Tuesday, July 17, 2007

DSC_5118 - Pompholyx PlagueHurrah, it's only eczema.

And then I remember what the last batch was like, and how long it took to clear, which it has never really done, I just get used to forgetting about it, only remembering when I absent-minded scratch my legs.

Starting at the beginning or at least nearer the start than we are now, I've had assorted veruccas on my feet since... way before I started this blog. I know technically, according to all the literature, that is impossible as most of them don't last 6 six weeks let alone months, and should clear completely in a year or two, but just like with that lingering chunk of orthodontic cement that should have fallen off within a fortnight in 1999, I think time works differently on my body.

I was trying to treat the veruccas with Bazuka, and having as much impact as that normally does (read: it's bloody useless, hurts when applied and can make the entire area ache, and while poisoning all it touches never penetrates deep enough to reach the base of any verucca). One on the softer instep of my foot developed into a turgid yellow blister, so I stopped treating it. That burst, leaving a weeping scab underneath, but the surrounding area followed suite. After trying various treats and discovering that a mix of pricking the blister, dousing in aged Acriflex, and then letting my sock absorb the resulting gunk, seemed the most effective and least destructive way of coping (plasters just soaked the area in infected fluid, mingled with the mangled skin and never stayed on).

So I had an unhappy chunk of foot, plus the unshifting verrucas. And then, about a week ago, I started getting hard pale pimples on the palms of my hands and the thicker surfaces of my fingers. These grew and some developed dark centres. Like verrucas, those in the softer skin could be gouged out (I know you're not supposed to, just like you're meant to walk round with happy, round, shiny pustules on your face, rather bursting the damn things; the world is full of doolally advice). Add in the vague knowledge that armadas of unbeatable warts are a symptom of something considerably worse (albeit tortuously improbable), and I was starting to get concerned.

Obviously I was none too pleased about about the plague rampaging across my hands. Given the verrucas on my feet have never shifted, I wasn't looking forward to 6 years of crenellated fingers. And so I researched, dredging up every conceivable method of wart removal (although I'd been through much of it why exploring the last verruca volley). Discarding anything which used the word "widdershins" or relies on something one can buy at three pounds per pound (put cloves of garlic between your toes to keep away the disease-bringing cloven-hoofed devil, tape dried banana skins to the afflicted area, drip concentrated willow extract on the warts... hang on, that last one is the normal treatment), I got it down to: keep as dry as possible, wash repeatedly and thoroughly in the-hotter-the-better water and use duct tape.

The duct tape thing I was already doing on my feet after abandoning the infection prompting Bazuka - incidentally it appears to work. The proscribed method is to cover the wart/verruca for six days and nights, take off on the seventh, then soak, scour, rinse and dry before reapplying 12 hours later. Some small problems: duct tape, despite lasting longer than any plaster, does not last on my feet. I can stretch it to two days at most, though it's working loose throughout the second day, and so probably not doing what it should. Many small pieces work better than one big piece. It's better to wrench it off before having a shower than to take it off as it falls off in the shower as this may take off some of the dead skin, and very occasionally, the entire verruca.

So I know duct tape works for papillomas. However hands have quite lot more flex in them than feet, don't come with protective and securing socks, and tend to get seen socially rather more than feet (and I tried applying it once; fingers are very hard to use when nearly splinted, when much of the feeling is being blocked and when the bit of tape being manipulated to be applied elsewhere sticks to those already present on a treated finger). Duct tape occlusion for fingers is not really practical, although it did even out the swelling on the single occasion I tried it (despite shedding bits on across my bed).

Instead I had to rely on keeping my hands clean and dry. Cue lots of just about tolerably hot water, much lathering and scrubbing fit for microbiology practical, or at least a bit part in ER, patting them dry and occasional sprinkling of talc to counter the sweat.

In hindsight I'm now aware there was a slight Lady Macbeth syndrome - hang on, no, it was him of the bloodwashing, she was the power... ok, I might also have that too, but I meant bone-flaying thoroughness - going on. I have a problem, I must counter the problem, my method of countering exasperates the problem. I suppose I really should have thought that if I don't use soap normally because it either makes my skin itchy and sore or greasily spotty, then using if when my skin is out of kilter might not have been the best of ideas.

After a week of trying to avoid passing anything, standing hands in pockets or behind my back, trying not to scratch the itching and burning lumps, some of which had now developed into blisters, I decided that perhaps I ought try the doctors. I was fairly reticent about doing so because the last time I went to one was pre-uni the first time round, and it took four days to get an appointment, by which time the problem had usually abated to an embarrassing sorry-to-have-bothered-you extent. Plus the doctor in equals parts ignored or disbelieved anything I said, was incredibly patronising, and then tried to flirt with me (ignoring the later realisation of wrong-tree, treating me like an idiot or a disobedient six-year-old is not among the classic seduction techniques, however much she girlishly flicks her hair, especially when said hair expands with each flick and the action draws attention to just how long ago she was a girl). I suppose her manner did do wonders for reported illness levels, as everyone who had her as their GP didn't ever want to see her again.

