Skin Deep

Fayes T Kantawala went to see a plastic surgeon in Lahore

Skin Deep
There is a small (ish) spot on the side of my cheek that has been described over the years as everything from a “beauty mark” to “cancer”. Photographs from my chubbier days prove that I’ve always had it, but it did go on some kind of growth spurt during my twenties before becoming dormant in my thirties, like my metabolism. Sometimes I talk to it and we have, my mark and I, conversations about death and the afterlife. I have actually become quite adept at dermatological self-diagnosis, obsessed as I am with watching pimple-popping videos that give me a sense of calm in this chaotic world. But I will be damned if I let an indecisive dark spot end my days on this planet, and so I made some inquiries into a dermatologist.

I found one just off the open sewage line that doubles as high-end real estate in Lahore. The offices are cramped but chic, in a purple alien mother ship kind of way, and sport large-scale prints of blond women with perfect skin, staring into the blank space with a medicated self-satisfied look. After giving the receptionist a brief but enthusiastic medical history, a woman took me into an exam room.

“So,” she said, looking over my hastily filled out chart, “what seems to be the problem?”

Despite my online watching habits, this was my first time in a dermatologist’s office and I got a bit too excited in relaying what I thought was wrong with me, which is to say I listed everything I could think of and some things that I invented just to be sure I was getting my money’s worth. My scan from scalp to toe took a fair amount of time. Occasionally she would write something down, and it was only when I was waving my foot in her face urging her to prove to me through reflexology that I don’t have kidney problems that she politely, but firmly, insisted I stop talking.

“So you said the spot stopped growing… eighteen months ago?” she said, reviewing her notes.

“Well, yes,” I said, thinking. “It was about that time. Maybe two or three years.”

“Years,” she whispered, her penciled eyebrow arched. “So longer than 18 months?”

“Yes,” I replied, my eyes narrowing. “Why?” I felt like I had failed some sort of test at school.

“No reason.” More note-taking.

“And was it dark around the edges?”

“I-I’m not sure really.”

“Not. Sure.”

“Is something the matter?”

“Have you been experiencing dizziness? Nausea?”


“What about blood thinners, which blood thinners are you on?”

“Look,” I said. “Can you just tell me if something is wrong with me or not?”

“Do you have any pain in your breast tissue?”

“I don’t have breast tissue...”

“Around your lymph nodes,” she explained.

“Oh, well. Yes, rather. I mean no. Not that I can think of.”

This went on for a while, her asking something and then making these concerned faces. “Look, is anything the matter with me?”

“I am not allowed to diagnose you, but the doctor will be in shortly.”

“Diagnose me with what?” I began to say as she opened the door. “Tell me. TELL ME WHICH CANCER I HAVE!” I shouted into the office halls. As the door slowly closed, a woman waiting on the chair looked straight at me with a terrified expression.

Frown lines - they can't always be fixed, even by a dermatologist
Frown lines - they can't always be fixed, even by a dermatologist

Another woman came in, slightly better dressed and more officious. I went through the whole question time again, convinced that at any moment they would break into a jazz chorus of “Roses are red and violets are blue, we usually cure cancer but we can’t cure you!”

She was joined by another doctor, and then eventually three people went through everything I had listed to prescribe either medication or a dose of skepticism. One of them finally admitted that the spot was harmless and they didn’t think I had anything to worry about.

“Oh thank god.”

But,” said the third woman, “what are you intending on doing about your chronic frowning syndrome?”

“My what now?”

“Your forehead lines,” she explained. “They are now irreversible. They will get deeper and more gnarly with age, and the progress is odd considering how young you are.”

Elated at being called young but alarmed at being called gnarly, I got confused and asked for their suggestion. That’s when they left me alone in a room to watch a 30-minute video on the joys of botox, followed by a 30-minute lecture on the cure for wrinkles. The video starred a volunteer aunty I swear I’ve met at my gym, and despite her obvious relief at impending facial paralysis, she didn’t really look much better in the ‘After’ videos. I told them that I really didn’t think I was going to go down that route yet.

Later that night I happened to be at a wedding. It was almost cancelled because it was being held close to the bomb blast site at Charing Cross, scarcely a few hours after the event. I was hyperaware of who might have had the injections and surprised to find how few people have forehead wrinkles now. Suddenly aware of my furrowed brow, I walked around the glittery tent with forced expressions of beatitude. At last I came upon an old acquaintance who looked much thinner than I remembered. “How thin you look!” I cried, trying not to frown.

“I’ve had chemo,” said the woman in question.

“I’m so sorry,” I cried, sitting down next to her. “Tell me: did you ever notice any spots on you?”

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