My Mohs Surgery Day — Part 1
Step 1: Arriving at the surgeon’s office
We walked into the waiting room and were greeted by a sign that said, “May is Melanoma Awareness Month.” A woman with a huge bandage over her lip walked in right behind us. I got scared when I looked at her bandage, even though I had had the same surgery last year. I became even more frightened as she told the receptionist about the problems she had been having since her surgery. I started wondering what I would look like after my surgery to remove a basal cell carcinoma from my face, how much the surgeon would need to remove, and would I have any complications. I talked myself out of the fear, focusing instead on trying to stay positive, reminding myself of all the articles I’ve read about the importance of a positive perspective.
I had filled out some paperwork online at home the day before, so all I had to do in the waiting room was answer a checklist of questions about other health conditions I might have. After completing the form and giving it back to the man at the front desk, I was asked to wait for the doctor. As I waited, I looked around the room, noticing a few bandaged people, and a television monitor that played health information, including statistics on skin cancer, ways to protect your skin from the sun, and findings and data about seemingly unrelated diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. It took what seemed like a long time for the assistant to come and get me, probably about 45 minutes.
Step 2: The consultation in the exam room
The assistant led me to an exam room, then asked me some questions about the basal cell, such as when it was diagnosed, and how it was found. She seemed surprised that it was my aesthetician who found it while doing a facial, not my dermatologist. My aesthetician said she “didn’t like” the way it looked, and suggested I see my doctor. The assistant then drew a circle around what was left of the basal cell on my skin following the biopsy my dermatologist had done, and prepared a swab to clean the area.
As she cleaned the area, which is next to my eyebrow, I asked her to please be careful not to get any of the cleaning solution in my eye, since I wear contacts. She assured me it doesn’t drip, but of course it leaked into my eye that had been tightly closed. I rushed out to the bathroom to take out the contact lens and replace it with another. Back in the room, I waited for the surgeon, whom I had never met before. It took him a while, so I went to sit in the waiting room with my daughter, who had brought me. About 15 minutes later, the assistant came back and told me the surgeon was ready.
After introducing himself, the surgeon outlined the procedure for me. He told me that he would remove a section of the skin, bring it to the lab to test for cancer, and then either stitch me up if they found no cancer cells, or take off some more if cancer cells were present and test again. He told me he would repeat the process until no cancer was present in the lab specimen.
Step 3: The first procedure
I was nervous, and told them that what most worried me was that I didn’t know how many times they would have to go back and remove a section of my face. The surgeon told me that his average is 2-4 times, but that he couldn’t predict what would happen in my case, adding that my skin cancer looked very small, so hopefully we’d be done in 2 or 3 times. Then he began, injecting the area with a numbing agent. He then left me in the room to wait for the numbness to take effect, saying he was going to suture another patient. I sat back in the chair and waited, although I really don’t know what I was waiting for, meaning I couldn’t feel the area get numb. When the surgeon returned after another 15 -20 minutes, he prodded the area, asked if I felt anything, and when I told him no, he said he’d begin. I immediately closed my eyes and focused on breathing, so I really don’t know how long it took for him to remove the first section. It didn’t hurt, and at most I felt some pressure. Before long, he was pressing on the site and asking the nurse to help him cauterize it and bandage it. He told me I would smell a burning and that that was from the cauterization to prevent bleeding.
Step 4: Waiting for the lab result
They then sent me back to the waiting room, telling me to sit there while the specimen was off in the lab. I asked how long it would take, and they said about 45 minutes. I was bored, and anxious to know the result. The office staff offered me granola bars and water, tea, or coffee, but what I really wanted was to get this over with. I asked them to please tell me as soon as they got the result, even if the surgeon wasn’t ready to see me yet. I wanted to know. After about one hour, the nurse appeared, asked me to step into the inner hallway, and told me that the lab report showed that there were still three areas of cancer cells, and that they’d have to remove some more. I went back to the waiting room, which really lived up to its name, and waited for the surgeon.