The Dander Chronicles

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?

14 Responses to “The Dander Chronicles”

  1. Natalie Witcher September 10, 2010 at 8:47 pm #

    I have weird dry, old lady hands!! And I suffered from dry skin. I don’t think as bad as you did, but you didn’t have big ol buck teeth and weird unruly hair, although the weird unruly hair still comes back to haunt me a few times a week. However, after those braces….. look out! I paired those beautiful straight teeth with some sweet coffee cup saucer-sized glasses and twister beads and I was reeling the dudes in one by one.

    • Brannon September 10, 2010 at 9:58 pm #

      Yeah, I remember seeing you across the street from Kendra’s house once and remarking, rather rudely, “So sad. Who’s the bug-eyed freak girl with the frustration pencil hair?”

      Okay, not really. What I actually thought—with you and your sister—was how unlikely the odds were to have such a high fox density on a single street. But Kendra already had my heart in a jar on her mantel. (I think you were already ga-ga for J.T. at that time, too.) ;)

  2. Mom September 10, 2010 at 9:38 pm #

    Yea, well, Grandma Lila (before she was Grandma Lila) made me slather on olive oil in quantities that would make Rachel Ray gasp. And the smell — well, you know.

    • Brannon September 10, 2010 at 9:56 pm #

      And so the baton passes. Kenny and Preston both dodged the bullet. Evie has the bumps on her arms, though. :(

  3. Cari September 10, 2010 at 9:42 pm #

    You know next time we see you we’re gonna be looking for the fish scales…unless your face distracts.

    I have 2 unusual medical diagnoses. Congenital anosmia (my favorite) and geographic tongue, neither of which are curable or even treatable. But at least they are not as uncomfortable as your icky vulgar skin thing…sorry.

    • Brannon September 10, 2010 at 10:06 pm #

      Fair enough. If you’ll remind me, I’ll even show them to you this winter, when they’re much more pronounced. And if we’re still hanging out as friends when we’re really old, then you can really see them.

      I can’t even imagine not being able to smell. I think I’d see that as equally good and bad. Just today I discovered some potatoes that had turned in the cabinet—cued by their smell—and I had to throw them out.

      According to Google Health’s article on geographic tongue, “Other causes may include irritation from hot or spicy foods, or alcohol.” (I’m onto you, Kelley.)

  4. Mark Morris September 10, 2010 at 10:36 pm #

    Geez, the way you carry on, you’d think it was the Curious Case of Brannon Golden, instead of Benjamin Button, although you do look similar to Brad Pitt…. at the beginning of that movie. So, now you have an official comment from me, happy?

    • Brannon September 10, 2010 at 10:47 pm #

      Carrying on, although not why the Internet was invented, is precisely why blogs were invented.

  5. Natalie Witcher September 13, 2010 at 3:05 pm #

    I think there’s a compliment in there somewhere. I’ll receive it.

    • Brannon September 13, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

      Absolutely there was. It was just difficult to see, on account of it arrived on the back of my hand and all. (But I basically said Kendra, your sister, and you were all foxy back in the day. Wink.)

  6. Debbie Golden Miller Sewell September 13, 2010 at 11:39 pm #

    Chris has the bumps. They don’t seem to bother him OR the legion of girls that follow him around (I think it’s because he smells so great. He likes the “good cologne i.e. expensive. No BRUT for that kid!). His dermatologist prescribed urea lotion. He doesn’t use it because it’s called “urea” lotion. Makes it sound like some weird sort of pee. Anyway, it’s worth a try if the bumps make you sad. A $10 prescription with good insurance.

    Night!
    Debs

    • Brannon September 14, 2010 at 8:48 am #

      Thanks for the tip. Before I commit to spend $10, maybe I’ll just try some pee.

  7. Becky September 13, 2010 at 11:51 pm #

    I have the arm bumpys- but sometime remind me to tell you about POP’s, yes a real gestational condition called polyps of pregnancy… and where they occur… you wanna talk suffering…I do remember your hands been chapped in Middle School, but I was to wrapped up in the fact that I had a haircut that made me look like a boy to really notice…

    • Brannon September 14, 2010 at 8:55 am #

      I googled that and…yikes. (Sorry.) For whatever it’s worth, I never thought you looked like a boy. I thought you were adorable. You just kind of scared me because you always had 10X more energy than anybody else. It wasn’t until much later—when I lost my naïveté—that I realized, you were probably just on crack. :)

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