Like most of us, I care about how I look when I go out in public. While I’m perfectly comfortable with no makeup and sweatpants for walking my dogs or running to the grocery store, when heading out to face the world I usually try a little harder.
So when I learned that I had to have a small skin cancer removed from my forehead a few months ago, I was a bit worried about what I might look like afterward. But my doctor assured me it would be no big deal. And the smiling woman in the pre-op brochure promised only a few stitches.
Imagine my surprise when the doctor carefully counted as she stitched me up, “…fourteen, fifteen, sixteen.” That should do it!” she announced cheerfully. Sixteen? “Don’t worry,” the doctor’s young assistant chimed in. “She made the incision through one of your wrinkles, so the scar will fade right in.” Ummm…thank you?
The doctor left the room, and the assistant got busy packing my wound. (Her words, not mine.) She applied medication then placed a thick pad of gauze over the stitches. This was held in place with medical tape that she stretched from one side of my forehead to the other just above my eyebrows. The whole get-up stood out from my face by about three inches. “Good thing the tape is flesh colored,” I joked. With an awkward half-smile, she told me the doctor would be right back then she slipped out the door.
I could see myself reflected in the glass of a portrait hanging on the wall. The doctor and her family, all wearing blue jeans and white shirts, jumped in unison at the beach. They looked at me and my bandaged head with wide smiles. I smiled back. This wasn’t so bad. I could slip quickly to my car, head home and lay low for a few days. Writing time, Netflix, books, no one needed to see me until this giant dressing was gone.
The doctor came back. “OK, everything went great. Come back in a week so we can take out your stitches. Do you have any questions?” I did not, and I sat up to go. Then she added, “Here’s a prescription for the ointment you’ll need and an antibiotic to prevent infection. Take one tonight when you change the bandage.” Wait, what? Was she saying I needed to stop at a drug store on the way home? Why didn’t they tell me this before? I could have stopped on my way – before I looked like Frankenstein!
No longer feeling as good about this as I thought, I sat in my car wondering what to do. Maybe I could wait a few days before picking up the antibiotic? I took a selfie and sent it to my three kids with the message, “This doesn’t look too bad, right?”
As I pondered the unpleasant thought of walking around Rite-Aid looking like I had a head wound, the kid’s messages came back almost simultaneously. “Ha!” “Yikes!” and “Ouch!” None of them were anywhere close enough to come to my rescue. So I pointed my car toward a drug store far outside my neighborhood and counted on getting in and out without seeing anyone I knew.
The pharmacist barely looked up as he filled my prescription. Relieved, I grabbed the other things I needed and walked quickly to the checkout counter keeping my eyes fixed on the floor. The teenager behind the counter had his back turned as I placed my items carefully in front of me. I caught sight of his name badge – Steve – just as he caught sight of my face.
He jumped and stifled a cry of “Whoa!” as his eyes locked on my bulging bandage then darted away. Blushing from the roots of his hair all the way down his neck, he struggled to compose himself. Clearly his after-school job training hadn’t prepared him for this moment. Rattled, he took a deep breath and with eyes flitting back and forth from my bandage to just above my head, he raised his voice and said, “Uhhhh….I…uhh…I like your curly hair!”
Nice save, Steve! Let’s both pretend I don’t have a huge bandage on my head and just talk about my hair!
I held my breath while Steve finished ringing me up. “Have a nice day,” he called after me as I hustled out the door. Safe at last back in my car I laughed out loud. “Good one, Steve! Way to pull out of a nosedive!” (Here’s a shout out to Steve’s mom or dad or whoever is teaching him the power of kindness and consideration!)
As I drove home, I thought about how I’d almost let my fear of what people would think keep me from picking up antibiotics that day. Medication that I needed, people! How crazy is that?
It took some old-fashioned everyday courage to risk showing up just as I was – bandaged and bruised and looking downright scary. But I was rewarded with gracious kindness from a most unexpected place. Thanks, Steve.
God is such a show off.
“The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)