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by Alina Stefanescu

NELLE 2 | 2019

Once I realized uveal melanoma existed, I needed to know if I had it.

I could not wait. I drove from office to office until someone agreed to dilate my pupils. This was the easiest way to detect uveal melanoma.

I sat in the waiting room—not waiting—and watched a tall man make his way across the parking lot. A parrot perched on his left shoulder. The man entered the office through rotating doors. He approached the front desk and asked to see a nurse named Gretchen.

“Ack, Gretch-en,” the parrot repeated.

The receptionist stared at the parrot, stared at the ceiling lamp, asked the man to take the parrot back into the parking lot since pets were not permitted on the premises due to sanitary concerns and certain regulations.

The man grew flustered. A peninsula of skin around the man’s nose turned very, very red. He pressed his belly into the formica counter-top. He told the receptionist the parrot was not his pet but his wife. What he meant was that his wife had recently passed and the parrot, overcome by grief-related chutzpah, overturned the urn and ate half his wife’s ashes. The man had no verb to describe this action so he said, “grief” again, loudly. Grief was large enough to include oral symptoms.

The man needed to speak to Gretchen but he could not very well abandon his wife with the parrot. In the parking lot. Or in a hot car. Speaking of regulations.

The receptionist lifted her eyebrows, sat high in her rolling chair, and struggled to find the appropriately comforting yet stern response. Fleeting, she thought, how fleeting all of this.

She stared briefly at the parrot who cocked its yellow rimmed head. “There is no one by the name of Gretchen here,” she told the man.

“Ack, Gretch-en,” said the parrot.

A sad nurse called me back to the exam room. She smelled of Lysol and melted chocolate.

“Sit right here. A technician will be in to dilate you shortly.”

She patted the paper on the exam table.

I laid my buttocks to rest on the crinkly paper and stared at framed posters of places I’d never been including Paris, Brussels, London, and Australia.

The door clicked and unclicked. A tiny slip of a woman with frizzy henna hair introduced herself as the technician. “My name is Gretchen,” she said, “and this might feel a little strange at first but you should be fine in four to six hours. Have you ever been dilated? Did you know that people are planting tulips early this year? I volunteer at the local animal shelter and we’ve been really flummoxed by all the ticks.”

I leaned away from the dropper and said I wasn’t sure anymore. The reading materials said I should be fine in three to four hours. I didn’t feel comfortable with a floor-to-ceiling bay window of discrepancy between the text and the word. I needed to read earlier rather than later, and one hour was a small millennium on that scale.

Uveal melanoma was very rare but reading was an everyday part of my life and three to four hours was a serious sacrifice. I approved of sacrifice but stopped short of being a martyr.

She curled her lips and laid a warm palm on my shoulder.

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