Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Heartbreak of Psoriasis

Patches of dead skin pile up like multiple-car
collisions, bleeding sores stain the sheets, mounds of white flakes fill the
house. It's the ''heartbreak of psoriasis''.
In the Church of the Subgenius, the original sin is fretting. This is a good idea. Not only does fretting make it impossible to ''slack off'' as the Church commands; but fretting, or more accurately worrying, is extremely bad for one's health. Ask anyone who's ever survived an aneurysm- and there aren't that many of them- and they'll tell you that worrying can even kill you.

My wife and I both have stress-related conditions. Hers is chronic, life-long, and can be debilitating. Mine is chronic, life-long, and basically just annoying. But, in both cases, a genetic component existed within us like a serpent's egg, and was ''triggered'' by an extremely stressful situation. I should note that her condition is a hell of a lot worse than mine, and leave it at that.

My condition is actually fairly ridiculous; I have psoriasis, which means that large sections of my body accumulate patches of dry, dead skin. If rubbed too hard, they also bleed quite a bit. Our sheets look like they belonged to a regular IV drug user, with specks of blood up and down my side of the bed. As one might expect, this can be extremely painful, although more often than not, it just itches and annoys.

I developed psoriasis about a year ago, as I began my PhD ''reading year''; as anyone can tell you who has done it, the reading year is both a godsend and a burden: it's wonderful to be told to go read hundreds of the greatest books ever written, and terrifying to know that the year ends with the last and toughest exam you will ever take. The stress of this was probably what triggered the psoriasis, which first developed behind my ear. As it resembles dry skin, for some time I just put on moisturizer and forgot it.

The patches began to appear on the insides of my leg, close enough to my groin to convince me that this was a medical emergency! I met with a doctor who prescribed a gel to clear up the patches. Psoriasis is not actually excessively-dry skin; it's a proliferation of skin. Most normal skin cells take about 28 days to develop, age, die, and fall off. It happens constantly, which is why most of the dust in your house is dead skin. With psoriasis, the skin in affected areas goes through its average life-cycle in about three days. Dead skin builds up in patches like a multiple-car pile up. These hard, dry patches, called scales, are what irritates the surrounding skin, itch, annoy, and if removed, tend to leave bleeding patches.

If this sounds disgusting, it is. Even worse, psoriasis is a life-long condition with no real cure. Certain medications can get rid of it, but never fully. No medication works for every person with psoriasis, and in some cases, it can get bad enough to put the person on disability. In a touching letter to his wife, Vladimir Nabokov wrote of his own psoriasis, "You know—now I can tell you frankly—the indescribable torments I endured in February, before these treatments, drove me to the border of suicide—a border I was not authorised to cross because I had you in my luggage." Other famous sufferers include the decidedly-strange company of: Jerry ''the Beaver'' Mathers, Tom Robins, Kenneth Starr, Jean-Paul Marat, Art Garfunkel, John Updike and Josef Stalin! Supposedly, director Eli Roth also suffers from psoriasis, which makes his movie Cabin Fever, about a flesh-eating virus, much more interesting to me.

There are nearly as many cures and pseudo-cures as sufferers. Let it be known that you suffer from psoriasis and you will be offered any number of folk remedies. For the record, I've gotten no relief from tar soap, milk, or oils, and I don't eat too many peppers. In fact, the gel that I mentioned before was also not a cure. It made the psoriasis go away only until I stopped applying the gel; afterwards, the patches came roaring back.

The next medication I tried was a four-hundred and thirty dollar gel called Tazorac. The psoriasis scales had, by now, covered my legs, back, arms, and scalp. This is extremely strong stuff. In fact, it burned into my skin, leaving ugly, extremely-painful red sores everywhere. I could barely walk for a week. After urinating without sufficiently washing my hands, all of the skin peeled off my genitals. According to the instructions, this could be a side effect in 0-30 percent of users. Lucky me.

Currently, the psoriasis is in full bloom. I've been referred to a dermatologist, although the earliest appointment I've been able to get is in two and a half months from now; apparently, those Botox appointments can add up. This backlog negates the advantage of being in the American health-care system, which is that it is supposed to be quicker.

As an American/ Canadian couple, Claire and I can judge the merits of the different health care systems better than most people. I will say, in the first place, that Michael Moore does a lousy job of showing how frustrated many Canucks are with their own system. I've heard plenty of complaints from Canadians about Sicko, which apparently makes Canada look like a promised land in which sexy, diligent nurse/angels flit about administering care to grateful citizens; the sicko's paradise. It's not that exactly. And we lock our doors here, too.

The best way of comparing the two systems is to say that you pay out the nose in the US and you wait for months in Canada. The claim that you have ''less choice'' in a socialized medical system is not true at all. I have to find the doctors who will take my insurance. Claire can go to any doctor she wants, and there are just as many, if not more, of them here. They just don't drive Rolls Royces here.

And I should point out that Canadian wait times are judged according to need. Our friend Brendon, who has leukemia, has not had to wait for any health care, and has actually had his own room in ICU with dedicated nurses. More importantly, he hasn't had to pay for this. Nobody has to wait to get a broken arm fixed here either, and they don't have to pay. The flip side of all of this is that, when Claire was having chronic migraines and needed an MRI as a precaution, she had to wait months to get an appointment. Sure, she wasn't in an emergency situation, but for her American-born and raised husband, the wait was like something from the Middle Ages.

Perhaps the real advantage to the American health care system is that it spurs innovation. Doctors and scientists don't get rich in Canada like they do in the US, and this may well explain why so many innovations are developed in the states. In the US, they even cure illnesses that don't exist! The profit motive seems to corrupt the insurers, certainly, but it may well fuel the healers.

Ideally, what would be best would be a sort of dual-system, which is where Canada's going anyway. Something like what there is in education, with public services and private services existing side by side. I think this would take care of the main problem in the US- that so many people, like my father, have to surrender the bulk of their income for insurance- as well as the major problem in Canada- having to wait. It would mean higher taxes though, which will terrify most Americans. But, having compared Claire's income with the taxes to mine, with lower taxes but insurance deductions, I don't actually see a difference.

What it comes down to is a common philosophy about what we should do for each other in modern societies. What tasks should be open to the forces of the free market? What responsibility does the state have to its people, and vice-versa? Michael Moore doesn't seem to consider how the American system is actually beneficial. And, as of right now, the Canadian and American health care systems reflect the underlying philosophies of their people fairly well, actually.

Another Sky


Holly said...

Gets rid of blackheads
the heartbreak of psoriasis
Christ, you don't know the meaning of heartbreak, buddy
C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon

-Tom Waits, Step Right Up

After respectfully acknowledging that you did NOT ask for any advice, I'm going to ask in a helpy way: Have you ever practiced self hypnosis for the express purpose of reducing stress and your reactions to it?

Rufus said...

In a manner of speaking. I have a CD of relaxing music and chanting that I play at home and in the car before I cross the border. It does seem to work.

It's a whole other topic but the impact of Prozac in my own life has been nearly automatic and wholly beneficial. It will also be a whole other post.

Awais said...

Psoriasis very chronic skin condition. Leave any stress and be normal if you want to cure psoriasis if you are serious to get rid from this skin condition.

Anonymous said...

Awais have you actually got psoriasis then? if not which i suspect is the right answer, then you can't really comment, something which was a pathetic comment. how can you avoid stress? stress is everywhere from your mother dying to you being made redundant to miscarrying your baby, these are all unavoidable but stressful.

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