I nipped out to Salk Lake City last Friday to meet with Paul, the prosthetist owner/designer of CustomDME. Leaving my house just after 4am, I drove across the bay to the Oakland airport and caught a direct predawn flight to SLC. Despite the early departure time, my flight was full, overhead bins filled quickly, and Delta employees bustled to relocate later boarding passengers’ rolling luggage in cargo storage. I would be returning mid-afternoon so brought only my winter coat and an over-stuffed handbag.
Given Northern California’s (up until last week anyway) scant snowfall, I wasn’t too surprised to be sitting next to skiers on their way to the powdery nirvana known as Utah. They excitedly talked snow while I read briefly and napped. Fewer than two hours later, while the skiers headed to baggage to collect their gear, I navigated my way through the Salt Lake City airport to pick up a rental car and make the 15 minute drive to Paul’s house.
I’d previously spoken at length with Paul on the phone and read glowing reports of his services via breastcancer.org. Still, it was a small leap of faith to travel part way across the U. S. to bare my left breast to a complete stranger so he could accurately tint a custom made prosthetic nipple. To say that my world has undergone a paradigm shift over the past year is almost an absurd understatement.
Around 9.30 I parked in front of Paul’s cozy home, located in a modest neighborhood nestled next to the major north-south corridor through town. Paul and his 2 year old daughter answered the door. They escorted me into their living room which was ringed by a leather couch, matching chair, Paul’s artwork, and an upright piano with a book of children’s devotional music.
His daughter wandered into the adjoining kitchen as Paul’s wife (our chaperone for the morning’s work) came to greet out to greet me. Paul settled me down on a folding chair in front of a large picture window so that we could take advantage of the available winter sunlight. Once I was seated, he left to gather the nipples, a brush, and his palette.
Though the nipples were a pale flesh color, in shape they bore a striking resemblance to my lone survivor. Paul noted they were in comparison perhaps a smidgen too wide, a little too short, and the areolae too smooth and flat. He asked if I would alternatively like for him to adjust a different pair, in progress, to correct the discrepancies. I eagerly assented.
While he hurried off to improve upon and complete the other pair, Paul’s wife invited me into the kitchen as she fed her daughters breakfast. We chatted easily about motherhood, skiing (Paul’s an expert skiier and had just given their two year old her first ski lesson), triathlons (she’s an Ironman veteran), teenagers (former high school teacher), and Palo Alto (where she had almost accepted a teaching job offer).
Before long, Paul reappeared and together we returned to the living room. Like the previous pair, the new nipples were also a pale flesh color, but I could discern immediately that they were the very shape and texture of my own. I modeled as he worked quickly with his paintbrush to transform each into a perfect color matched replica. The paints were actually tinted silicone — of which he used mostly browns, some red, yellow, and a dab of blue.
After finishing the tinting, he repeatedly cut with short strokes through the silicone with a razor blade to create more life-like texture. He coated each with a clear top coat of silicone to protect the coloring, and invited me to wait in their home for the next 2 hours while the completed prostheses completely cured. I instead opted to venture out to investigate the center of downtown Salt Lake City and the Mormon faith: Temple Square. It was just 10.30.
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