In 1976 I arrived in Costa Rica with all my worldly possessions, a pregnant wife and some enlarged skin cells in the middle of my left bun.
After a few weeks of ignoring the ailment – an easy task, as anything to do with medicine, doctors, etc. makes me break out in a sweat of cowardly funk – my wife, who has a stare like a blue laser, looked me in the eye and suggested I get the thing seen to with no more dillydallying.
After making a few inquiries, I made my way to a highly recommended clinic and explained the reason of my visit to a bored receptionist, who told me that Dr.Vinter (an assumed name, to protect the guilty) would attend to me “ya ya ya” and gestured me into a waiting room.
After what seemed an interminable wait, during which I wasted my eyesight on vintage Time magazines and increased my protein consumption by decreasing the length of my fingernails, a white-smocked Dr. Vinter opened the door and showed me into his torture chamber. I explained why I was there and had to prove it by showing him the offending bun. Both of them, in fact.
Dr. Vinter made light of the ailment, assured me that the condition was not terminal and told me he would burn off the enlarged skin cells with an electric needle.
A relative newcomer to the horrors of modern medicine, I had never seen an electric needle before – and I hope never to see one again. It looked like a dentist’s pick attached to an electric wire. Somewhere in the machinery is a switch or trigger that, when activated, makes the device issue a bright blue spark from the tip of the pick.
The spark, directed at the offending tissue from a distance of a quarter of an inch or so, does the job. I imagine it could be used for branding livestock, too.
Anyway, picture the scene: There I was, standing, quaking, with my hands above my head, sweaty palms against the wall,my pants and underpants around my ankles and my eyes tightly closed, waiting for the sting of the electric needle, which I thought would feel something like the chair at Folsom.
After what seemed an eternity, having felt nothing, I opened my eyes and looked around, and there was Dr. Vinter, fooling around with an injection syringe.
“What are you doing, doctor?” I asked. “I’m preparing the anesthetic,” he replied.
Gulping a little, because it is always hard to confess one’s cowardice, I told him, “Listen, doctor, I can stand a little pain, but I cannot abide injections – in fact, I pass out.
So please forget the anesthetic, and just go ahead with the electric needle.”
“Oh no, I couldn’t do that,” he retorted. “It would hurt ever so much.”
Then – eureka! – he had a brilliant idea, like Archimedes in his bath.
“I know!” he exclaimed. “I’ll freeze your bun with ether, and then you won’t feel a thing.”
Accordingly, he pulled out a spray can of ether and applied it to my bun in a circular motion, with a prolonged swoosh. After a few moments my bun was frozen, covered with white frost, and it felt like a numb watermelon. Dr. Vinter picked up his electric needle, and I once again tightly closed my eyes.
Now, what I didn’t know, and Dr. Vinter didn’t remember, is that ether is a combustible gas. With the first spark from the electric needle there was a muted whoosh, and all my lower body hair began burning merrily, with Dr. Vinter dancing around, flapping a little towel to put out the flames.
Fortunately, I am not a hirsute person (I wasn’t before this experience, either) so the conflagration lasted only a few moments.
Then, when the smoke and stench had cleared, Dr. Vinter once again applied his electric needle to my still-frozen bun, and successfully finished the job.
End of tale. Very nearly the end of my tail, too.
If this had happened in North America, I would be a rich man today.