Eight years later

The finger wounds that started to bug me over the weekend were actually a return of the dyshidrotic eczema that has plagued me periodically throughout my life. Usually, when it appears, it is painful and irritating for a couple of weeks, then it goes away.

Except in the summer/fall of 2004, it just kept getting worse, and worse, and worse, until I had eczema patches everywhere and several fingers were so blistered and hideously swollen that I could barely use them. There was a point where I joked that my eczema was some kind of barometer showing the likelihood of Bush reelection.

Fun fact! I was also laid off during this time (late summer 2004) and trying to job hunt with severe eczema feels like being cursed in a unique and special way. Not only was the pain and nearly constant itching a major drag on my concentration, and an irritant that probably came out in my personality more than I wanted it to, but my typing speed went all to hell, and shaking hands (which is the kind of thing that people want to do during job interviews) was !!!!!!!!!OOOOOOOHHHHHHMYGODTHATHURTS!!!!! painful.

Or, I could take Benadryl (the antihistamine generally found most effective at controlling skin itchiness) and become a dazed, though somewhat less itchy, zombie.

The funny thing about all this, is that eczema, even severe eczema, is not going to kill you. (Except by suicide. Which is a thing you think about when it gets really bad and the treatment doesn’t seem to be working.) It’s not even really considered a disability, although I can tell you it sure as hell impacted my ability to do ANYTHING INVOLVING MY HANDS which is, you know, pretty much EVERYTHING.

Fun fact! For a while, I ate popcorn using chopsticks.

I paid out of pocket for a couple of doctor’s visits (no insurance even before I got laid off) and got prescription corticosteroid ointments that seemed, actually, to make it worse. The oral steroids did help, eventually (after the second course) but when I first started taking them my skin did a weird thing where all the affected areas turned rock hard and then started to painfully crack and peel.

Fun fact! This cracking-and-peeling stage was reaching its height in early November, on election night. So I listened to Kerry’s concession speech and George W. Bush’s acceptance speech while lying on the couch nearly insensate from a Benadryl-and-vodka cocktail. I had the thought, at the time, drifting through a haze of misery, “this is the lowest moment of my life.” I was hitting bottom without even being addicted to anything (except maybe Benadryl).

That election was so strange, really. Going into it, I kept reading that the economy was doing well, yet my own job-hunting experience since initially getting laid off in the great tech recession of late 2001 had been absolutely dismal. It didn’t look like an economy in expansion, it looked like an economy that had never truly climbed out of the last recession — and also one that had a housing bubble inflating.

I was pretty sure we were being lied to, the same way we were lied into the Iraq war. Every time I saw somebody justify the stratospheric rise in real estate prices as because the “fundamentals” of the economy were strong, I just couldn’t buy it. The numbers didn’t seem to add up. I’d been LOOKING for work, right? So I was seeing what kinds of jobs were out there, and what they paid, and it just didn’t make sense.

I decided to try freelancing again. Shortly after the election I started working with a guy who didn’t turn out to be the best freelance-coordinator there was — he was a little shady and not quite the master salesman he made himself out to be — but I did get two things out of the relationship. One thing was my big white eMac, which I still have because it’s got my precious, precious copy of Photoshop on it. (As long as it never dies and I never try to upgrade, I’m in business!)

The other thing was that we saw Shaun of the Dead, as part of our meeting when the guy handed over the eMac. It was the perfect movie for me at that time, because not only are brilliant zombie comedies a great way to cheer yourself up, but it also has kind of a relevant message — it can look like the real true final apocalypse is happening, but then you get everything cleaned up again and things go back mostly to normal. Plus a few zombies. You can survive. It might not be as bad as it looks.

Things in my life improved a bit after that, although they didn’t really turn around until 2006, which is another story.

Anyway, my theory is that I must have been more stressed out about the election than I was consciously letting on, but it takes a little while for the body to respond, and that’s why the blisters are showing up now. My body doesn’t yet believe we won this time. I don’t know why. I just hope it figures it out soon.


  1. It’s not even really considered a disability, although I can tell you it sure as hell impacted my ability to do ANYTHING INVOLVING MY HANDS which is, you know, pretty much EVERYTHING.

    That’s pretty much how Reynauds is. It’s only an irritation! Except, y’know, if you want to USE YOUR HANDS when it’s anything less than 70 degrees out.

    You and your fingers have my sympathies. Skin itchies are awful — and benedryl comas are not much better.

    1. Maia’s pediatrician just told me that Zyrtec (or the generic) is best for hives. I just dosed Maia with children’s Benadryl because that was second on her list and what I had. I’m taking children’s Claritin, because I found that it lasts longer. I take the children’s one because I found that I can take 1/3 of the recommended adult dosage to banish hives for 24 hours, and I don’t feel as weird. And I think it might act quicker in liquid form. I can’t do steroids because it gives me heart palpitations.

      For ,eczema, which Derek and Maia get small patches of, she said to wash your hands with soap and water as little as possible, and to use hand sanitizer instead as it preserves natural oils the best. Though that sounds painful if you already have broken skin with all the alcohol in it. Have you tried straight lanolin? You can find it as nipple cream in the baby/ breastfeeding aisle. It was the only thing that would not make my lips swell up for a while back there. It’s super thick, but it provided a moisture barrier so my lips could heal. also, coconut oil is good. you can find a cheap jar of it in the cooking aisle, it lasts forever, you can make deodorant out of it, or even cook with the rest of it. I’m going into month two of chronic uticaria/hives and really not sure what to do. Take care!

      1. Author

        That’s good to know about the hand sanitizer — I wasn’t sure if that would exacerbate it or not.

        Good luck with your own issues. I feel like the medical science on this stuff is really less than conclusive. There’s a lot of stabbing in the dark.

  2. Oh honey. It has been many, many years since I’ve had a nasty bout with this and I credit both the Singulair (that I take for asthma/hay fever) and the Elizabeth Arden ceramide capsule leftovers from my face that I rub on my hands for its comparative absence these days.

    That said, I had miserable years with it as a child. I also managed to get several horrible staph infections in eczema flares on my hands and in a surprise patch on my knees. Ugh. Eczema is something I don’t wish on anyone.

    Another legacy it’s left me is possibly the arthritis in my hands. I’ve read about bad eczema having a long-term effect in that way, and considering how horrible it was when I was a kid…yeah. Just wish I could find that reference.

    1. Author

      Eczema is something I don’t wish on anyone

      Rush Limbaugh. He is on a very short list of people who I think deserve eczema.

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