Pain is Punny! (October 2, 2013)

“Style, like sheer silk, too often hides eczema.”

-Albert Camus

“Excuse me for just a sec, I’ve got eczema around my nubbins.”

-Renée French, Micrographica

Apparently those of French descent, or simply bearing French names, know a thing or two about eczema, and are even able to add a dash of wit to discussions surrounding the ghastly condition. I admit that when I Googled the search term “quotes about eczema,” I rather expected to come up empty handed, and certainly didn’t anticipate a giggle. I have the sense of humor of a 12 year-old boy and the word “nubbins” renders me defenseless.

Trying to laugh through the pain is a coping mechanism I know well. It’s sort of a birth right passed down from my father’s side of the family tree, which contains more than a few branches molded by alcoholism, mental illness and suicide. There’s something bracing and refreshing about my clan’s ability to ad lib, pun and quip its way through challenges that would take down a less self-effacing group.

I sat down to write a confessional, self-pitying lamentation about the pompholyx eczema that has afflicted the palms of my hands for the better part of five months. The intense burn and itch of the half-year flare up has been a rather serious source of misery, affecting my work and much cherished exercise habits, in addition to presenting challenges to my self-esteem. If you click on the hyperlink above and look at some of the photos of sufferers, you’ll understand why. One of my close male pals recently characterized my raw appendages as “zombie hands,” which clearly alleviated my state of self-consciousness (not at all).

But frankly, I am tired of bitching about it. I’m seeing a specialist next week, and as she is the same magician who cured the alopecia that attacked my scalp in May 2012, there is reason for hope. Instead of devoting additional words and emotion toward a description of my acute symptoms, which frankly, I couldn’t forget for a moment if I tried, I’m going to go another way. Following the example of my new mentor Renée French, permit me to share additional instances of eczema humor I’ve come across:

“Eczema…about as cool as a honeymoon hand job.”

“Conserve Water. Shower with someone battling eczema.”

“I told my doctor that I have looked up my symptoms on the internet and I think I have eczema, impetigo and dermatitis. He said I’m making too many rash judgments.”

“Did you hear about the squid that got eczema? It was Kraken.”

“I can see huge flakes falling outside my window. It’s not snowing, just the guy upstairs with eczema scratching on his balcony.”

“Eczema jokes…They crack me up.”

Obviously some of these are blatantly corny and under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t waste my resources on a groan. But I was reminded of the soothing power of laughter last week as I conducted a training session at work in front of a group of people. My hands were encased in purple latex gloves, slathered underneath with topical steroids and a heavy lubricant designed to heal the worsening fissures on my palms. At one point, I became flustered because really, latex gloves are not ideal for typing in a high pressure situation.

One of my “students,” a normally quiet fellow I’ve seen around, brazenly heckled me. He was eager to get to the catered lunch setup in the conference room and riffed, “I’ve got my eyes on the pretzel roll sandwich. When you’re finished, can you take off your gloves and stand in front of the buffet line with your hands up, so I can get first dibs?”

My immediate instinct was to go all Scarlett O’Hara. “I declare! I have never been more offended. How dare you, sir?” However after I recovered from the initial shock, I burst out laughing. By poking at the elephant in the room, my pupil had nullified its power over me. I relaxed, finished my session and snatched up the coveted pretzel roll before I took my seat. All at once I felt control and ownership where minutes prior, I had been vulnerable and powerless.

The Irish playwright Samuel Beckett was dead on when he observed, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. Yes, yes, it’s the most comical thing in the world.”

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