BEHAVING RASHLY

I have a rash. It itches. Occasionally it hurts, but mostly it itches so much I’m ready to tear my skin off. Cortisone (or chemical equivalents) help, but nothing cures it. What is it?

I don’t know. I’ve had it for my whole life as did my mother before me. More than 20 million people suffer from itching skin rashes of unknown origins. Most, like mine, come and go with no obvious cause. Medical science has made not an iota of progress in curing the problem. Whatever it is.

Life is not a bowl of cherries

Life is not a bowl of cherries

Until a couple of weeks ago, it only attacked areas of my body that are normally covered by clothing. At least I didn’t have to suffer the indignity of answering the time-worn question: “Oh my God, what’s wrong with you?” Or, the ever-popular: “What the hell is THAT?”

Thank you for sharing your horror at my condition. Recently, my eczema or dermatitis (take your pick, it’s been called both) spread to my right forearm. I admit it’s not pretty, but it isn’t contagious and it won’t kill me. It may, however, drive me insane with the itching.

If it hurt, I could ignore the pain, but itching? Itching blocks all other sensations. All you can think about is how much you’d like to scratch. You know if you start scratching, it will get worse, though sometimes that doesn’t seem possible.

DEALING WITH FRIENDS who have A RASH
  1. Try not to look horrified.
  2. Don’t stare.
  3. Do not let your jaw drop and tongue loll. That is most unattractive.
  4. Do not ask “Doesn’t that bother you?” Of course it bothers him/her/me.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the concern, but if you look sufficiently awestruck at the rash on my arm, I will feel obliged to give you my entire spiel on rashes, the history of how dermatology has made no significant advance in treating itching skin conditions.

Eczema or dermatitis of unknown origin, also called “contact dermatitis” (contact with what?) is really common. There is a very good chance that you will — at some point in your life — have a rash that itches. It will be red and ugly.

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You will have no idea what caused it. Your doctor will have no better idea than you. Over-the-counter cortisone cream won’t help much. The slightly stronger prescription goop from your doctor will help slightly (but not much) more.

Coal tar soap and ointments may also help to lessen the itching while making your skin soft and smooth.

Eventually, your rash will go away. For a while. But, like General MacArthur, it will always return. And the next time someone asks me “What’s that?” I’ll tell them: “It’s leprosy. Easily controlled by antibiotics.” That’ll end the conversation in a hurry.

A WAR AGAINST WOMEN

A good friend in Texas who used to live here in New England is fighting a lonely battle in her town for the right of women to retain control over their bodies. Texas is the front line of the war against women, a war I thought we’d won years ago with Roe V. Wade and the end of (formal, official) discrimination against women in the workplace.

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She and I remember the bad old days. We were there together. The days of backroom abortions performed with chlorine bleach, coat hangers and turkey basters. When sepsis or perforation of your uterus was not an unusual price to pay to end a pregnancy. Where young women, unable to obtain an abortion, threw themselves off bridges rather than bear an unwanted child. Or tried to abort themselves, with lethal results.

Despite self-righteous conservative braying, backlash and brainwashing, having an abortion was not and is not a sign one is irresponsible or anti-life.

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Women have (and always have had) abortions for all kinds of reasons including fear for their health, welfare of existing children, and of course, economics, AKA survival.

While birth control isn’t 100% reliable, the men trying to stop women’s access to abortion are also determined to prevent us from getting effective birth control. If there is any logic to this, I fail to see it.

What’s the real point?

It has nothing to do with life or the right to be born. It’s about power. About putting women in their place so men can regain the control they have lost. Back to the kitchen for us, barefoot and pregnant. If men had babies, you can be sure this would not be happening.

I had an abortion that wasn’t an abortion, thus retaining plausible deniability.

My husband was in the hospital. He had cancer. It was so early in the pregnancy — less than 4 weeks — tests were negative, so technically, I couldn’t have an abortion. But I knew.

It was the worst time to discover myself pregnant. I didn’t know if my husband would live. (He didn’t live long.) We were financially maxed out. I had gotten into a highly competitive master’s program — more than 2000 applications for a couple of dozen spots — and I would not be able to accept. I looked at my life and thought: “I don’t need more education. I need a job.” No matter how I tried to fit the pieces together, a baby was not in the picture.

I had a “menstrual extraction” which was what you got when the test read negative but you knew otherwise. It was done in a doctor’s office. Without anesthesia. That’s a lot of pain, during which you dare not move lest a blade slip and do some serious, permanent damage.

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So many women my age went through similar or worse experiences. Were we happy about it? No, but we did what we felt was best, not just for us but for everyone affected.

Life doesn’t happen in a vacuum. What happens to one woman happens to her entire circle — family and friends. We were adult women. We had the right and the obligation to decide what happens to our bodies and our lives.

I maintain my long-standing position on this matter. Unless you are a woman, your opinion is worthless. I do not care what they preach in your church. Until you walk in my shoes, live in my body, you know nothing.

