The smell of burning skin, mixed with singed whiskers. That was the worst part.
I was tired of dealing with the blood: applying pressure, dealing with soaked tissue and the scabs that would eventually form, then get accidentally knocked off, only to start the bleeding once again.
And they were on my face.
They weren't eyesores, but they weren't attractive, either. One, on the upper-edge of my lip, just off-centre, on my left. The other, about twice the size—maybe more—on my right cheek, set back, about two inches from my ear lobe.
As a young kid, they gave me no trouble. I saw them every time I saw my reflection, looked in the mirror, or saw a photograph of myself. I didn't like the look of them, saw them as faults, imperfections on an imperfect face.
When adolescence came in, and a razor came out, they became a problem. Hair follicles grew through them. And, because these moles were raised above the skin, were entities of their own, I had to draw the blades ever-so-delicately over them when I shaved. If I was careful, and lucky, I sheared the whisker without incident. Sometimes, I would miss the whisker and would have to take tweezers to the errant strand of hair, and pluck it.
Plucking was the safest method of extraction but hurt like a sonofabitch.
At least once a week, the sharp razor would nick one of the moles, and the blood would rush out. It wasn't a simple nick like when I would catch my chin at a bad angle: basic nicks would heal quickly, with little blood loss. When a mole was nicked, it bled aggressively. The blood would fall in steady drips, onto the bathtub and down the drain, while I finished shaving and showering (I multitask). I would then have to exit the shower with a hand pressed to the wound, until I could plaster it with tissue or toilet paper, which would become blood-soaked in a matter of minutes, when I would have to replace the now-red tissue with a fresh one.
Which would also absorb the blood.
It could take a half-hour to get the bleeding under control. When the clot held and a scab began to form, the scab would always be large, formed from a drip of blood that I managed to hold in place. The scab would be delicate: any contact could knock it off the mole and start the blood flow again.
It was not fun. And it was a problem that I dealt with for about 16 years.
I had a Korean friend who one day noticed a scab above my lip. I had to explain to her the sensitivity of my moles and how they would bleed like stuck pigs when I shaved. I talked about how, some day, I would have the moles removed so that I wouldn't have to deal with the mess and bother that occurred every time I cut them.
My friend told me of one of her family friends, a dermatologist, who could look at the moles and, if possible, remove them. I was leery of doctors in Korea, but I realized it was a prejudice I had to get over. And a consultation didn't mean a commitment to anything. I agreed to meet this family friend.
It was a small office in a part of Chônju with which I was unfamiliar. It was a newly developed neighbourhood with few buildings, and most of them were no more than two or three stories tall. The doctor's office had one examination room, with a chair similar to one found in a dentist's office. Basic blinds cast amber stripes on a bare wall, the soon-to-be-setting sun having dropped towards Mount Moak.
The doctor was a young woman with a round face. She spoke kindly, examined my moles and explained the procedure. My friend translated. It would be a painless procedure: she would inject an anesthetic just next to each mole and would burn them off with a laser. There would be a little scarring and the skin would still be raised a little, but the moles would be gone and if I were to nick the raised skin, it wouldn't bleed like it did with the moles.
Because I was a mutual friend, the rate would be only ₩30,000: in Canadian dollars, that was just a little less than $30.
I agreed to the procedure, and asked about when it could be done. The doctor looked at my friend, confused by my question. There had been a misunderstanding: my friend had told the doctor that I was being brought in to have the procedure done. This was the appointment for the surgery.
I sat in the chair and it was reclined. A bright light shone overhead. My friend was invited to sit next to me, to act as a translator, should we need one. My friend wore a mask over her nose and mouth.
I winced as the first needle went into my lip, and again as my cheek was injected. My friend, who had a commanding view of the operation, saw my discomfort and took my hand in hers. I looked through her glasses, into her beautiful, brown eyes, and without uttering a word she let me know that I wasn't alone, that I would be okay, that everything would turn out.
I felt nothing, once the anesthetic took hold and the doctor worked at burning off the mole over my lip. I could see wisps of smoke rising up, and I could smell the cooking flesh and burning whiskers.
But I concentrated on my friend's eyes, felt the reassuring grip as she held my hand.
And I was comforted.