Vignettes In The Life Of A Pilonidal Cyst
a pilonidal cyst," my doctor explained. I was still seeing
my pediatrician, even though I was in my late teens.
you have to cut it out?" I asked, terrified. The only thing
I fear more than doctors is doctors having to do something serious
dont," my doctor quipped. I thought he was a bastard
until I realized he was the poor guy staring into my ass.
Or, more specifically, the two vertical holes at the top of my
ass crack, which were puffy and oozing.
fact that everyone working at the surgeons office looked
like people I recognized did nothing to curb my anxiety.
head surgeon, the one who operated on me, looked like a cross
between Larry David and Dangermouse, what with his semi-bald pate,
over-sized spectacles, big ears, and blazing nimbus of silver-white
hair. He frequently punctuated his comments with "Ooooookay."
nurse who assisted him looked like ex-porn star Shelby Stevens
in a black wig. Despite the fact that the clinic had many patients,
she knew me by name.
second surgeon in the office looked like former Ford administration
press secretary Jerald ter Horst, right down to the crooked yellow
teeth, archaic glasses, and refusal to get his hands dirty. There
was supposedly a third surgeon, but I never met him.
and after the surgery I was reading Stephen R. Donaldsons
Gap series, a five-volume space opera. One of the books
characters, Hashi Lebwohl, took on the appearance of my surgeon.
was the head of research and development at a mining company.
Lebwohl was also a dangerous sociopath who was incapable of distinguishing
between truth and lies. This, more so than the similar physical
characteristics, may have been responsible for the comparison.
I went to Lebwohl I went to another doctor, a short fellow best
described as "roly-poly." He had tired but kind eyes
and chubby hands. Every time I saw him he wore a brown blazer.
earlier, when I was 12, hed lanced a boil for me. Id
sobbed like a baby.
called my mom in and showed her the cyst. "Its not
such a bad thing," he said soothingly. He wanted to put me
under general anesthetic for the procedure. Due to the operations
potentially painful nature, I was a proponent of the doctors
mom was less enthusiastic. She made her lemons-and-Drano sourpuss
face and asked, "Isnt general dangerous?"
doctor, who had a habit of clasping his hands together while talking,
frowned slightly and shrugged. "It could be, but it doesnt
necessarily have to be."
looked at my mother pleadingly. Wouldnt this be so much
easier if I slept through it?
didnt go with the general.
seeing the cyst for the first time, Lebwohl drew a picture of
it on a small scrap of paper. "Its a small pocket of
subcutaneous empty space," he explained in his nasal voice.
reason it was currently oozing was due to infection, he explained
can take an antibiotic, but the infection will just keep coming
back until you have the area
He pushed his glasses up his nose.
then began to explain the procedure for removing a pilonidal cyst.
"We make an incision around and underneath the affected area,"
he said. "Once the cyst and the area around it are removed,
the exposed flesh is left open to the air to heal."
long will it take to heal?" I asked.
three weeks," he said, shrugging.
cyst was removed in the early summer of 1994.
was terrified of needles, so the pre-op blood test was the worst
of it. I kicked my legs and shivered like a four-year-old while
the sympathetic nurse used a butterfly needle to suck blood from
the examination, I asked to speak to a hospital anesthesiologist.
The fellow I was brought to was tall, blond, and handsome. He
had clean, straight teeth that were glaringly white. His shoulders
were very broad. He was the living epitome of professionalism
worry," he assured me. "We dont want any
of our patients wide awake during most procedures, even yours.
We wont use general anesthetic, but we will sedate you.
You wont worry about a thing."
was very calm the day of my operation. Despite a traffic jam on
the Long Island Expressway, my mother and I made it to the hospital
on time. I was brought into a back room, in the recesses of the
outpatient surgery center, and given a gown and slippers.
anesthesiologist arrived to take me to the operating room. He
was shorter than I was, and I was only 54". His confused
eyes swam behind thick glasses. His face was mottled with scars,
as if hed been badly burned. As we walked through the hospital,
I mentioned the sedative. He stopped, frowned, and looked at me.
he asked in a thick, Slavic accent.
the procedure, Lebwohl went out to see my mother.
son was very histrionic and immature," he told her. My mother
never told me why. I have no memories of the operation. Shortly
before the procedure, a spike in the back of my hand delivered
something absolutely wonderful to my open-armed central nervous
system. I remember absolutely nothing.
I came to, a hatchet-faced blond nurse walked me across the hall
to the bathroom and propped me up against the wall. I began to
pass out, and she waved smelling salts under my nose. My brain
taken in a lot of saline solution," she said. "You have
cant," I said. It was very difficult to even stand.
I feared that forcing myself to urinate would cause the stitches
you have to. If you go home and dont urinate by eight oclock
you have to come back here, and well have to catheterize
was impossible. I tried several times before it actually happened,
and each time the pain and fear of damaging the spiders
web of stitches and sutures drove me weeping out of the bathroom.
