Scarface PaPa Al
Isn’t My Nickname

This is the backstory, or, as Yogi Berra used to say, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”  A dozen years ago, I got a call from the University of Chicago Medical Center. I had taken a Prostate-Specific Antigen blood test (PSA), which is used to determine whether men have prostate cancer. The voice, at the other end of the call, said that my PSA indicated that I had prostate cancer. It wasn’t what anyone wanted to hear. Fortunately, the doctors successfully took care of the cancer.

A couple weeks ago, I had a similar call from my dermatologist’s office. It was reminiscent of the call from the University of Chicago. The voice, at the other end of the call, said that I had basal cell carcinoma. But, to allay any of my possible fears or concerns, the voice assured me that it easily treated as opposed to some of the other forms of skin cancer.

The caller set up a day for the surgery, which was about a week later. When I arrived at the dermatologist’s office, the doctor explained the Mohs procedure. It was named after Dr. Frederic Mohs, who developed this type of surgery in 1938 to remove skin cancer. I understood the process and why it was effective. However, as I listened to the doctor, my mind drifted off to my family in Myanmar.

The mother of my three granddaughters’ name is Moh Moh. How were the Moh Moh and Dr. Mohs related? As they were getting me ready for surgery, it wasn’t the time to ask non-surgical questions. Besides, I could ask Lisa, a good friend, and the medical assistant who would assist the doctor during the procedure. After the operation, I could ask her that question.

The next thing that I noticed was that Lisa said that she wanted to numb the area on the left side of my face to avoid any discomfort during the procedure. As I looked up, I saw what seemed like an enormous syringe. Lisa was about to inject that area of my face as I looked at the end of the needle. I saw a drop of the painkiller about to drip from the needle as she started the process of injecting me with an anesthetic several times around the area. Dentists do the same thing when dealing with some dental procedures.

However, this was when things got murky. I don’t know how many times Lisa injected me, but it seemed like more than a couple of dozen times. I felt like I was going in and out of la-la land.

My la-la land

When I finally processed what was happening, I was in another place. Actually, I think it was in the emergency room of a level 1 trauma center. I asked Lisa where they had moved me? She said that we were still in the doctor’s operating room, which didn’t make sense to me. Lisa just took my hand to comfort me. I was confused.

Lisa told me not to worry, and everything would be alright. The next thing that I noticed was that the doctor had a Sharpie marker and drew a circle around the spot of the basal cell carcinoma. It reminded me of Trump’s use of a Sharpie.

Lisa had an official medical camera and took pictures of me, which made me look a bit morbid. The next photo is after the removal of the affected area. I asked Lisa how long did the procedure take? She claimed that it was a matter of a minute or two. However, it seemed to me that it took most of the day. Nevertheless, it doesn’t look like I’m even alive.

The doctor removed the skin and took it to do a lab next to the operating room. He looked at the removed sections to see whether he removed all the cancerous areas. When he was satisfied, he stitched me up with seven stitches with blue sutures. I must have told Lisa that my favorite color was blue. It should be noted that the sutures were non-absorbable and would be removed a week later.

The following photo is of me all bandaged up. I seemed to be improving somewhat after what seemed like an all-day procedure.

Lisa asked me how I felt. She must have sensed that I seemed concerned about something. Finally, I addressed a haunting issue. It is about my family in Myanmar. Ti Ti told her two younger sisters that I was coming back for my second trip to visit them. I had met Snow and Fatty on my first trip, but they were two and four and wouldn’t remember me. Ti Ti explained to them who I was; I was PaPa Al. I was their grandfather who lived in the States, and I wanted to visit them again.

Also, Myanmar is really into creating cute nicknames for children. Ti Ti’s younger sister’s nicknames describe each of them at the time of birth. Snow had a minor problem with the pigmentation of her skin. So, she looked as white as snow, hence the name Snow. Fatty was born a chubby baby, hence the name Fatty. This is a recent photo of my granddaughters, and the two younger ones still have their nicknames even though neither looks like snow or looks fat.

I told Lisa that I didn’t want to get a nickname from my granddaughters after the procedure like the nickname the gangster, Al Capone, had. His nickname was Scarface Al. Lisa assured me that I would look as young and debonair as I have always looked.

In response, I told Lisa that I wrote an essay for Ti Ti’s 17th birthday and mentioned that I thought she got much of her IQ and good looks from my side of the family. After the sutures were removed a week later, I showed Lisa the photo of Ti Ti and one of me. Lisa was correct; my granddaughters won’t call me Scarface PaPa Al. Lisa also mentioned that I still look young and debonair.