Ring up, get a non-urgent appointment within twenty-four-hours (although being flexible about who I saw probably helped, due to not having a clue who my GP is meant to be), go the next day (oh the joy of parking in that car park - you know the scene in Austin Powers with Doctor Evil driving in the tunnel? Very much like that), arrive early to a full waiting room, get called in next, explain things to doctor whose age I shall not consider as it might be very similar (or worse not) to mine. He thinks he knows what it is, and mentions what he'll prescribe, but rings up a colleague (and my actual GP to check), whereupon the colleague overrules, starts teaching the younger doctor by pointing to parts of my hand, rattles off the recommended prescription, has to spell the name of the problem (I bit my tongue to stop me from doing it: no, you're missing the em, then pee-aitch) makes one blithe comment I don't argue with (although I did point differences out between this and previous skin problems, and not only was shockingly allowed to get away with it, but had them explained to me), and disappears, leaving Doctor Junior to print out a small ream, staple it badly togther, call it a leaflet and had it to me, along with a prescription for things I've had in the past (and still have somewhere). Thanking him I leave, aware that I've been through in record time, and only when I get in the car do I notice the doctor's name printed on the prescription is Big Doc, despite it being signed by Little Doc. I thought he was young.

But it doesn't matter because I came out feeling the most confident I've ever done on leaving the surgery. And because I may have had someone still learning, but people have to learn and they have to have something to learn with, and because I had a free and easy second opinion and heard the arguments behind it. So what can we conclude? Two brains are better than one, and show your working.

It's odd. The prescription was near enough what I've had before, yet this time I came out thinking it would work, rather than simply being fobbed off with generics by a distracted and irritable Dr Flirt (who reputedly often told people to take a couple of aspirin, go to bed and definitely do not call in the morning). Actually the prescription is for the stronger form of treatment, but it's the way they said; they made it feel more likely to work.

So what were the odd warty lumps which then tend either became opaque white blisters or developed into miniature fluid filled capsules, like fly eggs or minute fish eyes? Pompholyx, apparently. Good word, isn't it? A form of atopic eczema associated with the palm of the hand and sides of the fingers (read: everywhere but the back/upper surface of my hands, so delightfully and painfully including round the nails).

And what was that vaguely pussy, huge blister ridden, rapidly eroding part of my foot? Just eczema again, this time squashed in thick skin. So other than the verrucas, it is all just me being silly, for various meanings of 'me' and 'silly'.

So off to Boots to collect the prescription, discovering the delights of prescription charges (I said it'd been a long time), where apparently it's per item not per prescription (so why aren't they Prescription Item Charges then? Bloody cheek), having first checked I can't get it cheaper without the prescription. It'll be twenty minutes, with a long queue to pay, so I loiter, get bored, loiter some more, realise the black currant whatever whose packet I happen to be staring at is cystitis treatment, move on faster than one can say "urinary tract infection", loiter some more, smile at the guy in uniform who is walking past rather more than necessary, loiter a bit more, realise that potential embarrassment lies on every shelf, this being a chemists and all, remember belatedly to look at my watch, loiter yet more, tire of feigning interest in quackery "with improved Jojoba", remember I have umpteen birthday cards to buy, due to there being umpteen imminent birthdays, swan off to do that, belatedly remembering I've neglected to remember any time, despite being able to recall looking at my watch. I reappear into a much emptier shop, am greeted by name as I approach, collect my goody-bag and pay, and only when I unpack it later do I notice the name on the label is right but the address is not, which is just puzzling and leads me to wonder if Boots have a customer database.

Later came unwrapping and the obligatory disregard of obligatory Patient Information Leaflets, shortly followed by examining them thoroughly simply because they're there and it's something to read. And the realisation that I've been prescribed Betnovate ointment, which explains the different colour packaging from usual. I'd forgotten ointment could mean more than just medicine. This stuff is effectively just Vaseline in tube. Just makes application fun. And trying to do anything afterwards. It also makes washing machine fun as assorted garments and bed-linens take on permanently darker patches.

It gets even more fun, as 10 minutes (according to the doctor, 30-60 minutes according to the blurb) after the ointment must come the cream, so just as the grease has redistributed itself onto all other surfaces, one slimes everything with emulsion, giving one the Castrol touch (like Midas but with... do I really need explain this?).

So apologies for the typing, but my hands are sliding across the keyboard, thanks to E45, and that's just using minimal amounts rather than in the manner the leaflet (if reams of A4 print-out thrust at me by the doctor can count as one) suggests, although it seems to think that what I've been prescribed for a month I should use in a week. Still, it's one way to clean a keyboard.

I'm also aware how much heat I must lose through my hands and feet, because gunking them up seems to stop sweat from either being produced or working, and so I'm much hotter than I was.

Back to the actual affliction. It seems to be much improved, with rough dry skin remaining, but few, if any larger blisters, and the small bubbles drying into pits with very small scab centres, like old pin pricks, within a couple of days of treatment.

Of course, no sooner do I get this health worry sorted out, complete with an impressive name, than I discover a friend's trumped me, with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Which of course I only heard about shortly after sending a highly not-sensitive email to the relevant person and replying to the reply in the same vein. Reactions appear to vary from my simple "Oh" (I found out via a mutual friend and... there are complications regarding communication) to "Oh God", "Oh hell" or "Oh shit".

So I hope you lot can't beat that (please don't try, and that includes you Mr Easily-Maimed Fact).


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