Person writing a note with a doctor greeting a patient in the background

How a Doctor's Friendly Demeanor Calmed me Before Fingernail Biopsy

Editor's note: This story is one of a two part series

My doctor was such a pleasure

A note that I just wrote to a dermatologist began, “Thanks for being such a pleasure to visit. I was telling a friend that if I had to get a nail biopsy, you would be the one to do it.” It’s not often that a doctor gets you so relaxed that you can joke about an upcoming painful biopsy, and in a follow up, make another joke. It’s not often that the resident with the doctor will joke right back. This probably releases endorphins that do just as good a job, or a better job, than an Ativan. The Ativan (lorazepam) of course costs money, while endorphins are free. Plus, an Ativan can lead to a hung-over feeling. Mind you, I’m not against Ativan. I have my own little supply to use when needed. For the sake of this conversation, though, I’m going with the free endorphins created by the friendly doctor.

I was taken by her

I don’t know how often patients thank doctors for something that stands out. I try to do it when I think of it. This one was especially friendly, so it was easy to point out. She called me "girlfriend" in a tone that was not condescending, though it might have been coming from someone else. A guy might sound sexist by saying this, but I will also add, she is very perky and pretty.

She was truly interested in me

“How ya doing, girlfriend?” she asked. As she was getting ready to do the biopsy, she asked me about my name. “Was Ronni your given name?” I said that it was, and in fact, it was popular for girls around the time I was born. I knew two other Ronnis, both spelled the same way. And we all had the same middle name: Anne. I told her my mother was named Isadora after the dancer Isadora Duncan. People called her Izzy. She didn’t like it, so she took part of her middle name, Roslyn, and changed her name to Lynne. She didn’t want me to get stuck with a nickname, so she and my father just went ahead and gave me a (sort of) nickname.

She returned to the topic

The doctor was called out of the room briefly in the middle of the story. When she came back, she said she wanted to hear the rest of the story while she was busy getting ready. In journalism graduate school, a professor told me that nobody would take me seriously if I didn’t change my name to Veronica. I didn’t do it and somehow managed to have a decent career in newspapers.

I didn't know this was a speciality

I hadn’t even known that there were dermatologists who specialized in fingernails. I found out when my regular dermatologist sent me to her. What happened to my nails? Well, about half of them have gotten, in non-medical terms, gross. They have indents in the middle with white spots on them. One is almost all white. I didn’t realize until she told me that the white part is where the nail died.

The fingernail biopsy process commences

The resident with her, by the way, was nice also. I told them that I did know that you could get melanoma under the nails, but I figured that my problem wasn't skin cancer, since so many nails were affected. He said I was right. On the day of the visit when she said I needed a fingernail biopsy, she showed me how she did it. She drew a little upside down V along the side of the pointer finger nail and into it. She told me to return in a week. Back home, thinking about this was enough to make me take an Ativan. Maybe I did, I honestly can’t remember. But before the visit, I figured I could get through it with the “yoga breathing” that I know. This means basically slow breaths with a long exhale.

I even made a little joke

On the day of the biopsy, I already felt so comfortable with her that I was able to make a joke. “You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” I asked. (I knew of course that she was an expert, or my regular dermatologist wouldn’t have sent me). The resident, who, as I’ve said, was also very pleasant, answered for her. “We watched a YouTube video on it this morning,” he said. This answer worked almost as well as the injection of Versed (Midazolam) that I’d gotten to relax me before surgery.

I was surprised by the numbing spray

Most medical professionals are so good at applying the anesthesia that the numbing injections don’t hurt as much as you’d expect them to. She was no exception. Then, while she worked, the resident used a cold numbing spray. I said I never had anything like it but was happy to have it. He said some people like it, but some don’t. In fact, he gave it to one young guy who never came back.

I will have to tell you about the results in part two of this story. Let’s just say that they were NOT dire. They were totally unexpected though.

Have you had an interaction with a medical professional that particularly put you at ease? Share with us in the comments!

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