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OK, so I'm defective - I'm special, too

March 30, 1997

I just learned the other day that I have a birth defect. Nothing serious, but a defect nonetheless. And I must say it bothers me a bit. I mean, I've lived my whole life thinking that other than a depressed sternum, I was pretty much normal.

Not so.

I found out I was defective when I went to a surgeon who's going to operate on my neck.

This will be the second time in five years that I've had someone take a slice out of my neck.

The last time, a surgeon who has since moved to the West Coast removed a cyst from it (my neck, that is). My brother Ralph maintains that his move was a direct result of the fact he had me as a patient.

Of course, my brother is also the person who called me before surgery and "played" his chainsaw over the phone as a way of calming my jangling nerves.

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He implied the doctor was going to use something a little more heavy duty than a scalpel during surgery.

On those and other ample grounds, I choose to ignore my brother and his opinions.

Anyway, that first surgeon was kind enough to point out, while I was still happily under the influence of anesthesia, that the cyst was the size of an egg, and contained strange things.

Specifically, it contained hair and teeth, he said.

I believe my response was, "Say what?"

I haven't told too many people this disgusting little detail about that first surgery, mostly because it grosses them out.

But with everybody coming out nowadays, I figured, why not risk it? Why not go public with it? Maybe it will help some other person with the same defect know that they're not alone.

When I felt something in my neck about six months ago, I thought and fervently hoped it was my carotid artery. (Please don't laugh). I thought maybe it was just protruding or something, or maybe growing.

Hey, I'm no doctor. When I put my finger on the lump, I could feel my pulse. So what would YOU think? I mean, I knew it wasn't my heart...

So it was that I was greatly surprised when my acupuncturist said, "What's this? It doesn't belong here."

"It doesn't?" I replied. "I thought it was...never mind."

Live and learn.

My acupuncturist coerced me into seeing my doctor, who sent me for a CAT scan and all that stuff. "What do think it is?" I asked my doctor while he was probing my neck.

"It feels like a lump to me," he said. My doctor has a sense of humor. That's something I usually like.

"Well, the last lump turned out to be something weird that had teeth and hair in it," I said.

"A dermoid cyst!" my doctor said. He sounded in awe.

Anyway, my doctor assured me while he was making an appointment with the surgeon that the surgeon would not operate before first discussing the surgery with me. "He'll want to talk to you before he slits your throat," he said. Like I said, he has a sense of humor.

At least, bless him, he didn't tell me I had a defect.

He left that up to the surgeon.

The surgeon explained that when I was still a fetus, some cells that were intended to become hair and teeth went awry and ended up in my neck instead of where they belonged. It took them ffift...years to do it.

"I don't mean to upset you, but it's a birth defect," he said.

I tried to ignore that.

Instead, I asked him if I could grow a finger. Since my body is into cloning its own parts, I thought maybe I could get something useful out of this defect. Turn a liability into an asset.

There are times I could use another finger.

The surgeon quickly dashed my hopes. That would just be too complicated, he said.

I changed topics. "Doctor, why do I get these cysts in my neck?"

"You can get dermoid cysts anywhere," he said. He told me about a defective guy who had one between his eyes.

"Gee, something to look forward to," I said. He smiled.

After I left the surgeon's office, I tried to take a philosophical approach to this defect stuff.

I decided I'm going to start thinking of my cysts as mini cloning machines. I'm going to remind myself my body is doing what it has taken science eons to figure out.

I figure that makes me pretty special.

Defective? I guess it's all in how you look at it.

Terry Talbert is a Herald-Mail staff writer.

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