I could have done without this morning. I spent the better part of four hours at the dermatologist office undergoing a treatment procedure to combat extensive Actinic Keratosis (pre-cancerous lesions) on my arms and hands. It was not a pleasant experience. I remind myself that I have a friend whose son just shattered his ankle in a bike accident and another who is preparing for spinal fusion surgery…. so stop whining Missy.
Still. I could have done without this morning.
First a topical acid solution (Levulan Kerastick’s aminolevulinic acid HCI) was slathered on both arms up to my elbows and the tops of both hands. This did not bother me in the least. The solution then had to “incubate” (the technician’s term) for three hours which meant sitting in the waiting room. This bothered me. I could have been doing a million other things like walking the poodle, a gym workout or, as loathsome as it often is, ironing laundry. I passed the time flipping through People magazines, reading the book I had brought along, and playing Word Warp on my iPhone. After the incubation period I was ready for seventeen minutes of the “Blu-U” light treatment as the second part of the procedure.
The doctors assistant handed me what looked to be swim goggles to wear to protect my eyes from the bright light. I asked if I could wear my own sunglasses instead as I didn’t want goggle-eyes which is always the case when I wear swim goggles. “Sorry no,” was my answer. Then I was given a small fan that fit in the palm of my hand to use if I needed.
Hmm. A fan? I am starting to wonder about this. The assistant says to relax and put my arms into the little chamber that sort of resembles a mini tanning bed. She tells me the timer will go off in seventeen minutes and leaves the room.
Just one minute into the treatment I am reaching for the fan, which does absolutely nothing to alleviate the intense stinging sensation. The pamphlet says the “low intensity light will not heat the skin.”
You could have fooled me. I feel as if I have been dropped into the middle of an active volcano…right into a pool of red-hot molten lava. I am being burned alive. I looked over at my iPhone, quickly remove one hand and swipe see the time. Oh God. I am not sure I can last another thirteen minutes. The tingling, burning, and pricking sensation is very intense. I squirm in my chair…I rock from side to side. I close my eyes and try to concentrate on my breath to calm myself. Usually, focusing on my breathing helps when I am in the dentist chair…or when the knee doc is sticking a needle into my knee. Today, focused breathing does nothing to calm and relax me.
I am ready to jump off a building….I want to tear off my arms. I look over at my phone.
Ten more minutes!
Where is that &*(!#-ing assistant? Isn’t she going to come check on me?
It would be nice to have a reassuring word about now; like… “you’re doing great. Or, hang in there…almost done.”
Oh for heaven’s sake! I admonish myself; I am not a wimp. Come on Cristina. You’ve given birth to two babies…You’ve run marathons and ultra-marathons. You’ve cycled 101 mile distances…twice. You can do this.
The burning sensation continues. I’m tapping my feet…gritting my teeth….trying to divert attention from the intense burning by thinking about food. I want a cookie and a glass of red wine. OK…it’s not even noon so maybe a Latte. I can stop at Starbucks on the way home……
….FIVE MORE MINUTES…..
Then I start my blame game. Mother, father…God….possibly my Italian grandmother….and let’s not forget my ex-husband!
OK. I will elaborate. First to the former charge:
My mother is full-blooded Italian. Smitten with love at nineteen (which I’m pretty sure quickly turned to twenty years of loathing) she was plucked from the foot of the Dolomite’s in Northern Italy by a handsome American in a smart Air Force uniform (it was the Army Air Corps then). It’s easy to see why my father fell for my mother. Not only was she beautiful, she was intelligent as well. She was a classically trained pianist, spoke fluent French (alas, not English which quite possibly would have changed the whole equation…meaning me and my siblings would not exist) and, she was a champion hoola-hooper in her home town. My mama has the typical Italian complexion; olive skin and dark hair. In her younger years she had a bit of the Sophia Loren look about her. If she had not spent years worshiping the sun excessively, her skin would still be as smooth as silk and not weathered leather as it is now. My father, (a North Carolina boy) was the exact opposite (in all things as it turned out) with red hair, fair skin and lots of freckles. Ten minutes in the sun and he was a lobster.
