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Copyright © 2003 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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august 30, 2003
I mentioned a few weeks ago Mary had been seeing a dermatologist to try to resolve the eczema she's been plagued with, and that is the right word, the past few years.
Mary has beautiful skin. I mean really beautiful skin. She's going to be fifty in October, but to look at her, you'd never know. No wrinkles, skin still supple. She looks like she's in her thirties. I'm the portrait to her Dorian Gray.
About three years ago, while we were working in our garden, we cleared a section of brush in the southeast corner of our yard, and unfortunately, there was poison ivy in the foliage.
I got some small rashes on my forearms, but Mary, who carried the cut brush to a trash bag, came down with a severe case of poison ivy.
Once poison ivy is in your system, it stays there. It may go into remission, but it's still in the skin cells.
She went to various doctors, who treated the outbreak with cortisone.
Over time, as often happens, the poison ivy manifested as impetigo, another skin-outbreak condition, and then manifested again, as eczema.
Most of the time, her skin is clear, but when the eczema acts up, it leaves her with reddened patches that are extremely itchy.
It's bad enough Mary has to deal with the fact she had a major stoke in April of 2002, a stroke that still makes it difficult for her to say a sentence. To have the extreme discomfort of eczema on top of that seems truly unfair. But again, she's gone through it all with her sense of humor intact. Mary is a survivor. She's strong, and she's tough.
Her dermatologist prescribed a number of different topical ointments for her, as well as writing a script for Zyrtec (10 milligrams), which is used to fight allergies, and which also, at the 10 mg level, is a sleeping pill, so she can pass the night with her eyes peacefully closed, without waking up every half hour to scratch.
All these prescriptions helped somewhat (some didn't help at all), but what the dermatologist suggested is that Mary take an allergen patch test known as T.R.U.E. (Thin-layer Rapid Use Epicutaneous Test) to determine what was causing her allergic reaction (so she could avoid that substance or substances). (There are two basic allergy tests: T.R.U.E. for common household and industrial substances; RAST for foods. The T.R.U.E. test covers 23 known allergens).
We went in last Monday to start the test (the test requires three office visits over a four-day period).
Her dermatologist's office is located in northern Dallas, about an hour's drive away.
The weird thing about the professional building where the office is located is that you go in through the tall front entrance, climb stairs to the second floor, then walk completely around the interior of the huge building, down one white, windowless corridor after another, very long corridors, down the long lengths of which you pass no other walkers at all, curiously, although occasionally you catch a glimpse of workmen from a Roman Polanski movie disappearing behind the thick plastic strips hanging ceiling to floor of an office remodel.
Once you're in the dermatologist's suite, when you're called, you have to go through a miniature of the same, square-bent maze, like a spiral within a spiral. You pass a few nurse's stations on your journey to the center of the maze, all this sudden explosion of browns and reds and faces like being led past hallucinations.
Mary's first day for the T.R.U.E. test was on a Monday.
As usual, I sat in a chair off to one side, ready to answer any questions that gave Mary difficulty (I accompany her to all her examination rooms).
The dermatologist's assistant, a heavy-set blonde with, I noticed, angry-looking red outbreaks on her pale forearms, asked Mary to take off her blouse, leave her bra on, and arm her way into a paper top, backwards, so her spine was exposed.
I helped Mary. A few minutes after she was in the paper top, sitting on the edge of the examining table, looking lovely, there was a discreet rap against the closed door, and the assistant returned, with the dermatologist.
The dermatologist is a short, plump man with a goatee.
He looked briefly at Mary's bare back, where a few angry red dots were still raised, despite the ointments.
He turned to the assistant. "Be careful you position the strips so they don't lay over the outbreaks."
The assistant held in the air a plastic strip about three inches wide, seven inches long. She peeled off the back, so a thinner strip, pale dots studded in a grid, floated from her fingers. Maneuvering the wavy plastic strip carefully, she placed it on Mary's back, pressed its sticky side against Mary's skin, smoothing it against the skin until it was securely in place. Then she did the same thing with another strip, so both strips were side by side.
The assistant took a Magic Marker out of the breast pocket of her white top, drew a black, rectangular outline of both strips directly on Mary's skin.
"Don't bath your back for the next two days. Don't do anything that could work up a sweat either, so the strips don't slip. But they don't slip."
The dermatologist leaned forward. "Most people are surprised to find out what it is they're allergic to. It's something they never would have guessed."
So we went home, went about our normal lives.
Two days later, Wednesday, we were back in the dermatologist's office.
The assistant asked Mary to raise the back of her blouse and hang the back over the front of her shoulders, like a long scarf.
The assistant placed a long, floppy metal rectangle against Mary's back, like an extra-wide strip of videotape, the rectangle's grid corresponding to the dots that had been on the plastic stick-um of allergic substances.
"Oh, we definitely have a reaction here on number 18."
