01 March 2008


I remembered the other, possibly more important reason that I didn't feel like going out last night: I've got this big, ugly red blotch on the side of my face that makes it look as though I've either been punched or took a sidelong tumble off my bike. At least those are the two explanations that people have been suggesting to me when they see it, with public opinion weighing far more heavily in favor of the punch theory.

I don't know if that's wishful thinking on the part of people who know me, but I'm beginning to expect it might be. I've noticed that girls in particular seem excited at the notion I've been slugging it out in barroom brawls, or, as one put it, "You were getting a little rowdy."

The truth is far more mundane and/or far less glamorous: I suffer from a condition called actinic keratosis, which is most likely a result of being light-skinned and having too much exposure to the sun back in the days before sunscreen was invented or even thought to be necessary. Back in the 50s, sunlight was thought to be an almost unalloyed good, rich in Vitamin D and all that, and parents felt free to park their kids out in it for hours at a time.

Keratosis, usually manifesting itself as scaly bits or bumps on the skin, is one likely result; skin cancer is another, far more serious one. However, keratosis can develop into full-fledged skin cancer if left unchecked, and in my case already has a couple times (nothing serious, i.e., nothing that a little cut and carve with the scalpel couldn't solve, but something to be avoided nonetheless if possible).

In the past I've had keratoses burned off with liquid nitrogen and also with an electric needle, but lately I've been using chemical warfare: this cream called imiquimod, brand name Aldara. It burns off anything that shouldn't be growing on my skin, but makes a hell of mess while it's doing so, a mess that can typically last upwards of six to eight weeks.

I've already used it on about four different spots: my doctor wanted me to do my whole face at once, but I've seen people who did that, and frankly, I would rather not have. So I did a little bit at a time, and now I'm down to one of the last bits. And frankly, it doesn't look nearly as bad as some of the others have, but it's still unsightly.

And unfortunately, I tend to be excessively self-conscious. If there's anything, real or imagined, that I'd prefer people not see, then inevitably I'll think that everyone I meet is staring at it. And it's true to some extent when I run into people who know me: naturally their eyes are going to drift toward any previously unnoticed anomaly, just as they would if I'd gotten a mohawk and dyed it blue since the last time we met.

Anyway, I'm just over halfway through the treatment now, and it's showing signs of improving, but it's still pretty unsightly. And even though most people who've commented on it seem to be taking it far more lightly than I am (well, easy for them, you could say), I can't seem to help feeling a bit disreputable when I'm out in public. I keep thinking strangers are assuming that I was out on a bender last night and if I wasn't in a fight, probably just fell on my face, or maybe got roughed up by the cops when they were hauling me off to jail.

And that, probably, is the biggest reason I couldn't muster up the enthusiasm to go to Bill Moon's party last night. It's a shame, but it's true. On the bright side, it should be all healed and almost better than new in time for the rumored arrival of spring and summer, at which point I can be out in the sun again (something I have to stay totally out of while the treatment is in progress), this time, however, slathered in Factor 45 sunscreen. Those of you who don't believe in sunscreen, well, in the words of Smokey Robinson, take a good look at my face and think again.


Psmith said...

Does it hurt to have Aldara burning things off your face?

Larry Livermore said...

It's a little uncomfortable, but I wouldn't call it painful in any meaningful sense of the word.

Not physically, anyway.

colin said...

and of course this is the 2nd thing i say to you when i saw you last night. sorry, larry.

boy, is my face red.