Monday, July 10, 2006

In the Eyes of the Beholder

Four weeks into my treatment I try to reassure myself that I have finished nearly two-thirds of my scheduled 45 day regimen. It is cold comfort. Some of the worst lesions appear to be gone, but areas that had seemed to be clearing up are getting red again. The areas of my face that were among the worst areas, where the skin became cracked and fissured on my forehead, cheekbones and at the corners of my eyes, have yielded up great quantities of crusty lesions and seem to be harbouring a new crop. I was hoping this was going to be a one-shot deal. What's with Act II?

Pain-wise, my face has entered a new stage. For the past few days I have looked and felt like an over-cooked tomato. The skin is smoother, but inflamned and swollen and stretched painfully taut, and giving off huge amounts of heat. I can hardly bear to throw cool water on my face and must shower with my back to the stream. I still can't shave and having been looking like a Scots Yasser Arafat, the five day shrubbery held back by the scissors I wield. I haven't slept through the night in what seems like weeks. Like a vampire I avoid all direct sunlight, and scurry from shadow to shadow when forced outside like a demented squirrel. When running, I am doused in 6o sunblock.

How sensitive IS my skin? I went to my good friend Nathalie for a haircut, and after ten minutes I could no longer withstand the sensation of hair falling on my face. It was agonizing and I had to beg off. That's right, I couldn't stand to have hair falling on my face.

The most interesting aspect of this, if there can be said to be one, has been to see the reactions of people to my physical appearance. For friends and family who know me, I admit it must be a shock. Both my mother and father, who I saw over last weekend, were startled. I had told both of them what I was going through of course, but knowing and seeing are two entirely different things. I had the advantage of seeing the early progression of the treatment, Mom and Dad got it in full flight. I could see both of them wince. But once past the first glimpse, their only concern is how I'm doing and how I'm feeling.

For the friends I bump into, who haven't seen me in a while, it must be a similar experience. What do you say to someone? For me, who rarely gets tired of talking about my favorite person in all the world, namely me, even I am tired of going through the explanation. But you kind of have to, if only to help ease someone past that first awkward stage. Yeah, I look like Hell, but you should see the brick wall I ran into...

But it's the effect I have on strangers that is really fascinating. As something of an amateur cultural anthropologist I have observed all manners of indigenous cultures, immersed myself in the strange world of tattoos and let myself grow wild in order to pass among those worlds incognito. I have firsthand experience of the difference of going through Customs and borders in a suit, and trying to do the same thing with long hair, tattoos, gold earings and a biker beard. Can you say mistaken for a Columbian drug lord? Hey Mr. Border Patrol Man, your dog is sniffing my crotch!

And as a social animal by nature, I tend to go out quite a bit, a habit I am not about to change just because my face is falling off.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I have, if anything, had my faith in the basic humanity of people rejuvenated and restored. And once again I am astonished at the generousity inherent within the souls of the fairer sex. To be honest, I have been rather less than my usual ebullient self. But when being served in a store, restaurant or bar I can see that people are curious, but not curious in any Elephant Man sort of way, but more of a "what the fuck happened to you, Buddy!" kind of way. Women on the the other hand just don't care. The vast majority of them are simply heart-achingly kind. I feel a little bit like a dying puppy when they look at me with eyes overflowing with sympathy, but that's a small price to pay for getting a little maternal spirit.

Women who would otherwise never pay me a second glance, or probably more accurately would avoid making eye-contact at any cost, go OUT of their way to say something, to engage me in a little conversation, as if to reassure me that I am not absolutely hideous to look at. That I am in fact still part of the big monkey troop we call humanity. It is such a sweet, lovely gesture. And those big mooney eyes filled with empathy they make are enough to break your heart. And make your day.

Thanks, girls. I appreciate it...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly Vince,
It does not look that bad. My heart goes out to you I empathize with the pain but really at first glance from a distance - to me at least - it looked like a bad sunburn over freckles- and I thought to myself ouch! I have been reading your blog so did not need to ask and often believe if you want to share with others you will if not you won't. Take care you have the inner strength needed to see this through even if you "overdid" it in the usual Vince style. My prayers are with you.

6:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lots of people look up to you Vince.

We respect your drive and knowledge and committment and frankly we're all a little in awe of your willingness to go places and do things most of the rest of us only dare to dream about.

You put it on the line.

You're nuts of course.

But in the best possible way.

We wish you all the best.

10:47:00 PM  
Blogger Scooter said...

I wanted to make an Elephant Man reference, but you pre-empted that, then I got to the end of your post, "Thanks, girls. I appreciate it..." You may well appreciate it, but you also may alienate them by using terms like that. Meantime, hair on the face...THAT'S SENSITIVE!

3:16:00 AM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

As a self-professed "boy", can't say I have much time nor use for the women who would be offended by my use of the term "girls" in a Blog...

Especially in that particular context.

Get over it.

7:14:00 AM  
Anonymous mercurial runner said...

We try. :-)

3:27:00 AM  

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