Why am I weighing in on this? The it-wasn’t-really-an-abortion was more 40 years ago. No one knew it happened until now. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m sorry it happened, but I believed I was doing the right thing. I still believe it.

How ironic that women are again facing the specter of those terrifying, desperate days. The nightmare of the back room and the coat hanger is looming. The gains in personal freedom women won are at risk. If we don’t speak out and stand together, we will lose it. Maybe not tomorrow, but eventually. The opposition is relentless.

I am past child-bearing age. It’s about all women. Whether or not we have the right to decide for ourselves what is done to us. If ever there was a right to life involved, how about our right to have a decent life, to bear the number of children they want and not be managed by men whose stake in the issue is tangential? How about that?

No one wants an abortion. But sometimes, you need one.

WHAT’S NEXT? SING ALONG WITH TOM LEHRER

“What else could go wrong?  How much worse could things get?”

My husband and I have an agreement. We will never say those words. Not say them or even think them. Because no matter how bad things are, no matter how dark life looks, there’s always something else that can go wrong. If you are alive, you are already money ahead. You could be not alive.

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A fair number of people I counted as friends and loved ones are long gone and more are on that final leg of life’s journey. In the immortal words of Tom Lehrer “Soon we’ll all be sliding down that razor blade of life.” Ouch.

The other day, I was deep in a miasma of self-pity. It’s my least favorite place to be except in a hospital bed waking up to realize “Oh shit, this is going to be really bad …” I thought to myself, “You really are going to die.”

Then I said out loud. “Of course you are going to die. Was there ever the least bit of doubt about it? It was never an “if.” We are all going to die. When and how remain the only questions, but that’s a journey we’re all taking.”

None of the people I know have come back to tell me about the other side. Not one single person has reported back, so I’m not counting on going to a better place. I’m going to try to make the best of this place and let the next take care of itself.

summer bouquet

So what could go wrong? You think things couldn’t get worse?

They can go wronger and they can get worser. And given the shit-storm life is, it probably will. Go wronger. Get worser. So I will shut up and enjoy whatever there is to enjoy because we never know. Actually, we know. We just don’t want to think about it.

Tom Lehrer always cheers me up.

LIFE’S WALK-OFF HOME RUN

Grand Slam

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Being baseball fans, when you mention baseball and walk-off home runs, David Ortiz pops into mind. He isn’t the Big Poppy he was in the past, but he has his good days.

The Sox are so not in it this year, but it’s been an interesting baseball decade. We’ve had a fair share of victories. In theory, our boys could still do something. In reality, it seems beyond merely unlikely.

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My walk-off home run would be a multi-faceted magic remedy to alleviate arthritis, regenerate missing body parts and internal organs, cure skin rashes and hair loss … combined with at least one big score on the lottery.

nationals in DC baseball

On a more modest level, I’d be happy with a good night’s sleep and waking up free from pain.

That said, I’m not unhappy. Life remains engaging, entertaining, amusing, fun. I’ve had to find new things to enjoy and different ways to enjoy them, but we all have to adapt. I guess I don’t remember “the old days” as so much better than right now. Different. Not necessarily better.

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We change, the world changes. It takes some enterprise to find new stuff to enjoy, but it’s not beyond our ability to learn to play on a new field. Even to figure out how to hit one of the park.

WAITING WITH THE NEWS – A HEALTH ALERT UPDATE

The only time I read the newspaper is when I’m waiting for the doctor or dentist. Usually, I get headlines online and carefully avoid reading “hard news.”

I don’t want to know. I can’t fix what’s broken in the world. Knowing about it will depress me.

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Yesterday, I had a moderately long wait for the dentist. It was an emergency visit and I didn’t bring my Kindle. My bag is already stuffed, overloaded with camera equipment and everything else.

Garry always buys newspapers and he had brought two. Halfway through the second newspaper, I remembered why I don’t follow news. I caught up with everything I didn’t want to know.

The waiting experience was crowned by seeing the dentist.

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The good news? The antibiotics healed the infection in my gums and if I lay off the flossing, I should be fine. Other good news? My broken tooth was filled. I no longer have a big, jagged hole where my premolar ought to be. In fact, I still have the premolar, or what’s left of it. Even better news? The tooth can be fixed, made good as new, almost.

You’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, right? Wait for it …

$1200 for the crown. No insurance. Because health insurance doesn’t cover teeth, vision, or hearing. Eating, seeing, and hearing are cosmetic, not medical issues.

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Now that I know I’m not going to die from infection, I can relax. I can stop being cranky, snarky, and insomniac. Because all I need to worry about is money.

Footnote: The photographs have nothing to do with the post. I took them when we got back from the dentist. With the Pentax Q7, which was not having a good day. It took me an hour to figure out what was bothering it — and set it to rights. I felt obliged to use the pictures.

