So I Have This Thing

This post has nothing to do with ice cream.

I’m just trying to make an unpretty story…prettier.

Something has been going on with my skin these past few months, and I haven’t written about it because…well, because I’ve been freaked out about it. And you know how when you’re freaked out about something you sometimes actively try to ignore it and just hope it’ll…go away? That’s what I was doing.

A few months ago, a little circular rash appeared on my inner elbow. It looked like eczema, and so I started moisturizing it with creams, but it stayed put – darker some days, lighter on other days – no matter what I did. A few weeks later, I was laying in my backyard, and I reached for some sunscreen and started to apply it to my calves, then noticed my feet and gasped. Covering the skin – from around the arch up to the toes – were flat, red…patches. Eczema also? I had no idea, but I moisturized myself into a slippery butterball, and when the redness stayed, I made an appointment at the California Skin Institute. The doctor I saw sort of cursorily examined me, told me the rash on my elbow was, indeed, eczema, and sent me away with a prescription for an anti-fungal cream for my feet (ew, sorry) that ended up doing nothing. When I came back two weeks later with feet that looked precisely as red and creepy as they had been before, she squinted at them and then told me I had granuloma something-or-other – I didn’t really catch the last word.

“…OK…” I said. “That sounds like…cancer, kind of. …Is it?”

“No,” she responded. “It’s a skin condition. No big deal. But if the aesthetics bother you we can discuss it; just make an appointment and we’ll go from there.” And then she was out the door.

Even though the doctor had told me I was “okay,” I didn’t really feel super hot about the whole thing – I worried that there was something she’d missed, given how rushed she’d seemed both times we’d met. But I went and bought myself a massive jar of coconut oil – because doesn’t coconut oil cure basically everything? – and figured over time I’d oil my little “condition” away.

A couple more months went by, and the rash on my elbow and the ones on my feet were still there. And then came another, a dime-sized circle on my hand that looked nothing like the other two rashes, which looked nothing like each other. That’s when I started to panic: because all of these completely different things were happening to my skin (did I mention the itching on my forearms? the red bumps on my chest that my PTSD from this incident made me think were flea bites?), and it seemed like they had to be somehow related. Then I went in for a Botox appointment, and showed my feet to the nurse injecting poison into my lower eyelid. She said she’d never seen anything like the rash on my feet in her career, and that I should definitely see a doctor. So I called CSI again, and requested another appointment – but with a different doctor, and ASAP, please.

I brought my daughter in with me because my son was in camp and I had no childcare that day, and she sat on a little stool in the corner playing with an app while I showed the (new) doctor the spot on my hand, then the one on my elbow, and then finally pulled off my shoes and showed her my feet.

“So am I dying?” I asked her, and laughed to show her that I was kidding (even though I wasn’t). She looked at my feet, flipped through my charts, looked back at my feet, and then told me what I had:

Exactly what the other doctor had said I had. It’s called “granuloma annulare,” and is an autoimmune disease that you have your whole life, but that tends to first emerge during times of stress (a new baby, a new job, whatever), and then comes and goes after that. It’s completely benign other than the fact that it looks like you have flesh-eating disease, and can be treated with prescription cortisone cream (and cortisone shots, if those don’t work).

I pointed to the rash on my elbow: “That’s granuloma annulare as well.”

The one on my hand: “Same.”

I showed her the red bumps on my chest: “This is granuloma annulare too?”

“No,” she said, “That’s you needing to wear sunscreen on your chest.” (Eep. I’m very good about wearing it on my face, but since the kind I use is tinted I never put it on my chest because I don’t want it to get on my clothes. Fixing this.)

And so there you have it. I am not, in fact, dying, despite the fact that if you were to look at my feet you would definitely think I was. (If you’re wondering why you haven’t noticed this, I’ve been cropping my feet out of photos or blurring them so as not to freak anyone out.)

So: I have an annoying autoimmune disease that will probably pop up from time to time for the rest of my life. It’s not thrilling information, but that’s how it goes sometimes. And yes, I have once again been reminded that when something is wrong, the most important (and best) thing you can do is ask for help.

Maybe this time the lesson will stick.

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