I’m sure I need explain no further; you know where this is going.
I didn’t get one ounce of my mother’s skin type nor coloring! Not one ounce! And to be fair, neither did my twin brother (or my sis). In fact, I used to think we were all adopted. How could we be so fair and freckled with an Italian mother whose olive skin turned brown as a bear in the summer? I’m sure my twin blames our mother too for our lack of olive skin if he thought two seconds about it. My twin and I take after our father, and to pass along the blame a bit further, we no doubt have some of our Italian grandmother’s genes thrown into the mix as well. She was Swiss and was of fair complexion too. My sis? She’s blonde and her lovely ivory complexion is wrinkle and freckle free. How does she do it?
Me? I was a freckle-faced little girl early on. My earliest sunburn memory was around the age of five. My nose turned as red as Santa’s Rudolph. It’s burned so many times that it has virtually stayed Rudolph-red since I was a little girl. Another blistering episode was at age ten following a day-long stay at a swimming pool on an Air Force base. Bubbling blisters dotted my shoulders and my back followed by weeks of shedding and pealing skin. All I had to show from all the shedding weeks later was super sensitive pink skin. There was also a sun-poisoning episode in my third year at college. I was on a three-week study trip in Mexico (really…wink, wink). Near the end of the trip our study group enjoyed a day at the beach in Veracruz. It had been an overcast day and of course I did not think about sun protection. By evening I was in absolute agony; It was as if my skin was being pierced by a thousand needles. The hotel doctor had to prescribe a sedative so that I could get through the night.
It seems terribly unfair that I got the set of genes that I did. I suppose while I am at it I should blame God too! What was He thinking when He got around to me?! How could He do this to me? I love the sun! I love being outdoors. All my favorite activities (even reading) I love to do outdoors! I’ve got years of distance running, cycling, hiking and scuba-diving under my belt. It’s been hard to feel as free as a bird enjoying these activities, always having to slather on buckets of sunscreen. Worse yet, I’d still get sunburned! So Not fair!
And what’s my ex-husband got to do with all of this? While living in Colorado, three months after we were married, he took me on a summer weekend motorcycle trip that began in Denver and had us heading up into the beautiful and majestic Rocky Mountains. A mile high…and even more in elevation! Closer to the sun! In one day we went through nearly every weather element imaginable, I kid not (save for typhoons or hurricanes). It snowed, rained buckets and then there was sleet the size of mothballs. We went through a sand storm and sweltering temperatures followed by feet-numbing cold once the sun went down. Wearing a jacket, a long-sleeved shirt, jeans and a bandana around my neck (not to mention a helmet) I thought I was well covered from the elements. That evening when we finally found a hotel to park our tired bones I discovered why I wasn’t feeling too keen. The tops of my hands were burnt to a crisp. I’d forgotten about gloves (OK…mia colpa!) That sunburn event is yet another reason I find myself sitting with my arms in this horrid little hell-chamber!
I think of my kids. They are fair-skinned red-heads too. They no doubt blame me for their freckles and sun-sensitivity too! Sure…Why not add that to their list which I’m sure for them is a mile long! Sigh. I am not helping myself here….
and then, I am startled out of myself by the sound of the timer bell.
“Thank God in heaven” I say as I yank my arms out of the hell-chamber and rip off the goggles. The doctor’s assistant comes in with a jovial jaunt and is surprised by my cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof demeanor. She says that most people don’t feel the burning sensation quite as bad. I’m cranky. News flash….I’m not “most people.”
I am ordered to keep my arms and hands covered and out of sunlight or even bright indoor light for 48-hours. No problem. I’ve got a bad hair color and now arms that look like pepperoni pizza.
I’ve now got a headache and feel as though I have a terrific sunburn. I can see the rest of the day is going to be a wash. Thoughts of a workout have evaporated. I decide to make a bee-line home. I wasn’t even in the mood for a Latte.