Finally, after four days worth of food piled up at the end of
my digestive tract, I trembled on the edge of the inevitable.
I bit my bottom lip and squirmed on the toilet. Drops of sweat
formed on my forehead and upper lip. And thenrevelation.
felt like the hero of a movie about a brutally handicapped person
who overcomes the odds to run a marathon / paint a picture / write
a novel. "My Left Cheek."
second night after the operation, I woke up and caught myself
picking the sutures in my ass. The site was shaved smooth as a
babys head and terrifyingly sunken, dropping like an upside-down
cone to an inch-deep dark bottom, where the sutures lay like a
tight knot of lanyard. They felt like guitar strings. I was lying
in bed, wide-eyed, amazed that I was doing something so stupid.
I mean, it didnt even itch.
thereafter, one of the sutures broke. The pain was incredible.
I managed to relax by listening to the Ramones Mania.
I only had it on tape.
wound did not heal for two years. In turns, it would get better
example, I would sit in class and wince, alternately placing my
weight on either buttock as the base of my spine tingled and buzzed.
At night, I would roll over in the wrong direction and the pain
would wake me. Weeks passed where the pain wasnt so bad.
Weeks passed where it was. In the morning, I would stand in the
shower, teeth gritted, and pick off strips of caked blood from
the top of my ass crack. They would stick to my body hair and
only came free with a great deal of pulling and yanking.
was forced to deal with an irritating list of tasks necessary
to the wounds healing. I had to place gauze around the wound
to prevent its sides from healing improperly. I had to hold the
gauze in place with medical tape. As the operation dwindled into
a painful memory the hair on my buttocks returned, making the
flimsy tape more of a liability than anything else.
had no sex during this time.
course of care was inconvenient.
I became nonchalant about it; even people with colostomy bags
probably get used to wearing a Ziploc filled with feces. In late
summer, I went to the annual Lollapalooza fair with two friends
from high school. I remember sitting on the bleachers at Randalls
Island as the sun was setting. The Beastie Boys were tearing into
"High Plains Drifter." I deftly reached behind me, under
my shorts, and plucked out a piece of soaked gauze that needed
changing. I had no opportunity to replace it (the Porta Potties
were far too forbidding), and no place to throw out the gauze.
So I just chucked it into the aisle while my friend gazed off
in the opposite direction.
that guitar is, like, three times bigger than Adrock," I
saw Lebwohl every few weeks.
sure you want to stop coming here," he would say. "We
want you to heal as much as you do. After all, youre not
paying us anything for these visits." As if I was intentionally
keeping the wound open as an excuse to feel Lebwohls small
hands on my buttocks.
would place me stomach down on a mechanical bench that made the
Craftmatic seem like a lawn chair. Then he would swab my throbbing
wound with sticks of silver nitrate. They looked like long matchsticks
capped by silver heads. The nitrate burned off flesh that was
growing inappropriately into the wound. If allowed to go unchecked,
the wound would heal improperly and the cyst would return.
would wince and groan, caught between the pain of my pubic bone
as it bore the weight of my awkwardly twisted body and the pain
of having raw, new flesh burned away. I later learned that silver
nitrate is used for silvering mirrors, dying hair, and coloring
porcelain, and should be treated as a possible teratogen, mutagen,
cant say telling everyone about my cyst made it feel better,
but it was certainly good material.
round, and I shall tell ye a tale of two assholes, one granted
by genetics, the other by modern science."
closer inspection, it looked significantly different from an ordinary
asshole, but from a distance of a few feet thats just what
it looked like: another puckered sphincter, a few inches above
audience would sit, fascinated, as I told them the details of
the procedure and the agony endured. I delivered my practiced
monologue with the air of one who suffers but prevails.
its starting to close up now. But just when I think Im
healed, it starts bleeding again. You know what the worst is?
The summer. In the summer, its hell. Because Im sweating
so profusely. Is anyone else going to eat this last slice of pizza?"
did not whine. I was not looking for pity.
few months after my surgery, Lebwohl suggested I get a water pickthe
kind used on teeth.
sell them in Genovese. You get the pick, and it shoots a very
tight stream of water, very quickly. You can use this in the shower
to pick off the little bits of extra flesh that I burn off with
the silver nitrate. Then our little sessions wont be so
bad, and youll heal quicker."
tried it. The tube from the pick to the faucet was barely long
enough. My lack of eyes in the back of my neck prevented any kind
of accuracy. I furtively returned the water pick to where I bought
it. ("I got it as, uh, a gift. I already have two.")
So if you live in Nassau County on Long Island in New York State,
and you bought a water pick in the summer of 1994ha ha!
few years later.)
your second asshole doing?" people would ask.
gone," Id say. I had stopped seeing Lebwohl. Im
unsure if the wound healed improperly. For all I know, there may
still be a cyst. If there is, I dont care. It doesnt
bother me and I dont bother it.