BROWN RECLUSE SPIDERS DON’T LIVE HERE

In the last week, since Garry has been less able to do “the heavy lifting,” the question of who will help who and which of us can perform the more physically demanding chores has loomed large. We haven’t found an answer. Maybe there isn’t any.


The doctor said it looked like a brown recluse spider bite to her. She was looking at the swollen, scabbed over wound on Garry’s leg.

“It doesn’t look anything like a tick bite and Garry’s blood panel was normal. No indication of any other infection. All levels normal.”

Brown-recluse-coin

I said “All the experts say there are no brown recluse spiders in this part of the country.” Of course there are loads of apocryphal stories and data to belie that smug assertion, but experts are expert. They can’t be wrong so you can’t argue with them.

The doc gave me a look and said “Right!”

The initial Lyme titre already came back. Negative. It probably would be negative at this point even if there were an infection incubating. I’m optimistic because my beloved shows no symptoms of a systemic infection. Only his leg hurts. Which makes sense — if he was bitten by the spider that doesn’t live here. The mythical spider reported by so many people, but completely denied by official experts.

Sometimes, experts sound like they are deep in denial. Or is that just me?

We’ll run another blood test for Lyme in about a month, but the odds are? Garry was bitten by a brown recluse spider. Which probably was living by the side of the house where the woodshed was until recently, when my son tore it down.

That’s exactly where these spiders (the ones that don’t live around here) like to hide. In old rotting wood piles, cardboard boxes, damp garages, and basements. Oh, I forgot to mention that these same experts assure us that these are very non-aggressive spiders and only bite when they feel threatened. What would make a spider feel threatened is left to our own imagination.

Nonetheless, experts say we don’t have brown recluse spiders around here. So — what, me worry?

SERENDIPITY PHOTO PROMPT 2015-9: BITE OF THE SPIDER

SERENDIPITY PHOTO STORY PROMPT

WEDNESDAY – June 10, 2015 #9

Welcome, again, to Frisbee Wednesday. Today I have wonderful pictures of my favorite local dam. And a story to go with it. Two of the best pictures were taken by Garry.

You may write about any of these pictures. Or any of your pictures or someone else’s picture. Write a little, write a lot. At your pleasure.

The picture for this week is by Garry Armstrong, who is coincidentally, the subject of today’s story.

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Please add your own ping back (links) or put your link in a comment, then link back to this post so other people can find you and me. My effort for this week follows.

BITE OF THE SPIDER
Garry as John Ford

Garry as John Ford

Garry has been feeling unwell. Something happened and it started with a bug bite. My first guess would be a brown recluse spider, but according to the authorities, that’s impossible because “they don’t live here.” We do have black widows … even the experts admit that … and giant wolf spiders (let us hope I never encounter one because I would probably die of fright) …  but no brown recluses.

Whatever it was, the bite was painless and the culprit got away. The experts get to retain plausible deniability for their contention “it didn’t really happen.”

Only the spider — if it was a spider — knows for sure, and he isn’t talking. Yet.

Garry started to feel not-so-good shortly after Kaity’s graduation. He was energetic during the event, the picture of a proud grandfather with field producer experience.

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The day after The Big Event, a different story emerged. His left leg hurt. Shooting pains. He was limping. Both of us assumed (never assume) this was because he’d pushed too hard the previous day.

That wasn’t it, because it got steadily worse. On Thursday, while towelling off post-shower, he noticed something nasty on the back of his left calf, down near the ankle. He showed me.

Garry at Manchaug

It was an ugly wound. Two areas affected, the larger one had two big gray-blue, oddly shaped blisters surrounded by dark red inflammation plus a smaller version lower on the ankle. I lanced the blisters, cauterized everything with surgical iodine, slathered it with antibiotic ointment and bandaged him like a wounded soldier on the battlefield.

He said he felt better. Friday passed, but on Saturday morning, I didn’t like the way it looked. It seemed redder and the area of redness had expanded. I called the doctor. Drove him there.. Brought him home, then went out to the pharmacy for antibiotics. It was the first time I had driven since before the heart surgery in March 2014.

Just a day later — Sunday — the weather being fine and Garry feeling a little better, I suggested an airing. Manchaug. I’d drive. It would be low impact.

The shot for which life and limb were imperiled.

The shot for which life and limb were imperiled.

I should have known better.

I left with Garry, my husband, but arrived in Manchaug with director John Ford. Squatting in the tall grass to get that great shot of the dam with the wild daisies in the foreground, leaving me wondering if he’d be able to get up — as I pondered how many biting insects were hiding in that grass. I would have thought he’s had enough of getting bit. But it’s not about me. Who am I to keep an artist from his moment?

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The doctor was worried about Lyme. Although I saw no evidence of a tick, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t bitten by one or several. Ticks drop off when they’ve completed their meal and Lyme is endemic to this region.

I’m counting on it not being Lyme. Or anything serious. Because the maestro needs his space — and I need the maestro.