Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Skin Song; same song, different verse

For three and a half years I've been whining here about my crappy hands.

Admittedly, while SWMBO was slowly dying of cancer,  I tried to ignore my eczema;  it seemed to be (and it was) exceedingly self-centered of me to complain about what was essentially 'dry skin' while her lungs were rotting away.   It was worse when I came home from work and she asked me 'how are your hands?'.  It seemed graceless to complain .... and it would have been.

But she's gone now, and I've decided to go back to whining.

It's nothing more than an inconvenience, but it's debilitating to a "slightly" lesser degree than cancer;  when I try to do anything more strenuous than type on a computer keyboard, or read a book, the skin on my fingers dries out and splits.  And bleeds.  It's like getting paper-cuts, grasping nettles, or a severe sunburn ... often all at the same time.  Oh, and sometimes the skin on my hands just peels off, and I get these open bleeding wounds which make it really hard to do something like ... uh, shoot a pistol?  Even dimpled plastic grips get slippery.

So last month I went to my doctor (for the first time in a year), and HE asked me "how are your hands?  Still got the same problem?"

I admitted that I've adopted ways to cope with the problem.  I put ointment (Clobetasol, which is a 5 % steroid compound in a petroleum jelly base) on three or four times a day, and the rest of the time I just use vaseline petroleum jelly to keep my hands from drying out.  And I wear vinyl gloves about 12 hours a day to keep the stuff from drying out.  Still, it makes it awkward when I can't wash my hands with soap unless I immediately put that greasy crap all over my hands, and cover them with gloves.

My doctor, bless his heart, suggested that I see a Dermatologist.  I explained that the last one I saw did nothing more than prescribe clobetasol ointment and tell me to avoid washing and especially avoid soap.   And then last year, he retired ... mostly, I suspect he's living high on the extravagant fees he gets for telling people to quit washing.

To my surprise, my family doctor told me that there were now new dermatologists in town, and would I like him to refer me?

Would I?   Oh, HELL yes!

I went to see Dr. Vandergrift, and he didn't even look at my hands.  Not an auspicious start, from my perspective, but apparently he had been discussing my 'case' with my family doctor (who spent 9 months trying to eliminate the problem as being a fungus infection) and he understood that the only thing which had EVER helped was semi-annual massive infusion of Steroids ... which worked for a week at best.

(Then it came back, just as annoying and aggressive as ever.)

Dr. Vandergrift decided that since nothing else had been discovered to explain the situation, it must be an "acquired" allergy to some substance which had never been an issue until recent years.   He has referred me to the Oregon Health Science Unit (a division of the Oregon University System, and the Major Hospital facility in Oregon).

I made the appointment, and in subsequent phone calls to Doctor Pamela Norris I agreed to submit myself to a Patch Test.  This is the process where they scratch the skin on my back in about fifty places and deposit various substances, to see if my body reacts to them. I filled out a questionnaire, and after a couple of phone conversations with Dr. Norris's office, it turns out that they will be testing 150 substances, simultaneously.  It makes me feel like a Drunken Sailor getting his first tattoo during an extended shore-leave, and I haven't even had the tests yet!

On Monday, June 18, I'll show up at the office and they'll inscribe "MOTHER" on my back in 150 different languages.  In two days I'll come back, and they'll evaluate the results.

The next Monday, June 25, I go back for the 7-day evaluation.  Lord knows what that's going to be like.

In the meantime, I can NOT get my back wet until the testing period is completed.

There are a lot of benefits to living alone; when I say something funny, everyone in the room laughs at my jokes.  Everything stays just were I put it, and if I can't find it, it's my fault.  And if my dinner tastes crappy, I don't have to smile and say "It's delicious, Dear .. can we have this again next week?"  Instead I can just spit it out and phone for a pizza delivery.

Now there's another benefit to being a hermit:  when I haven't bathed for a week, I have nobody to offend but myself.

But, still ... Yuck!

   It isn't easy, being Geek.

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