I have two nipples now.
I used to make all kinds of third nipple jokes as a teenager before I knew I had one. I don't remember exactly how I realized it, but I think it was either at the beach or a pool that I made a mean third nipple joke directed at someone who didn't have one, only to see that person point out that the small mole below my right man-breast sure looked a heck of a lot like a third nipple.
Over the next few years, I continued to make third nipple jokes, but included the odd brag that I had one. I stopped doing that after someone with a gigantic third nipple asked to see mine and laughed at how small it was.
During my twenties, I rarely made third nipple jokes. But in inverse proportion to the number of jokes I told on the subject, my third nipple grew. And grew. And grew.
It got to be big enough that I worried it might be cancerous. So when I was in graduate school in New York, I went to a doctor. She was rude and said it would cost at least several hundred dollars to get the third nipple removed. "Cancer, shmancer," I thought, and walked out of her office.
Fast forward to India. Cheap medical care. Foreign trained doctors. A lot of time on my hands. That's a recipe for a nipplectomy.
Just hours after I'd called to make an appointment this morning, I found myself lying topless on an examining table in front of the UK-trained Dr. Malik. She poked a needle full of local anesthetic into my chest. It hurt, and my face showed it.
"Don't worry," Dr. Malik said. "This is the worst part."
That wasn't really true.
As soon as the anesthesia set in, Dr. Malik set to work with a small metal blade. I shut my eyes. I had the weird sensation of feeling her painlessly slice into my torso. She kept at it for a good ten to fifteen minutes. She was a careful cutter, but so slow.
"Open your eyes," she finally said. I did. The fingers on her latex gloves were spotted with blood. She was holding my third nipple about eight inches from my face.
She turned it from side to side so I could examine it. There was a cone of subcutaneous fat and other tissue attached to the bottom. She said she'd cut that off to make sure my third nipple didn't grow back.
I started feeling sick looking at my amputated nipple so I looked away, but not before I saw Dr. Malik toss my nipple in a metal dish and hand it to a nurse (who she called "sister") so it could be taken for a biopsy.
Then Dr. Malik set to work stitching me up. Two internal sutures, five on the outside. The only problem was that by the time she got to external stitch #3, the local anesthetic was beginning to wear off. I would have paid more for another dose of anesthesia.
Which brings us to cost. This whole outpatient procedure (and the biopsy) cost less than $100. We should outsource American healthcare to India.
So now I've got a stitched-up hole in my chest where an extra nipple used to be. Decades from now, I'm going to sit back in a rocking chair and say in my most wistful Isak Dinesen voice, "I got a nipple removed in India."
I bet my parents are freaking out reading this.