Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Health and Beauty

Most of the sections in the supermarket consist of collections of related products. For example, “Drinks and Snacks,” “Bags and Wraps,” “Condiments and Spices.” But I’ve always been confused by the “Health and Beauty” section. Certainly you can have health and not have beauty, and lack of health hasn’t been considered beautiful since the Tuberculosis epidemic in the 1600’s. So it always seemed like an artificial pairing of consumer package goods. But recently, I found out where Health and Beauty are inextricably joined in real life.

When we returned from our vacation in St. Maarten, the palm on my right hand began to itch. Back in the 1600’s, this was considered a good omen – a sign that you would come into money soon, which you would probably spend on doctors to treat your tuberculosis. Eventually, this itch developed into a lumpy spot the size of a dime. Then another, smaller spot erupted, then another, and another.

I assumed that it was some kind of fungus infection, and tried treating it with athlete’s foot cream, which I purchased in the Health and Beauty section at the supermarket. But it simply wouldn’t go away, so I decided to see a dermatologist.

The office was decorated in a style I prefer to call “early French whorehouse.” As I lounged in the waiting room, I looked through some literature and realized that if you’re in the dermatology profession, treating mysterious rashes isn’t where the money is. This place makes money by offering skin treatments to combat ageing, the removal of unsightly moles or unwanted hair, and collagen or Botox injections. Sure, they treat health problems, but they’re in the beauty business.


I was shown into an examination room, and the doctor arrived, who turned out to be from India. I explained the problem, including the fact that it occurred just after we returned from vacation. He took a look at my itchy hand and recommended a biopsy. “We want to be sure that you didn’t bring back anything exotic from the Caribbean,” he explained. When a doctor from India tells you that he’s concerned you might have something “exotic,” it kind of sends a chill down your spine.

A nurse loaded up a syringe with lidocaine, and injected three of my itchy spots. Just for the record, injections in the hand hurt like hell. She then took out a curved razor blade and scooped a chunk out of each itchy spot to be sent off for some poor pathologist to examine.


The doctor says it could take a couple of weeks before I know the results. If it turns out to be nothing mysterious, he said I can treat it with Cortisone cream, which of course I can buy in the Health and Beauty section at the supermarket.

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