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I read somewhere that certain people are more in-tune with their bodies than others. I’m certain I’m one of them because something told me that the lump on my arm wasn’t to be ignored. Rubbing my finger across the lump, I was certain there was a ball of something under my skin. By the third day, you could almost see it. The dermatologist didn’t believe me when I said my research led me to the conclusion that the mysterious lump was a cyst or a tumour or a fatal skin cancer.
“You probably bumped your arm and bruised a blood vessel. It should go away on its own in a few days,” she said.
“Oh god, you’re one of those,” my husband, Darren, moaned when I relayed the story, certain I had entered the realm of hypochondria.
What some may call hypochondria, I call medical self-awareness. I am in tune with my body and prefer not to leave anything to chance. And, this time, I had solid reasoning behind my hyper awareness. My apparently (or possibly) non-fatal lump followed a month-long battle with mysterious hives that appeared all over my body during a flight home from India.
At the 7-hour mark of a cramped and stuffy 10-hour flight from Mumbai to London, I discovered clusters of red bumps on both of my arms. Before setting foot on British soil, the bumps spread to my hands. By the time I landed in Los Angeles after another 10-hour flight, the bumps had reached my face, lower back, thighs, and feet. By the time I finally reached San Diego, I was cursing the Indian gods, as it was all that could distract me from scratching my skin off.
I was convinced it was hives. Combine my sensitive skin and high stress levels and you have the perfect recipe for hives. After a few days, the bumps no longer itched, but they showed no signs of leaving. I visited my doctor, just to make sure. My jaw dropped to the floor when the doctor informed me that I did not have hives. Rather, it was a mysterious reaction requiring an immediate appointment with a dermatologist. I was convinced that I had contracted a mysterious Indian infection. Before I could mentally list everything I had touched in India, I was wearing a stiff linen robe while a dermatologist with icy cold fingers inspected my bumps with a magnifying glass.
“Hmm, yes, these are not hives. I would recommend doing a biopsy. Two—one on your arm and another on your foot—to be safe.”
This is it, I told myself. I’m about to be the focus of a medical research paper that will be taught to students at Harvard Medical School. As the doctor dug out a sesame seed-sized chunk of skin, a tear rolled down my face. I will appear on a Travel Channel special about vacations gone wrong. “There were signs warning me about Dengue fever all over the city,” I would tell the show host. “I should have left then!”
After the biopsies, I returned to work with Band-Aids on my arm and foot. Would my co-workers attend my funeral? I wondered. I still hadn’t decided whether or not I wanted to be cremated or buried. Perhaps I would donate my body to medical science.
A week later I would receive the biopsy results, both confirming that, in fact, I had hives.
“That’s it!?” I complained to Darren. “After all this!?”
A few weeks later, the hives faded and all that was left to remind me of my month of horror were two small scars. That was, until the mysterious lump appeared on my arm. I was certain it was related to my Indian hives. Clearly, I had a nest of spiders living under my skin. The hives were a reaction to the spider eggs that had travelled through my bloodstream. The dermatologist was wrong the first time; she could be wrong again. Darren convinced me to wait a few days before getting a second opinion. For the next few days, I feverishly checked on the lump. I rubbed it repeatedly while reading about the stages of melanoma and Internet scare stories of pimples turning into tumours.
And then, it all became too exhausting. I added a reminder to my phone’s calendar to schedule a doctor’s appointment next week for my lipoma (my Internet research led me to this self-diagnosis). Until that reminder arrived, I would live my life, however many days I had left.
Before I could make that appointment, the lump on my arm had disappeared. I consider myself lucky… this time.