Now that I have health insurance, I’m making appointments right and left with doctors, trying to catch up on all the stuff I’ve ignored for 25 years. I left my appointment with my general practitioner two weeks ago armed with a sheaf of referrals: an ophthalmologist for my double vision, an ear nose and throat doctor for my tinnitus, but the one I’m most looking forward to is a dermatologist so maybe I can finally discover just what the fuck is up with my bizarre skin problems.
Whenever I do anything that puts pressure on my palms (like carry a suitcase or put together book shelves from Ikea), later in the day I have dark red, tender spots on my palms. It doesn’t look like skin irritation but more like red bruises that itch like hell way beneath the surface. They last about a day, depending on how severe they are which depends on how long I carried that suitcase or how hard those screws were to screw in. To this day I don’t know if I’ve always avoided physical work because my hands are so sensitive or the other way around. I do remember, as a teenager, after mowing the lawn my hands would be swollen and painful but I didn’t connect that with my extreme resistance to mowing the lawn. I assumed I was lazy, like my father said.
In my early twenties I got a fiery and very persistent rash on my shins, intensely itchy so that it was impossible not to scratch it but scratching it made it worse until I’d scratch the skin right off and it would bleed and scab. It was the main reason why I was sure I was HIV positive and avoided getting tested until 1989. Fifteen years later, a doctor at a low-income clinic in Nashville gave me two rounds of steroids to get it under control. That and rubbing tea tree lotion on my legs every night for about 5 years finally stopped the rash. It tries to come back every once in a while but it’s not as bad and the lotion takes care of it.
When I was living on the road, spending a lot of time in the Southwest, my skin started to react violently to sun exposure. Even 20 minutes or so of sun can cause welts, blisters, and swelling. Sometimes I’ll lose the pigment in an area after the skins heals. I’ve become vampiric in my vigilant avoidance of the sun. In San Francisco last week, we were out walking around the city all day on a very cloudy day (not overcast – I know enough to beware of overcast days). The sun came out for about half an hour, it felt good because it had been chilly, and we stopped to rest at a café. We sat outside and drank iced tea.
That night my face and shoulders were pink and warm. By the next morning, my forehead was swollen and covered with blisters. Later in the day, the swelling had settled like a balloon along my brow. Over the course of the next week, whatever it was that had swelled up my forehead drained down through my sinuses into my throat and chest. It was like a bad cold but somehow different. I’m still coughing a little today but it’s almost gone.