"I'm pretty good for an Urgent Care doctor, but I'm not a plastic surgeon."
Dr. G. Nathan Newman shuffles papers and preps sterile equipment in the corner of a large Urgent Care room in Santa Monica. I rotate my chin 90 degrees to the right to meet his kind eyes behind sturdy black rimmed glasses. My body faces the windowless side wall, and my boyfriend who sits in support-mode along the wall, Teddy Fresh hoodie, hair, and shoes all muddied. The cushioned medical table wobbles a bit when the nurse pulls the foot rest out like one of those built-in kitchen cutting boards. My legs stretch out in front of me. My torso angles back. My flexed palms prop me lazily up on my tentpole arms.
The Doc is trying to tell me that he's not a plastic surgeon because he assumed, like many image-obsessed Hollywood-types he treats, that I would want to pay some inordinate price to avoid having a scar. "I'm looking forward to the scar," I tell him. It will sit just north of the one on my knee, that I never got stitches for in my first days of living permanently in the US, and that I drew a face on and took photos of at every phase of healing. Nowadays it's shiny and full of little triangular lines and soft to the touch. An unseen wedge of broken pottery, hanging out of the trash bag I was swinging onto my street in Queens, was the culprit that time. Today, in Santa Monica, after the most unexpectedly epic hike, and another incident with a broken glass shard, the cut is much wider, and a few skin layers deep. We had stopped the bleeding pretty abruptly on site, I wasn't feeling woozy or weird in any way, and the pain seemed minimal. All the feeling in the rest of my leg seemed right. Still, we are so rarely in an emergency medical situation and the air is more tense than it would normally be for us on a Sunday afternoon.
Dr. Nathan expertly walks the line between playful and dry. He seems at home in his work. Warm humored. He answers all my medical questions straightforwardly, but in those moments when he needs to coax a little chitchat out of me to distract from the pain of a needle prod, he delivers crisp, effortless punchlines. We some how get on the subject of Children of Men, the Clive Owen movie I haven't seen since it came out in 2006. "It was a little bit 'savior'-y and, as a Jew, I'm not looking for that."
"Good cinematography though," we agree.
His favorite movie is Fight Club, which I appreciate so much. He admits he loves to ask people who've seen it "what is that story is even about?" After a brief and necessary introduction to Sam Esmail (he hasn't seen Mr. Robot) we head down the Fincher rabbit hole. Seven. The Social Network. House of Cards. That guy is a genius. Then we're talking directors and his all-time fave is Spike Jonze. "Where The Wild Things Are? Her? Come on." Shane and I can't not bring up that Spike Jonze's brother, Sam Spiegel live DJ'd our socially distant artist party last month. Seems like a not-too-corny Hollywood flex. We take a moment of reverence together for the work of Ang Lee. I mention Scorsese: "He's great but he's kind of a one trick pony." I know what he's getting at.
We talk podcasts. The second one he brings up is one of the first podcasts I ever loved: 99% Invisible. We have the same favorite episode, about the woman who posed for over half the sculptures in New York, failed in Hollywood, and lived to be 105: Miss Manhattan. I listened to it in 2016. I've never been able to to talk to someone about that brilliant episode. Am I going to be friends with a badass doctor after today? I muse.
He injects my right thigh with lidocaine in a few places. He's very deliberate and I can barely feel it. Then the whole thing is numb and he cleans it out with a kind of water pipette.
"What's the yellow stuff?" I'm staring into the watery wound, rapt.
"That's fat." We both stare at the little yellow clumps all along the fleshy pink layers of the cut, that has actually closed in and started to heal from the incident barely an an hour prior.
"Whoa. What are the white things?" Small textured white lines remind me of the tendons in steak.
The stitches begin. It's like watching a performance, on a chunk of my own leg. The little black hook brings my parted skin back together and he loops the synthetic thread around in a fancy swoop with forceps, cinching each stitch with a spiky bow. Watching it gives me the same feeling I get when I watch people paint and cross stitch to folky acoustic tunes on TikTok. Dr. Newman reveals that he attended a conference--"in Vegas... at the Tropicana" (we both laugh)--on how to level up your stitches game. He is utterly skilled, with an easy kindness that respects my enthusiasm for his craft. I am feeling so thankful to have chosen this Urgent Care back in my post-hike adrenaline rush. I am awash in layers of thankfulness actually, to know that my little fish-shaped cut is nothing serious, to have enough wiggle room in our savings to pay the one time price tag that comes with stitches (the whole affair cost $100 less than rent, but I did get some free gauze), to be sitting across from my best friend on an epic nature adventure day, and to have homemade smoky vegan quesadillas in Tupperware, awaiting our return to the car. To my comrades, I probably seem brave and patient, but I am merely relaxing into the humble miracles of healing, connection, and gratitude. This guy could be a doctor anywhere. He's clearly skilled and levelheaded and takes pride in good work. But he slings blue business cards from the Santa Monica Urgent Care and gives insurance-less artists like me a shot at some conference-honed stitching skills. Thank you, life.
The nurse, Lucy, has a detached Awkwafina vibe. She wraps up my leg and administers a tetanus shot in the top of my right arm. "Do you want me to count down?" she asks, with the needle cocked in my peripheral. "Um just throw it in whenever" (That's-what-she-said). Lucy comments on Dr. Nathan's great stitch job and asks me to write him a Yelp review. She doesn't know I have already penned a personal essay in my mind.
"For sure," I say.