All my life I’ve suffered with dry skin. When it comes up, people always want to sort of compare notes. “Yeah, my skin gets real dry, too.” They simply don’t understand. They couldn’t. My knuckles will crack, split, and literally bleed. In the wintertime, when it’s worst because moisture is scarce, my vampire threat level climbs to DracCon 8. I guess it’s because the vampires can smell my blood practically bubbling to the surface. One even once told me it tasted like Strawberry Tootsie Pops—right before I staked her through the heart. (The spike notwithstanding, it was a precious thing for her to say, and it meant a lot to me.)
When I was a kid, probably in the second or third grade, my mom took me to a dermatologist. He had a big office in a tall, scary, shiny building. (The same building where years later my wisdom teeth would meet their end and a few years after that, I would attempt the GRE.) He checked me over thoroughly and pronounced his grim diagnosis: ichthyosis vulgaris. It’s a real thing. You can google it. It would be cooler if it had something to do with Jesus, like those little Jesus fish on the backs of people’s cars. Sadly, it does not. Loosely translated, it means simply “common fishy skin.”
When I was little, my calves used to build up what looked like scales—that’s the “fishy” part. I also have ichthyosis’s sister condition, keratosis pilaris, which manifests as little bumps on the backs of my upper arms. During the dry season, my feet used to shrivel up like feminine Chinese royalty of the Tang Dynasty (the historical empire, and not the Chinese heavy metal band). Had I desired to procure a fine young prince, this would have been ideal. Unfortunately, the pom girls were far less impressed. (One might actually say “appalled.”)
Over the years, my patient mother procured for me every type of remedy she could discover, from greasy slather-ons to all-natural herbs I had to pop daily like vitamin candy. (In case you’ve ever wondered, apparently cod liver oil pellets cure everything.) Counterintuitively, the most common ingredient in the prescription-only lotions we tried was…salt. I have no explanation for why. One of my least favorite was an unholy mixture of Aristocort and Aquaphor that our pharmacist blended together in his secret lair behind the counter, like some kind of metaphysical alchemist. It cost as much as a car payment, and was about equally as effective at helping my skin. (As the car payment.) The best solution we ever found was simple Lubriderm (which is also sort of Latin, meaning “lube for your skin”—ew). It was effective because it was cheap enough that I could keep it basting on me 24/7 like butter on a turkey.
When I was young, I was afraid that no one would ever love me because I had shriveled old man hands. (It honestly never occurred to me that my forearms also looked like a chimp’s, which would more likely be a turnoff to most chicks. I never had that condition diagnosed: Pilosus monachus telum? Pan troglodytus keratinis Popeyetis?) No matter. I got lucky. In the years that I met and courted Kendra, we enjoyed more than average moisture in the air. Plus, it seemed darker outside than usual. Both were factors which contributed to me reeling her in. (I used to tell people we had to get married because she “got me in trouble”—until she made me stop.)
Then after we were married, because ichthyosis vulgaris is hereditary (Thanks, Mom!), I was afraid of having children for a while. I didn’t want to risk making my kids suffer with it as I had. Sadly, my progeny have a host of other hereditary dysfunctions to worry about, such as a predilection to wear pants too short for them and extreme dislike of vegetables, which often expresses itself as outbursts riddled with violent language. (Only the dislike of vegetables part comes from my side of the family. The profanity-laden tirades are second-generation, passed down from their mother.)
These days I’m fine. According to reliable sources (like the Internet), ichthyosis vulgaris wanes during mid-life, storming back with a vengeance in old age. So I’ve got that crescendo of life suffering to look forward to. I lotion after every shower in the winter, using modestly priced off-the-rack lotion. I use a file to sand down my fingertips and any dry nubs trying to sprout crystalline structures on my skin’s surfaces. If not for my OCD-like hand washing tendencies, one might never be aware of my condition. Fortunately, perhaps for us all, my strikingly handsome face continues to distract onlookers from all my other shortcomings.
What about you? What sort of medical curiosities do YOU have? What’s your favorite flavor of Tootsie Pop?