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.

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.

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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.

THE DOCTOR WILL GET BACK TO YOU

I always tell people they should get in touch with the doctor when they are worried. I know that doctors are far from infallible, but until recently, I thought they at least cared enough to make an effort to keep you from dying.

A few days ago, it felt like something was stuck in my gum in back of my mouth near one of the big molars. I brushed. I flossed. After a while, it was still bothering me, but I was turning my gums into hamburger, so I quit.

Yesterday, I took a flashlight and looked. Nasty. The gum is eroded and puffy, slightly grey. Not pretty. Too late to call the dentist, but I had an appointment next Wednesday and had prophylactic antibiotics in hand.

I had a mitral valve replaced last year, among other heart-related surgeries. Oral infections are particularly dangerous for heart patients. They will spread quickly from mouth to heart valve.

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I followed my own advice.

This sort of thing can be scary. Fast as a speeding bullet, I could be dead — which is why I take antibiotics before I have dental work done. It’s also why I have to be ultra careful about infection in general.

Not knowing what else to do, I starting taking the antibiotics. I figured taking antibiotics I might not need would be safer than doing nothing. I would be upset and depressed if I died before I got to the dentist.

As it turned out, my dentist doesn’t have hours on Friday. He works alone — no associates — so there was no one I could talk to until Monday.

I called my cardiologist. Talked to the nurse. Explained I’m taking clindamycin which I got from my dentist just yesterday. It’s not a full prescription, but more than the amount I normally get before a dental appointment — 16 pills. Pharmacy error? If so, it was a fortunate one. I looked up dosage information on-line, and started taking it last night.

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I explained all of this to the nurse. She assured me the doctor would get back to me. It took a couple of hours, but he did.

Until other circumstances I would have  called my “primary care doctor,” but he has never bothered to read my medical history. He understands nothing, doesn’t listen, dismisses me as a weird, old hypochondriac. My cardiologist, on the other hand, is one of the good guys.

I like to think they balance each other out. Does medicine work that way?

So, here’s my advice. Talk to your doctor. But maybe you need to start by finding a doctor who cares. Shows compassion. Who will get to knows you well enough to recognize you if he bumps into you on the street.

Because mine wouldn’t.

DON’T STOP LAUGHING

Everything and everybody changes, but recently a couple of people I’ve known for a long time have changed suddenly and dramatically. Overnight, they became dry and humorless.

It appears they had a humorectomy. While they slept, their sense of humor was removed. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it’s deeply disturbing. Have they been replaced by pods, like the  “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”?

I could not survive if I did not see how ridiculous my life is. If the absurdity of it didn’t make me laugh, I would do nothing buy cry and bewail my state. Laughter heals me. It’s better than sex. Better than yoga, meditation, medication, or street drugs. It’s free, unrestricted by laws, available to anyone who is not yet dead and is acceptable behavior under almost all religious systems.

Many friends are going through rough times. Their problems vary, but the results are the same. Stress, anguish, fear, worry, insomnia. You worry, try to keep it together until you’re ready to explode.

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What can you do? When the light at the end of the tunnel really is the headlight of an oncoming train, I say: “Buckle up and let your hair blow in the wind. It’s going to be a hell of a ride.”

Laughing at the craziness, insanity, ludicrousness, the utter absurdity of my life — and the demented world in which I live it — is my first line of defense against despair. Take away laughter, strip away my sense of humor, and I’m a goner.

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I laugh any time I find a reason. At anything that strikes me as funny, which isn’t always appreciated by other people. I even laugh when I’m alone (weird, right?). It reminds me why it’s worth staying alive.

My friends make me laugh. I make them laugh. When our lives are in tatters and everything around us is collapsing, we laugh. Then, we take a deep breath, and laugh some more. The more awful the situation, the more dreadful and intractable the problems, the funnier it is. We are not laughing at tragedy … we are laughing at life.

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The difference between tragedy and comedy is how you look at it. Laughter is the antidote for everything. Try it. It’s a cure.

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.”

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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?

ROCKS. BOULDERS. LIFE.

A rerun (with editing) from 2013. Shorter. Pithier. No less true.

Asking for help is easy. Getting it may not be.

I don’t mean getting someone to review your post or help you carry a heavy box up the stairs. Those are easy things, no big deal. You’ll happily do such things for anyone, even a stranger … and they for you.

What about when you can’t manage the basic stuff of life on your own anymore? When a bag of groceries is too heavy? When a flight of stairs looms Everest?

Ask you family for help? They’re busy. Maybe they can find a little time around Thanksgiving. Or New Year’s.

“But I need help today!” The silence is deafening.

Growing older has plenty of good, solid reasons for fear. Real issues of being left to the care of unfriendly strangers, unable to manage day-to-day tasks are more than a little scary. There’s nothing psychological about them.

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Everyone would rather not need help. Universally, people prefer self-sufficiency. When that’s no longer an option, the world has a frozen, dark look. It’s not your world any more.

There are boulders in the middle of your life. Immovable. Huge, heavy, solid. Waiting.