“What happened to your hand?” friends were asking yesterday.
I explained that it’s really nothing, and then we tried to come up with an amusing answer. I got injured fending off a grizzly attack? (Not funny.) Got caught up when I was dallying the lasso? (Not even remotely plausible.)
In fact, the bandage is there to protect the minor laser burns sustained during my latest biannual ritual at the skin doctor. She found more of those pre-cancerous spots, and zapped them away. It’s ugly, but not painful, and it will heal quickly.
Why am I sharing this? Because of another blessing that has come to town, hot on the heels of our new pharmacy.
For this visit, I didn’t have to take the usual 90-minute drive over Togwotee Pass to Jackson to see the dermatologist. This time (on the morning of our first snowfall, as it happens), the dermatologist and the rest of her team came to me.
This could have been their last monthly visit at the end of a six-month experiment. But they’ve decided to keep coming every month, year-round.
This is no small favor. That a specialist and her team will come over the Pass to spare dozens of us driving the other way in order to detect early skin cancer is a very important benefit in this remote town. At around 7000 feet, the sun is deceptively brutal here. It’s not hot, but it’s dangerous–especially for someone with a family history of skin cancer, but actually for anyone. I never go outdoors without a generous application of sunscreen and a hat with a brim.
There would not have been any sunscreen available to my grandfather, who was a Nebraska farmer with fair skin. I’m guessing there were no public-health messages about the risks of the sun during the Great Depression, and as you see him standing here in the barn door, he was not wearing a hat.
He died from melanoma that arose on the back of his neck. I envision him laboring for hours on his tractor, head bare, sun at his back as he plowed the furrows.
My mother (not a rancher but a teacher) regularly had pre-cancerous lesions taken off her skin. Now so do I, as do many of my neighbors. Thank heaven.
And thanks to Storey Donaldson, office manager of Western Wyoming Dermatology & Surgery, who proposed adding Dubois to their satellite offices in Pinedale and Afton.
This week was the end of a six-month pilot project to see whether the practice would attract enough patients in Dubois to justify the effort. Not only have they gained new patients from our town, Storey told me; about half of their visits in Dubois are from people farther down the valley, in Lander and Riverton, who would not want to make a 3-hour trip all the way over to Jackson.
Back in the day, someone would ride on horseback all day and hope to be able to bring a doctor back in time before the injured person died. Today, we have two clinics and regular access to preventive care. One clinic now offers dermatology visits once a month; the other offers telemedicine links to specialists at the best hospital in the state. There’s also an ambulance service with response times that match national standards, air lifts to regional intensive care centers, and search and rescue crews that venture out to help people injured in our wilderness.
In New York City, I left behind some of the best medical care in the world. But I don’t spend much time even thinking about that.
So what did I do after seeing the dermatologist on Wednesday, instead of spending 90 minutes driving back from Jackson? I put on my hat, of course, and took the dog for a ramble.
© Lois Wingerson, 2018
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