Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Surviving the Suicide of Skin

In July, my doctor fails me three times. First, he fails to clearly communicate to me that he is treating me for MRSA, an incredibly contagious bacterial infection immune to most antibiotics. Second, he fails to perform the simple swab test to know for sure if the skin infection is MRSA. Third, he fails to inform me that he doesn't actually know the best way to treat it, but is going to try anyway, putting me on antibiotics, which ultimately prevents me from getting the swab test and seeking proper medical help. It's October now and still I have tiny erupting volcanic polka dots decorating my face.

Last month, my new dermatologist informs me that what I have just looks like acne to her. Like a "tendency to pick," she says, dumping cream samples into my purse and encouraging me to call when my new insurance goes through so that I won't have to pay full price for this new prescription she'd like me to try. I appreciate her help and tell her so, but doubt her diagnosis. "No, sorry," she says, she can't just assume I have MRSA, not without the swab test. I pay $50 and go on my way. 

Morning and night, I coat my face with this new combination of chemical creams. But then last week, an army of British redcoat impersonators punch through my skin with MRSA in their muskets and though I have no effective weapons to fight them with, I force my enemy to shoot the first yellow discharge. In the aftermath of our battle, mnew broken skin lays limp, red, ugly. Furiously, I mumble into the mirror that my dermatologist would have "a tendency to pick" too if across the scarred countryside of her once soft face, thickheaded bumps stood with sarcastic solutes while their previously dead comrades rise to join them 
in a newly assembled squad of zombie zits. Once sanitized with rubbing alcohol, I drape sticky circular bandage tents over every casualty and hope that they sleep or, better yet, suffocate. 

That night, my parents come for a visit. They see on my war torn face, expressions of hopelessness for health. The next day, my father emails me instructions for treating MRSA. He works with an infectious disease doctor. I am familiar with most of the information he sends me except for perhaps the most simple and important of steps: the right kind of soap. I research this suggested soap. It's an over-the-counter cleanser used primarily for cleaning wounds and scrubbing in and out of surgery. It's in a little blue bottle. $6 on sale at the pharmacy. It's been there this whole time, this whole confusing/frustrating/unbelievably embarrassing time.  After the pharmacy, I rush home and try the soap. I want to weep. Already things start to dry up, close, heal. I could scream at how simple it is, but I'm too relieved, too happy that something finally resembles recovery. 

For months, I cannot comprehend the sudden, utterly unequivocal ugliness that is my face. I cry into the pull down mirror of the passenger side's seat while Scott drives us to see friends or family. I want to see them. I just don't want them to see me and feel obligated to lie and say that my skin looks better than before, that I must be on my way to finally fixing the problem. Or for them to strain to keep eye contact with me, purposely preventing their instincts to stare at the red mounds on my cheeks, chin and forehead. Looking into the pull down mirror, I cover my skin with cream then powder. I try to resemble anything but a cherry pie, but the makeup makes it look like I've been baking cakes all day and so I wipe it off, slam the mirror into the ceiling and cry out, "I HATE MY FACE!" From wheat and dairy allergies to Lyme Disease to Rosacea to adult acne, I try treating everything, anything. Constantly I mention the state of my skin in conversations so that the person I am speaking with knows that I know that my face looks like a creature is trying to escape through its pores. "My skin's been really bad lately. I've been trying to figure out why." I say, shaking my head and wrinkling my eye brows and then looking for somewhere else to go so that this person won't say that they hadn't noticed. For me to deserve this supportive, patient, empathetic, continuously complimentary and still somehow attracted to me, husband. I must be one lucky girl. Or this world must be a much better place than I often give it credit for. I have a husband who says, when I need him to, that no one is paying attention to my skin and that it really isn't as bad as I think it is. That I am still beautiful. A husband who fumes at my lost, irretrievable confidence. "I hate that I care so much about what I look like." I say. "I just don't want to have open wounds on my face anymore." Sometimes I beg him, "Please don't look at my face." Because even his most familiar and gentlest of glances can make me want to hide inside the creases of my palms. I could accept that I am unattractive or that I'm just not very pretty. I could swallow that truth. I just don't want to look like a leper any more.  

cannot wait to look like me again. Not a better, prettier, skinner, sexier version of my old self. Just me, healthy me. Oh how incredible that will be!