Range Safety Goes Beyond the Four Rules

posted on January 12, 2019

Range safety isn’t always about treating your firearm properly. You need to look out for yourself, too.

            I was at the doctor’s office, for my annual ritual dermatology check-up. With a name like Sweeney, you’d think I was fair-skinned. Nope, black hair, blue eyes, not pink but not dark complexion. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors, on the range and in other sports. So, after much nagging, I got into the habit of getting annual, ritual, checks of the various moles and spots I’d collected over the years. Ritual, because nobody ever found anything worth the attention.

            The dermatologist was a new one in the practice, so I’m being my usual witty, charming self (as charming as one can be, in a paper gown) when, as she’s peering at my neck, her voice goes cold.

            “Hold still”

            Huh, what? There’s no spot on that part of my neck.

            “Lie down. Hold still.”

            Oh, now this is getting a bit worrisome.

            “This will sting a bit.”

            No kidding, the doctor is carving on my neck, right near my carotid, and yes it does sting. And more than just a bit.

            “I’m sending this to the lab. Hold this while I start over.”

            Next thing I know, I’m holding a wad of gauze on my neck, to stop the bleeding, until she can get some tape out and bandage me up. Then she starts the spots-and-moles inspection all over again.

            Holy cow, checking for spots between my toes? This is serious.

            And a good thing she was so serious, too, because the lab called me two days later, and, yes, it was something worth the attention. I had a thing on my neck called a Basal Cell Carcinoma. I have to go in for a procedure called Mohs Micrographic Surgery. Simply put, they make me hold still, (again) and they cut off the offending growth and send it to the lab. Then I wait, and if the lab says they got it all, great. If not, the surgeon repeats the process.

            How did I get to this point? Because I was your typical “I’m OK” guy on the range. Sunscreen? Yes, I’ll use some when I get the time. The clouds are out, the weather isn’t that bad, I don’t have the time. All the usual excuses.

            My wife’s business partner did much the same thing, but he kept ignoring the situation even after there was a visible spot on his face. Worse yet, he was of Scottish heritage, and fair to a fault. By the time he got nagged into getting checked, they had to do more than a light cut to get it all. They did what they needed to, and he was fine; but it wasn’t fun for him.

            Without this turning into a medical seminar, you can do the smart thing, or the prudent thing, or both. The smart thing is to go to a good website, and research skin cancer. There’s lots of info to be found, and you can also search for and read up on the basic rules for peering at your own spots.

            The prudent thing is to start using sun block—and lots of it. The SPF scale is not additive. SPF 30 does not block twice as much as SPF 15. Basically, 15 blocks 93% of the sun, 30 blocks 95% of the sun, and 50 blocks 98% of the sun. Use it generously, and renew it regularly, Most people (my former self included) use a little, and never add any. Here’s a tip: it doesn’t work if you don’t use it. Slather it on, and renew the application after a couple of hours.

            The good news is that SPF lotions block UVB light. The bad news is they don’t block UVA, and that type of Ray can also cause harm. Still, half is better than none. So use it.

            I don’t know what the results of the surgery are yet, I have to file this before the surgeon gets to demonstrate his skill.

            I do know that from now on I’ll be the guy over in the corner of the range, applying sun block from a five-gallon bucket. I’ll be the guy with the foot-pump applicator and squeegee. My previously cavalier attitude has now earned me scheduled twice-annual visits where every spot, mole, freckle and keratosis is going to be measured, charted and recorded, by the doc and her crew of med school students in their dermatology rotation. Lucky me.

            Actually, yes, lucky me. I know people who didn’t catch carcinomas early. They had to endure so much cutting it took plastic surgery afterward to make them handsome again. Don’t be that guy. Be prudent and smart.


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