I'm really curious what the allergen is, expecting to be surprised. Is it cardboard? Cat fur? Carpet? "So, what's the substance?"
"Well, I'm really not supposed to say at this point, because the test still has another day to go, and it's up to the doctor to tell you, because then he can answer all your questions, but since you ask, it's quaternium."
"I'm sorry. It's what?"
"Quaternium." She looked at Mary's back again, confirming. "Definitively quaternium."
Another assistant brought us a two-page factoid sheet on quaternium. It turns out quaternium is "a common preservative found in cosmetics and toiletry items, including skin moisturizers and hair care products".
When we got home, I opened the glass door to our shower, pulled a big, squat plastic bottle of Herbal Essence off the white wire rack, flipped it over, went down the list of chemicals. Son of a bitch, there it was, quaternium.
But we've used Herbal Essence off and on for years. Surely that couldn't be the main cause.
I went back to the factoid sheets. Under "Other Substances To Which You May React", the first entry was formaldehyde (and the next day, Thursday, when we returned to the dermatologists office for the third time that week, to get the final results, formaldehyde did indeed show up as another allergen for Mary).
Formaldehyde. In my mind, I saw Mary and me, and our neighbor Jim, about a month ago, replacing the gate side of our privacy fence. The slats, which we bought at the local Home Depot, were made out of cedar. That was about the time Mary's rashes started. Is it possible Home Depot's cedar slats are treated with formaldehyde, as a preservative?
I asked the dermatologist at the Thursday session. He pointed a finger at me. "That was probably it."
"So how long before it clears up, after Mary's initial exposure, and she gets some relief?"
"That was a month ago?" He shrugged. "A few weeks."
It truly isn't fair.
Texas has been going through another long, hot, dry Summer, temperatures in the triple digits.
I stepped out into our airless back yard the other morning, right after dawn, to start watering (our town went on mandatory water conservation, which it does every year, meaning you can only water two days a week, which correspond with trash pick-up days, for us Tuesdays and Fridays, and only between six and ten in the morning. Outside watering is forbidden all other times, unless it's from a hand-held container. A hose, the white paper signs stabbed into the ground at intersections all over town finger-waggingly clarifies, is not a hand-held container).
I was out at this early hour because I noticed the day before the earth had pulled away from the edge of our concrete patio out back, a sure sign of parched ground.
Later that evening, while Mary and I were upstairs, working on our personal projects, in side by side rooms, I heard a rapid tapping start up against the skylight in my loft. I swung my chair back, looked up at the raindrop-dotted skylight. "It's raining!"
Mary swiveled away from her computer. "It is?"
The storm turned violent, lightening crackling across the sky in crazy directions, straight down, diagonal, horizontal from cloud belly to cloud belly. Thunder crashed like stone tablets flung down on our roof.
My monitor screen flicked, went back to displaying the descending lines of my tornado story (which I finished later in the week, early in the morning, coffee and cats, at 24,500 words).
About an hour later we went downstairs to make dinner.
We had one of those bags of pre-chopped salad greens, which I tore open and spilled into two white salad bowls. I put the bowls on the white counter opposite the counter where the stove was. Banged a wide skillet down on a gas burner, rain whipping against our windows, dropped in a few tablespoons of butter, waited until they had yellowly slid across the skillet, crushed a half dozen garlic cloves, tossed them on the hot, bubbling butter, placed two dozen raw shrimp in the skillet, sprinkled some salt on top, glanced across the kitchen at the opposite counter, and there was Thor, one of our kittens, on the counter, dipping his head into my salad, pulling out leaf after leaf, chomping on them.
"Get away from there! Thor! Get away from there!"
I was handcuffed to the skillet, because the shrimp had to be turned.
His fangs pulled more of my salad out, turning his head sideways with a stupid look on his face as he ate.
"Thor! Bad cat! No!"
I flipped the shrimp, sprinkled more salt down on the curling orange and white meat. They were almost ready to be lifted out.
He stepped into my bowl with his right front paw, tilting its rim, head down, munching, triangular ears up.
But at least it rained.
SENTENCE uses the whatUseek search engine for internal searches- i.e., if you want to search SENTENCE for a particular word or topic (the link to it is in the upper left corner of each page). It's a great service. I strongly recommend it to other webmasters. You can index up to 1,000 pages, for free.
Earlier this week, I clicked on the page to perform a periodic check, to make sure it was functioning properly. For my search term, I used "Mary". Only about six results came up, which was clearly wrong, because I mention Mary all the time in these Latelys.
I e-mailed whatUseek, and they re-indexed the site for me. Now when you search for "Mary", you get 294 matches.
The technician who helped me included in his response the total number of pages and words currently on SENTENCE. I was surprised at the number. 623 pages. 1,127,347 words.
So in terms of words, at least, I'm a millionaire.
I added three new pictures to SENTENCE Photographs. You can see them here.