Flotsam and Epsom (November 22, 2013)

Several months ago, when the burning, itching, growing blisters on my palms were diagnosed as chronic pompholyx eczema, I lapsed into a funk. I wasn’t ready to accept all the lifestyle changes I had to make, and what’s more, I needed some time to metaphorically stomp my feet and shout “It’s not fair!”

A notorious gym rat with fixed routines that melded strength and cardio training, my two favorite workouts were Russian kettlebell drills and power yoga. However my ravaged hands could no longer handle the friction and metallic contact offered by kettlebells. Likewise, the pressure applied to the palms by balancing my body weight against the floor in yoga practice became too painful. There were some obvious alternatives to these cherished favorites that would allow me to maintain my physique while giving my hands a break (running, Pilates, etc.) but I didn’t care. I wanted things to go back to normal.

Entrenched in this frame of mind, I stopped going to the gym or stepping on the scale. I worked with my dermatologist to test a number of topical steroids and creams to mitigate outbreak symptoms, while adopting an intense drug regiment to try to combat the problem from the inside. To date, there is no cure for pompholyx eczema and these remedies have offered mixed results. But through a period of trial and error, I have learned to adjust to hands that alternate between blistering, cracking and peeling. I’ve become inured to people’s rude but generally benign questions and the consistently “off” appearance of my extremities even on good days. And most importantly, I am coming to understand that my life is not over or without pleasure just because it is different from what I knew. These revelations might sound patently obvious, and I was always able to grasp the words I heard from friends and loved ones. Believing them was an entirely different matter. I still have frustrating, uncomfortable days and know that will be a feature of battling a chronic condition henceforth, but for the most part, I’ve completed the move from mourning to acceptance.

About the same time that acceptance took hold, I looked down one morning as I readied for work and noticed a wine belly beginning to obstruct a view of my feet. It was time to get back in shape. For the last three weeks, I’ve exercised two or more hours per day, at least five times. When I started my new job back in July, an excellent fringe benefit was presented in the form of a gym membership on the second floor of the company’s office building. This 24-hour facility is stocked with cardio equipment of all varieties, as well as numerous hands-free weight machines that I’ve leveraged to try to rebuild my upper body strength. It is gratifying and liberating to witness the changes in my physique, empowering to be able to reclaim control of my physical fitness.

But of course, since I went from zero to 60 with warp speed, I am one sore mofo. And so the actual point of this post is to extol the therapeutic benefits of a product I once wrote off as a geriatric relic from another era – Epsom salts. It turns out that this timeless classic, originally discovered by an English farmer in 1618, has remained a medicine cabinet staple with good reason.

The ailments Epsom salts are purported to relieve are seemingly endless: they can be nebulised to treat asthma and pre-eclampsia, ingested to act as a laxative, prevent artery hardening and blood clots and make insulin more effective, and in my case, added to bath water to reduce inflammation to relieve pain and muscle cramps. This miracle product is also insanely affordable, available to all members of the proletariat for a couple bucks or less. Amazing.

As I said, when my beloved grandfather used to bust out the Epsom for his nightly bath, I scoffed. Poppa suffered from bursitis, arthritis and an unnamed rash in the armpits leftover from his time as a WWII POW. But he was after all, ancient and none of that would ever happen to me!

Ahem, so cut to 2013 and a grown 35 year-old woman afflicted with chronic migraines, a popping left hip and eczema-afflicted hands. While my partner JC originally picked up the Epsom as a bath additive to soothe my sore muscles, I have fallen in love with the soft, silky water effects it generates. Where I used to just wash, rinse and leave, I now linger in silken H2O until I prune. Epsom has also served as an unexpected salve for my palms at their most atrocious cracking and peeling stages. I emerge from the bath relaxed, supple and with skin soft as a baby’s bottom.

Poppa, you were right all along. Epsom salts are the TRUTH. And democratic – out of the reach of pharmaceutical “regulation” (profit reaping). It’s almost too good to be true. It’s a shame that snarky, ageist cynicism caused me to overlook this wonder treatment for so long.

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