In The Hands

//In The Hands

In The Hands

            It’s in the hands.  That’s where I see my first signs of aging.  There’s a very good reason for this – I developed severe eczema on my hands after my three children were born.  Us women have so many bodily rearrangements to thank our children for, don’t we?  And this is one of mine.

            In our family it seems hereditary, as my mom had it before me and now that Tan has her two daughters, she suffers from it as well.  It starts out small – a bit of redness, under and around the wedding ring – and once begun it spreads, from inevitable scratching, and from contact with irritants like baby wipes, household cleaners or even pet dander.  Your hands become coated in dry, red patches that crack, bleed and ache and the thought of performing a universally expected activity like holding them under a faucet in a public washroom, putting soap on them, then holding them under a forced air dryer, well. . . it just makes you cringe.

            My first bad outbreak happened in the 1990’s when my kids were all in elementary school.  The family doctor looked at them and said, “You’re literally working your fingers to the bone.”  He referred me to a dermatologist, as they did back then.

            The lovely, ancient man who saw me was a perfect cross between Einstein and Tim Conway’s Old Man.  I waited in an examination room, both hands pulsating in pain, and he eventually shuffled in in his white lab coat, with his great shock of white hair.  Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, the top half of him tipping forward, back, forward, back.  He got close to me, then bent at the waist to examine the swollen lobster claws sprouting from the ends of my arms, his eyes getting closer and closer, and then zwhipp.  Up his torso shot, so fast, it tipped him back on his heels and I feared he might fall backward.

            He stabilized himself though, said, “Oh, Dear, well, do you mind?”  And he shuffled off.  After a while, he returned with a black cloth, which he draped tenderly across my lap.

            “Just place your hands back down Dear,” he said, patting the cloth.  “I must have a picture of this.  Do you mind?  You don’t mind, do you?”  He was beaming as he positioned my claws the way he wanted them and shuffling much quicker than before as he retrieved his camera, obviously excited that one of the worst cases of eczema in his long and storied career had magically appeared before him.

            After the photo op, he cauterized the deep cuts to stop them from bleeding.  He prescribed antibiotics.  “They’re infected, you know?” he said.  I didn’t know.  Then he prescribed the first of the many cortisone creams that have led to the thin-skinned hands dangling before me daily, hands that look like they should be attached, in my opinion, to a much older woman.

            Old Einstein Conway warned me to use gloves for activities like washing dishes, cleaning house, gardening.  I don’t much care for gloves – they never fit right and often the materials they’re made from cause issues with my skin as well.  And you lose your dexterity.  Luckily, the people who’ve lived with me over the years are sympathetic about my lobster claws and offer to wash the dishes that don’t go in the dishwasher for me.  And I don’t clean house – I’ve hired two very special women, one at the house and one at the cottage, who do this for me.  I do like to garden though, and I have lots of gardens.  And I have gotten into the habit of wearing gloves for this, over hands liberally slathered with Vaseline.  Do you know it’s made from 100% White Petrolatum?  Whatever that is?  But that’s the thing, there’s only one ingredient and it can be pronounced.  Vaseline is the only substance I’ve discovered that doesn’t make my eczema worse, but unfortunately it doesn’t make it better.

            You could empty the cupboards in my house, get rich selling off all of the creams and ointments I’ve tried over the years in an attempt to keep the claws moisturized.  I get excited every time.  Working Hands.  “For dry hands that crack and split.”  That’s what I have!  Did not stop them from cracking and splitting.  skinfix, it’s what we do.  “Treats eczema, dryness, dermatitis”.  Not mine.  A friend went to the states, picked up Eucerin for me, swears by it.  No improvement for me.

            The latest and greatest?  I went to a health food store and bought kalaya moisture cream.  “Maximum hydration for sensitive skin”.  It’s made with “emu oil”.  Silly me.  Because of the Barenaked Ladies song about the million dollars – you know, there’s that line about buying an exotic pet?  “Maybe a llama or an emu”?  Well, they mustn’t be interspersed.  A llama is a camel-like creature with four legs and an emu is the largest bird native to Australia.  Anyway, how often do you ponder either a llama or an emu, except when you hear that song?  For some reason, I just had to ask the man how they got the emu oil.  “Do they milk it, the emu?”  I asked, picturing a llama.  (Note:  he did say “oil”, not “milk”, but the substance is a “cream”.)

            “Oh, no,” he said.  “You don’t get milk from an emu.  Milk from a bird?”

            As I stammered and stuttered and back-pedalled, the man went on, “No, no.  The emu does not give the oil willingly.”

            Then I had to picture Big Bird being crushed in the factory, the oil squished from his body on the assembly line and then added to this amazing moisture cream just so I wouldn’t have to have lobster claws anymore.  The ultimate sacrifice.

            I used the wonderful cream generously throughout the day.  It felt so good and the man insisted it would work.  By the end of the day, a couple of things became very clear.  The lobster claws needed medical attention again and I’d wasted another $20 on a moisture cream.

            By the way, you can get milk from a llama, in case you were wondering.



  1. Glenda James September 17, 2014 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    Why are their so many health mysteries in middle aged women. I went to the doctor yesterday because of this severe bloating and nausea. She said that she did not know why and that the mystery of the black box was always a puzzle!

    • Rita Hartley September 17, 2014 at 5:43 pm - Reply

      I think there are health mysteries in us all, not just middle aged women! Guess we need to embrace the unknown.

  2. Jackie Dewan September 20, 2014 at 1:00 am - Reply

    We should be all so honest and upfront with the life issues we have,.as you are Rita. Only when we can be comfortable with sharing our own struggles do we become more understanding and empathetic to others around us and their challenges. If only I knew this so many years ago, I think I could have made more of a difference in so many lives. We ALL have our struggles……….. they are just presented in different ways!

    • Rita Hartley September 20, 2014 at 4:07 pm - Reply

      So true Jackie. But this openness you speak of can come naturally for some, and for others take years to achieve. All we can do is try our best, each and every day, setting the evolution of our soul as a constant goal.

Leave A Comment