Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | July 13, 2007

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Many thanks to Maria of Intueri for letting me participate after the fact, so to speak.

Here are the rules: Write a medically related story of fewer than 1000 words inspired by the following image:

George and Joan sat together in the front seat of their car, gathering their courage. In the back seat sat their infant daughter, sleeping peacefully in her car seat, too young to understand the deformity her parents were desperately seeking to correct.

“Shall we?” asked George.

Joan nodded silently, but didn’t unbuckle her seatbelt. George put his arm around her.

“What’s wrong?”

Joan buried her head in his shoulder.

“What if this doctor can’t do anything for her either?”

George’s arm tightened about his young wife.

“Then we’ll find someone else. And we won’t stop until we can find someone who can.”

Joan shook her head.

“She’s so beautiful! Just — different. All I want is for her to grow up normally, to live a normal life. Not have everyone staring at her.” Joan sighed again, then undid her seatbelt and opened the car door. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

George reached into the back seat and unbuckled little Mollie, gently lifting her onto his shoulder without waking her. They rode the elevator to the sixth floor of the medical building in silence. As the door opened, Mollie began to stir. George rearranged her in his arms while Joan perused the directory on the wall. She pointed to the right.

“Down here.”

They proceeded down the hallway to suite 614 where the words “Plastic Surgery” stood out in stark plastic letters on the walnut door. George pushed it open and let Joan enter before him. She walked straight over to the desk, returning with the usual clipboard of forms. She sat down and handed them to George, taking the baby from him to nurse. Mollie suckled away as her father made short work of the sheaf of forms. He’d filled out similar ones at least a dozen times since her birth a month ago.

Finally they were escorted back into the inner sanctum of the consultation room. Like the other plastic surgery offices they’d seen so many of, it was ornately decorated in sophisticated mahogany and leather. The doctor kept them waiting just long enough for them to be impressed but not long enough to become annoyed.

This doctor was older than the others they had consulted. George and Joan had chosen him for precisely this reason. Perhaps his greater experience would make the difference between a normal life and the one their daughter currently faced.

This was one medical scenario where the history was secondary. One look at the infant’s face told the doctor all he needed to know. He walked around his desk and knelt in front of Joan, gently pulling the blanket away from the baby’s face as he asked, “May I?”

Joan nodded her assent and sat silently as the doctor turned the baby’s head first this way, then that. To her surprise, Mollie tolerated his touch. Perhaps she knew he only wanted to help. He palpated both sides of her face carefully, considering the texture of the tissues. Finally he stood up, walked back around the desk and seated himself, folding his hands in front of him.

“I’m very sorry, but there really isn’t anything we can do.”

Joan struggled with tears while George struggled with his temper.

“What do you mean, there’s nothing you can do? There must be something. We’ve seen every plastic surgeon in town. Someone must be able to do something!”

“I’m really very sorry, but it wouldn’t matter if you spoke to every plastic surgeon in the universe. I’m afraid there’s nothing that can be done. As you know, our masks are more than just pigmentation. They consist of complex tissues containing collections of dilated blood vessels that give each one of us our uniquely textured and colored mask around the eyes and cheeks.” He nodded to Joan. “For example, Mrs. Smith, your mask is fine and flat between your eyes, becoming fuller and more variegated on your cheeks, whereas your husband’s is much wider over the nose, and comes all the way down to the corners of his mouth.”

Ignoring his flattering assessment of her looks, Joan refused to accept the finality of the doctor’s pronouncement.

“What about tattooing? Anything to make it more symmetrical. Moreā€¦” Her voice cracked. “More normal.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Smith, but a tattoo wouldn’t look genuine. A lot of the character of the mask is its texture.”

George had heard enough.

“Thank you for your time, Doctor.” He stood and leaned over to take little Mollie in his arms. She smiled at him, her lopsided face brightening.

“You’re welcome, Mr. Smith. As I say, I really wish there was something I could offer.”

“Never mind, Doctor. You’ve been very kind. Come on, honey.”

Joan stood and turned to go, but twisted around to look pleadingly at the doctor one last time. He saw her glance and shook his head sadly, but firmly and with finality.

Silently the young family retraced their steps down the hall, to the elevator, through the lobby and out into the bright sunshine. George turned to Joan and saw that she was crying.

“Don’t worry, honey,” he murmured reassuringly as he put his arm around her. “Everything will be alright.”

Joan nodded, but found herself despairing. The pale, smooth, unmarked left side of her poor little daughter’s face would forever be a source of staring and pointing. Somehow she and George would have to teach their child to hold her head high, ignoring the whispers and worse, trying to help her to live a full and happy life despite having only half a face to present to the world.

As if echoing her father’s optimism, Mollie smiled at her mother, her asymmetric features beaming with love and innocence. Joan couldn’t help but smile back.


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