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Old Hands

 

One night at synagogue, I was sitting behind a grandmother and granddaughter, ages 65 and 8, approximately. They were both impeccably dressed, hair specially done for the evening. They wouldn’t have been chosen for a greeting card, or a commercial, as the ideal of a warm and sensitive grandmother offering safety and sweetness and cookies to a patient loving child. They were more like an ad for a department store, selling stylish clothes for women of every age. But as I sat there, the little girl picked up her grandmother’s hand and began to investigate. There was that puffy vein on the back of Grandma’s hand and the little girl pressed on it with her thumb, and rolled it under the skin. Then she pinched, gently, some of the skin on Grandma’s hand, and pulled it up like a tent, and then massaged it back into place. Then she ran her fingers over the lines in the skin, and the bends at the finger joints.

All the while Grandma relaxed her hand and allowed the investigation to continue. She didn’t grab her hand away, or hiss at her granddaughter to stop it. There was something so full of love in this interaction, even more so than later on in the service when they wrapped their arms around each other during the standing prayer. And it all made me think. Older women are always made to feel decrepit for their aging skin. Moisturize! Try Crepe erase! Collagen, plastic surgery, face tape! But this woman’s hands were being lovingly explored, seen as one more fascinating thing about Grandma, not to be criticized or avoided, but to be touched and manipulated and loved because they belong to Grandma. As if the granddaughter was saying, these hands make me feel safe and attached. These hands belong to my grandmother and therefore they are beautiful.

Cricket and hand

Cricket and her own Grandma

We have all of these ideas about how a woman should look, and how her skin should feel, and what color her hair should be, and what size her body should be, but children know better. They believe that whatever you look like is beautiful, if you are the one they love. Everything about how you look and smell and sound reminds them of who you are, and how you feel about them. They want to touch you and see you, not a perfected image of you.

I think this is what we love about dogs too. They don’t care if our skin is tight or loose. They don’t care if we are fat or skinny or in between. They care if we love them, and pet them, and feed them. They love the sound of our voices and the smell of our skin.

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“My Grandma is beautiful.”

I want to remember this the next time I feel the need to berate myself for my body, my face, my clothes, or anything else imperfect about me, but I know, even as I write this down, that I am forgetting it, or forgetting to believe it.

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“I’ll remind you, Mommy.”

Thin Skin

 

Butterfly has bumps all over her body. She’s an eleven and a half year old Lhasa Apso, and the doctor says these bumps are normal for her age and breed. One of the bumps is like a tiny pink mushroom growing from her neck. Some of the bumps are small and rounded, above her tail, under her ear, at her hip. But one of the bumps looks like a cauliflower, and it bleeds every once in a while. It may simply be that her taller bumps get nicked when she goes to the groomer, or she scratches them, or bangs them into things accidentally, but from the very beginning, I worried about it. Butterfly’s skin is a light pink, with brown age spots hidden under her white hair, which, along with her bumps, is only really visible when she has a bath and her hair becomes translucent for a moment. I used to count her bumps obsessively before each vet visit, to report on any changes, and find out if this or that one was suddenly going to kill her.

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Butterfly’s big bump.

The fact is, though, despite her bumps and heart problems and diabetes, Butterfly is pretty hardy. She doesn’t sprain her ankles or tweak her back or whine when she gets her twice daily blood tests and insulin shots, and her feelings don’t get hurt easily. She doesn’t like having her hair messed with though; that’s something she learned from Cricket. She learns a lot from Cricket.

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“Are we going for walkies yet?”

Cricket is more sensitive. She thinks having the goop removed from under her eye is torture beyond canine endurance. She hears and reacts to every noise in the world. If she eats a little too much, or the wrong thing, it shows up in her digestion and her mood.

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“Are you talking about me again?”

I have Psoriasis and I am hypothyroid (both since I was a teenager), so my skin has always been sensitive and easily scarred. I have a scratch on my wrist from October that never healed, and just starts to itch out of the blue every once in a while. I’ve read too much of the bible in my lifetime, so I end up feeling like my skin, and my health overall, makes me a leper. But I also, still, have figuratively thin skin to go with the literal kind. If someone tells me that I’m lazy or untalented, I take it to heart. I can build myself back up again, but it takes days or weeks, instead of minutes or seconds, the way it should.

At my last doctor’s appointment, my GP decided to test me for Lyme disease again. I’ve been tested for everything over the years, multiple times. This time around, the preliminary test for Lyme came out negative, but my doctor decided to go on and do the confirmatory test anyway, and that showed that I was positive for Lyme disease in the past, even though I’ve never had a positive Lyme test before, in almost ten years of testing. The doctor wasn’t sure what to make of these results and told me to go to an infectious disease specialist to check it out. I may have dragged my feet and whined a bit, but I went.

In the meantime, my mom went to Google and found that there are mixed opinions about Lyme disease and Chronic Lyme, and the validity of these blood tests, or lack thereof. There’s also, her googling suggested, the possibility that a positive blood test for Lyme, like mine, could be an indicator for some other virus or disease process, as a signal for further testing.

I went to the new doctor, he looked at my blood tests and crossed his eyes and said that he would never have sent my blood out for the confirmatory test, after negatives on the preliminary tests, because of the risk of false positives. He said it five times, in answer to five different questions from me, as if he couldn’t hear me, or had no other answers to give. He said that there was no point in re-doing the test because it would either be negative, or another false positive, because I had no risk factors for Lyme. He had no interest in my medical history, and no curiosity about other possible diagnoses to explain my symptoms.

The fact is, I thought this was a long shot, and didn’t have much hope that a strange doctor would take any of it seriously, but I’m annoyed that I had to go through the motions, just to prove that I’m doing everything possible and not being passive. I am not comfortable with theories that come with no proof at all and seem to be, at best, placebo level positive results (30%), but I’m also not comfortable with the rigidity of western medicine, which prefers to blame the patient when problems can’t be solved, instead of taking on the problem and studying it further.

It’s a relief, instead, to take care of the dogs. When they have symptoms, their doctors believe them, and believe me, and treatments are offered, when possible, and pain and comfort are considered. Maybe, when dogs start suffering from whatever it is I have, the veterinarians will figure out the cause, and treatment, and the doctors for humans will finally take me seriously. But probably not.

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Harrumph.