Skin Deep is Still Pretty Deep

Dermatology sure has changed in the last 35 years. Although, now that I think of it, wouldn’t it be weird if dermatology didn’t change in 35 years.

The reason I make this observation is that I went to the dermatologist for the first time since I had acne when I was a teen-ager. I had to be checked for moles, which is not unlike being checked for tics by a mother monkey, except you get to have a paper blanket covering parts of you at all times.

But back to the observation that dermatology has changed. Dermatologists used to be for teen-agers that had acne. Now they’re for older people who want their wrinkles to disappear and sections of their face to be plumper and less expressive. The people that just want to make sure they don’t have a cancery mole have never held a place of honor among dermatologists. We barely pay the light bill.

How much has dermatology changed? When I went to a dermatologist for acne treatments in the early 1970s, I a) was given a prescription for vitamins b) was told to not eat pizza, chocolate and potato chips and c) got zapped with radioactive rays. The only signs that anyone in the office thought that might be a little bit unsafe was the fact that I had to wear goggles to protect my eyes.

I had terrible skin. My mom took me to Dr. Martin, our family doctor, who said I had the largest pores he had ever seen in his life. Either Dr. Martin didn’t get up close and personal with very many people or I was a skin pore freak. He sent me to Dr. Brody, a super-elderly dermatologist whose office was downtown Youngstown.

My acne-riddled skin and possibly the size of my humungous pores sent Dr. Brody to the hospital in an ambulance on my first visit. I’m not kidding. My mom and I went to the first consultation, where I had to wear a skirt, because we were going downtown and that was the rule: Downtown = skirt or dress and a barrette or headband. (Apparently the homeless bums in Youngstown didn’t like girls with pants on and hair in her face.)

We went up to a very high floor of the Mahoning Bank Building and waited about an hour in the waiting room of Dr. Brody’s office. We eventually got called into Dr. Brody’s tiny, dark little office, where we sat across from his desk and he told me my acne would require weekly light treatments, a daily vitamin and antibiotic, and a strict diet of everything that wasn’t chocolate, pizza and potato chips.

Then he pushed back his chair, stood up and said, “I’ll go get the some samples and a brochure for you. I’ll be right back.”

My mom and I stayed put and chatted. Dr. Brody seemed so nice. Old, but nice. He didn’t squeal when he saw the size of my pores. In fact he didn’t even bat an eye.

About 25 minutes later Dr. Brody still hadn’t returned and we were started to get pissed. The office was really quiet. People had stopped walking past the door. My mom was getting really irritated when, about 45 minutes of sitting in his office, we saw a receptionist sprint by the doorway. Then, very quietly, we saw two guys carrying a stretcher.

Another receptionist walked past and saw us sitting there in the chairs, looking sideways wondering what was going to pass by the doorway next.

“Oh, are you still here?” The receptionist squawked when she saw us. “Dr. Brody has had a heart attack,” she told us, visibly upset. She shoved some sample acne cream tubes and some prescriptions and brochures into my hands, said, “Don’t eat pizza!” and pushed us toward the door.

“Did he say anything about what caused the first chest pain?” I wanted to ask. “Anything about my pores?”

The next week I went back for my first acne treatment and had Dr. Brody’s partner, Dr. Cukerbaum, who was to be my dermatologist for the next three years. Dr. Brody, sadly, never recovered fully from that day I entered his office, since he never returned to the medical practice.

Every Saturday for a couple of years I had to go back to the Mahoning Bank Building and put goggles on and get ray beams blasted onto my face. I semi-religiously took my vitamins and I semi-religiously didn’t eat pizza or chocolate or potato chips.

The weekly visits are like a bad dream to me, as I recall them now. Dermatology was a racket even then. They’d tell you that you had to come every week to get the death rays, but you didn’t have an appointment. You would just wait, all stacked up, until you got called. It was a couple of hours every Saturday out of my life and more importantly, I realize now, out of my mother’s life. Why on earth didn’t she raise holy hell and say, “Blast my daughter’s face right now so we can get out of here and get to McKelvey’s Loft! There are polyester tops just sitting there while we waste valuable shopping time!”

There were so many people waiting for their light treatments, sometimes the waiting room was SRO with pimply teen-agers and we had to sit on the floor of the hall outside, which was quickly stacking up with more pimply teen-agers. Occasionally you’d see an older person with impetigo or leprosy, eczema or what we now know as Rosacea, but back then was Gross Skin That’s All Red. To us pimply faced teen-agers, these people were fascinating, because they had a skin condition that was at least different from ours. Plus, they had real appointments.

Today’s dermatologist’s office is full of people with perfect skin waiting to get their Botox injections. The office itself is wall-to-wall posters of famous people like that woman from that movie where the guy complains and talks about wine for two hours, who are advertising an injection that keeps you wrinkle free and working in Hollywood for 4 to 6 months.

Even I was tricked into buying something in a pump bottle that cost $64 (sixty four dollars!!) that Dr. Dermo said I had to have to prevent skin cancer, but would make me look prettier, as a side benefit.

If I do get skin cancer, how much do you want to bet it has something to do with those death rays I got zapped with years ago?

How can I complain? My acne is gone.

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