Mardi Link: Follow that freckle

·4 min read

Aug. 28—Reporters, both by nature and training, are good at chronicling the ways things go wrong.

Readers of this newspaper, for example, are not likely to encounter a headline that reads, "Government spends tax money wisely, Michiganders enjoy total transparency."

Reporters do sometimes report good news. Woman delivers own healthy baby in Subaru during Cherry Festival traffic, comes to mind.

Pointing out problems, however, is our bailiwick, and more societal shortcomings have come to light in the past few years than I have freckles.

But what about when the freckle is the problem?

Here's a story about things actually going right.

One February weekend day I was walking my dogs on the TART trail between Three and Four Mile roads and fell on the ice and bumped my head.

For re-enactment purposes, picture a basketball bouncing off concrete. (No, this is not the "going right" part. Stay with me.)

A persistent headache sent me to Urgent Care, where a physician's assistant said the word "concussion," told me to rest and advised a follow up with my regular doctor.

Except, my regular doctor retired and I no longer had a regular doctor.

Before working for the Record-Eagle, I'd been a self-employed writer, without health insurance, for nearly 30 years. I'm not complaining. I loved writing books.

But that sounds risky and it was.

We have not come to the "going right" part of the story, and here I could easily veer off into a rant about how our medical industrial complex prioritizes shareholder profits over people's health but I'll save that for another day.

As for me, I'm lucky. I'm not on any prescription medications and I don't have any chronic health problems. My rationalization during that time was, if I got hurt at home, I had homeowners' insurance.

If I got hurt in a car accident, I had car insurance.

I paid cash for a physical every three or four years, during which I'd tell my doctor I drank less than I actually do, I'd ask about this big freckle on my arm, he'd look at it and say it was still an age spot that should be watched and that would be that.

Until the morning I basketballed my head on the TART trail.

And decided to follow that wise PA's advice and find a regular doctor, especially now that my employer helps pay for basic health insurance.

Dr. Leah Walbridge is with the same medical practice as my previous doctor, and not only agreed to see me, but answered my questions.

Does she believe in science? Yes. Does she believe vaccines save lives? Yes, for most people. Does she think the 2020 Presidential election was stolen? She knows people who do believe that, but she's not one of them.

"OK," I said, "you can be my doctor. Please take a look at this freckle."

(We are approaching the "going right" part.)

During the pandemic, nurses, doctors and other frontline medical workers have carried a heavy burden while trying their best to care for the rest of us.

The national news and this paper have reported medical teams are overworked, understaffed, accused, insulted and unappreciated.

I know women's health issues are underfunded when it comes to research dollars, and that some doctors do not believe women when we report unexpected, or unstudied, symptoms.

But that has not been my experience with healthcare here in northern Michigan.

Within two days of asking Dr. Walbridge to take a gander at my arm, she secured me an appointment with Dr. Brittney Lister, a Traverse City dermatologist.

Within a week of seeing Dr. Lister, the results of a biopsy she ordered explained the look of alarm Dr. Walbridge had tried her best to disguise.

Dr. Lister referred me to a plastic surgeon, Dr. Ryan Burke, also of Traverse City, who used a Sharpie and the paper covering the table in the exam room to thoroughly explain why (melanoma) and how (surgery) the freckle that was now no longer an age spot, was going to have to be ejected from the game.

He listened. Then drew portraits of my arm and taught me everything I will ever want or need to know about dermis, margins and skin grafts.

A fabulous Copper Ridge surgery prep nurse named Andrea Something (by the time she said her last name, I was enjoying the IV) explained exactly how the surgery and recovery would go, then leaned down and said, conspiratorially, "I love your books."

Most of a reporter's work day is spent finding and reading documents, attending court hearings, interviewing people in person or on the phone, attending meetings of elected officials, then recounting for readers how things went wrong and why.

It's a heady responsibility, also a privilege, and those who are good at it, love it.

This month is my three-year-anniversary of returning to a newsroom, being part of a team, after 30 years of essentially shooting hoops alone in my driveway.

I've spent those three years finding, and reporting, a whole bunch of wrong. But this time, and when it mattered for my own health, everything went right.

And sometimes we get to tell that story, too.

Email Senior Reporter Mardi Link at mlink@record-eagle.com.