Recently I had an appointment at the clinic because Brian, my favorite nurse practitioner, needed to practice his cutting and sewing skills ... on me. As an excuse, he found a few suspicious “areas of interest” on my back, which were more of an interest to Brian since he could see them. As they were on my back, I had never directly made eye contact. Brian wanted to send them to the lab for analysis to help keep the lab people employed and I consented since I’ve always had a soft spot for lab workers and also because I didn’t want to scare away girls if I should get any shirtless beach time in the future, like when I’m in my 70s.

In preparation for this “minor surgical procedure” I watched as Denise, the advanced medical technician, gathered supplies from the cabinets like meat cleavers, bone saws, gauze and anesthetic. I didn’t see her take a swig of whisky from any “medicinal bottle” they might keep with the prescription medicines, but if I had her job I most certainly would have.

She opened a new box of surgical suture material, removed one of the packets and as she put the box back on the shelf, she took the instruction sheet that came inside the box and tossed it in the trash. This was both reassuring and disturbing to me. Reassuring because it implied that Brian knew what he was doing and had already memorized the instructions back in medical school. It was at the same time disturbing because, well because no one was reading the substantial notes about the suture material they were going to use ... on me.

Picking the instructions out of the trash when no one was looking crossed my mind but rooting around in the rubbish at the doctor’s office may not be such a good idea. I mean, what could you find in there accidentally? There won’t be any needles — they have their own, special little trash can hanging on the wall — but you could very well run into something unpleasant like a half-eaten liverwurst sandwich, for example.

Advanced medical technician Denise pulled the suture literature out of the trash at my request and let me have it on the condition I didn’t cry like a baby during the procedure and then demand a lollipop. I pondered my options while she concluded the preparations and finally agreed.



The instructions are printed on a huge 18-inch-square sheet and, counting the back, 65 percent of the paper is blank. There is no title on the sheet and the text is divided into three columns: English, French and Spanish. It’s curious: there’s enough room on the paper to fit another five languages, especially with the microscopic 8-point type they used. Do the Chinese use sutures or do they all read English, Spanish or French? I wondered if all three languages say the same thing or if you would have to be tri-lingual to get the entire message.

The language mystery aside, the paper turned out to be more of a data sheet than a “how-to” manual, which is a relief. It clearly states that “users should be familiar with surgical procedures and techniques” before using the suture material to close wounds. Reading the description, I found that suture material is essentially Nylon mono-filament fishing line available in clear, black or blue, although unlike fishing line it is sterilized using gamma radiation.

The paper talked about the chemical composition, adverse reactions and how you should throw away any unused suture and not be a cheapskate doctor saving every inch to be used on the next patient. I bet tightwad clinics get their suture material at the Walmart fishing department.

Sitting upright and shirtless, I felt quite like Vladimir Putin on a horse as Brian hacked away at my back, occasionally laughing maniacally, while Denise politely refrained from saying, “Oh, I wouldn’t want to see you on the beach with that in ten years.” The biopsy was a snap and the pain was no more intense than prancing through a smallish rose thicket while on a horse, without a shirt, backwards.

I left with the comfort of knowing that I helped lab people keep their jobs and Brian his skills, even though I didn’t get a lollipop. I can’t wait to return to get the sutures removed. When I do, I will be very firm that they discard the suture material and do not reuse it. You can thank me later for always reading the instructions.