves selective high-risk patients” (I’m quoting from the pamphlet now) “in the diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment of skin lesions and cancers.”
When I was invited to join the PLG two years ago, I felt the heavens part. I went to a university without a Greek system, and always felt somewhat deprived by the fact that I never got to wear a special pin or short-shorts with Greek letters stamped onto the buttocks. The opportunity to join such an exclusive club, I knew, was my second chance to be part of the “in-crowd.”
Not unlike a sorority, new PLG patients have to go through an initiation process that includes a mental health screening, a chest x-ray, blood tests, and peeing in a cup. Oh, and there was one more thing which the perky PLG nurse failed to mention to me before I signed my body over to science. I had to pose for some pictures.
Though the doctor’s explanation of what was expected of me and why made sense, I didn’t feel that his description of the photo session accurately reflected what, in its most basic form, it really was.
Me: “So you want me to be in Derm Porn?”
Doctor (twitching in his chair): “I don’t prefer to think about it in those terms. What this portfolio will provide is a baseline image of your skin so as to help us monitor subtle changes to your skin over time.”
Me: “I am going to be naked in these pictures?!”
Doctor: “Oh no! You’ll have a covering.”
The “covering” it turned out, was a pair of paper underpants. I was led into a room adjacent to the Dermatology clinic that was set up like a photography studio (imagine a J.C. Penney portrait studio, minus the wicker chairs and plastic Greek columns). Against the back wall was a huge white screen, and mounted to the ceiling and side walls were enormous lights. The paper underpants were arranged by size in a basket on a table next to the screen. I immediately started to sweat. I didn’t know what size to choose. The underpants were individually wrapped in small plastic bags that had no markings on them other than S, M, L, X, and XL. I wondered, "Did the PLG underpants follow Victoria Secret’s sizing or were they more like K-Mart’s?" More importantly, when I opened up the plastic wrapper, would I find a bikini or a thong?
It felt like a Playboy photo shoot gone horribly, horribly awry.
Unlike the Girls Next Door, I was not having the time of my life displaying my wares to the world. After a ridiculously long time, the nurse noticed this. Her voiced softened and she turned all motherly.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, as if she had no clue.
“Nothing,” I replied through gritted teeth. “Just hurry up.”
This, evidently, was the cue for the photographer to set down his camera and take a break.
Sensing (rightly) that I was about ready to bolt, the nurse tried to console me.
“You seem to be upset,” she said. “Why?”
I squinted at the glaring lights above me and then down at my naked body covered only by a napkin with strings and answered her as honestly as I could.
“I have no idea why I’m upset,” I said. “Usually being photographed in paper underpants makes me very happy.”
The nurse was not amused. The nice mother disappeared and mommy dearest made an entrance. “Would you like to speak to a counselor?” she said, more as a threat.
Suddenly the reason for the mental health screening became crystal clear.
“No,” I replied, “I don’t want to see a counselor. I just want you to hurry the *%# up.”
I can’t say that my descent into profanity sped things along any faster, but it did stop the running commentary on my scar tissue. I returned home that evening with my pride and the paper underpants stuffed into my purse. My husband was not interested in seeing me model the underpants. Fortunately, my neighbors were. I put them on over my jeans and reenacted the horrible event in its entirety in their living room. Even though they were laughing, I could tell they were jealous. They wanted their own pair of paper underpants. I mean, who wouldn't?
Yesterday, I went to the PLG for a check-up. The attending physician told me right off the bat that they weren’t taking any pictures, which made my request for another pair of paper underpants a little awkward.
“What do you want them for?” she wanted to know.
Telling the truth (that I was going to take a picture of them and post it on the Internet) was not an option, so I settled on something much worse.
“My husband wants them,” I said.
That got me a raised eyebrow and a smirk.
“He wants proof of my suffering,” I clarified.
The doctor said that she would “see what she could do” and left the room. A few minutes later, she returned with the prize. As she tossed me the plastic bag, she said, “Have fun with these.”
I wanted to punch her, but violence is grounds for expulsion from the club and I can’t risk that, so I settled on a “knowing wink” and a respectful acknowledgment of her authority.
“Will do, Dr. Porn.”