Small Red Bump
by Nat Panek

A few years ago a small red bump appeared on my upper left arm. It was about the size and shape of the head of a pin. As it was in a place inconspicuous to me, I didn't notice it until it was fully formed, and my then-girlfriend brought it to my attention one evening.

She expressed a desire to attempt its removal, as mates who have become habituated to one another often do when pimples or other random skin phenomena manifest themselves. Perhaps it's some sort of evolutionary grooming throwback. More likely it's due to the boredom of a relationship become too familiar to balk at such activities.

In any case, she pinched it between her fingernails. It burst, and a small amount of blood dribbled out. It hurt a little more than popping a normal pimple would, but I thought nothing of it, put a Band-Aid over it, and went to bed.

The next morning the Band-Aid came off in the shower, and the former bump, now a small flap of skin, started to bleed again. When I got out of the shower, I put another Band-Aid over it. The Band-Aid soaked through in about a minute. I replaced it. The replacement soaked through. By this time I was late for work. I could not go to work, however, until I had stopped the bleeding, or else I'd ruin my shirt. Eventually I became desperate, tied an athletic sock around my arm as tight as I could, and sat down to think about how I was going to stop bleeding.

I wasn't bleeding profusely, just steadily and seemingly unstoppably. I resolved to head to a nearby clinic to see what could be done (a hard decision, as I had no health insurance at the time).

At the clinic I waited approximately forty minutes before a nurse took me back into an exam room. I described my dilemma, and took off my shirt. She pulled on a pair of gloves and unwrapped my sock, revealing a semi-congealed, yet still dripping, sopping mess beneath. I looked at her sheepishly; her expression was one of concern mingled with mild disgust. She disposed of the sock in a trash can bearing biohazard warnings, gave me a gauze pad to press against my arm, and told me to wait for the doctor.

The doctor cleaned me up, put a strong, tight dressing on my mysterious lesion, and gave me a referral to another doctor who could get to the bottom of this. A few days later, I visited the new doctor, who removed my dressing to reveal a slightly less bloody arm, as well as a steadily dripping lesion. His diagnosis: an angioma, relatively common. Essentially, it's a minor blood vessel that works its way up above the surface of the skin, manifesting itself as a small red bump. Because the vessel was severed directly, it would not clot on its own. He cleaned my arm and administered a small shot of lidocaine. Then he cauterized the lesion with a small electrical instrument. There was a wisp of foul-smelling smoke, and my bleeding finally stopped.

This was not the end, however. The doctor mandated that I return in a week for a surgical procedure in which he would remove the area of tissue around the angioma, as there was a slight possibility of some sort of pathology in the immediate area. It was a lot more than I believed was necessary, but he was quite earnest.

I returned in a couple weeks for the surgery. I was wheeled into an operating room, connected to several types of monitors, and turned on my side. All this for a dumb little red bump. Overkill, I kept thinking. There were several shots of lidocaine, and after a few minutes of slicing and cutting, the doctor showed me what he'd pulled from my arm - an inch long gobbet of bloody tissue resembling a slug. It was necessary to remove this tissue, he explained, to make sure that it was not malignant in any way. I was lying on my side in a paper gown with a numb arm that now had a slight depression in it. I was in no position to argue.

The doctor closed the wound with a running stitch. Two weeks later, I visited him one final time to have the stitching removed. He did this by taking hold of the loose end and pulling several inches of nylon from my arm the way one might pull a loose thread from a sweater. I couldn't believe I had to visit a doctor for this. Of course, the pathology tests of my flesh gobbet were negative.

The result of all this is a vertical scar on my upper left arm, about an inch long. It is usually pink, but turns red with increased blood flow when I exert myself. I consider it to be the dumbest scar I've ever acquired, brought on by frivolous picking and augmented by most likely superfluous and unnecessary medical treatment. Usually, when someone ventures to question me about it, I tell them it's a gunshot wound and elaborate from there. The story is never the same twice.

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