Fat lips

The world feels heavy at the moment, too heavy.

Things go in clusters.

Three weeks ago, I fell against the pavement, the result of trying to do too many things at once.

I copped a fat lip from this fall, which morphed into what I thought was a cold sore, at least that’s what the doctor reckoned.

So off onto cold sore treatment and it’d be gone in a few days, the doctor said, but it never healed and now the ailment has spread.

When I was young I suffered a cold sore almost monthly. I grew accustomed to the dreaded tingling in my lip, the swelling into a blister and the ugly sore that followed and usually took as many as seven days to heal.

I knew early on that this ugly beacon in the centre of my face, was more apparent to me than to others, but there’s something about our lips, that most central organ of communication that commands attention.

When we talk to one another we tend to look to the eyes but also the lips. It’s how people who cannot hear often communicate and I reckon it’s part of how we register one another’s feeling states.

In any case, my lips are a mess at the moment, those two sensitive layers of fatty tissue that rest around my mouth.

Lips are so sensitive at a number of levels beginning when we’re babies. The place of first skin contact, in feeding, and later the area of contact between lovers when first they come close.

I’ve often wondered why I landed so many cold sores when I was young. I came to understand they had something to do with a virus that lived permanently in my lips and that flared into action during times of stress.

As I grew older, I could almost predict a cold sore coming on. A fight with my husband meant the next day I’d wake to a cold sore. Conflict with a work colleague at an evening meeting; the next day I’d wake with a cold sore; and whenever I copped a virus of the cold and flu variety, a cold sore often followed.

So you see my lips are prone to ailments.

My mother wore red lipstick to cover hers and the sight of her streaking the two red lines across her lips left me with a strange sense of horror, as if she was hiding her vulnerability under something  sexualised for my father.

At least that’s how I saw it when I was growing up and something in my mother’s use of lip stick resolved in my mind, I would never use it.

I’ve tried, but lipstick leaves me with the feel of band aides stuck across my lips, as if I’ve been gagged.

And so I don’t wear the stuff.

But ever since I smoked as a young woman, my lips began to dry out and like so many others around me, I need to moisturise them constantly.

Dry lips, lips like cardboard, leave me almost with a sense I cannot open my mouth.

Last November before the first of my bad luck in Japan, my lips morphed from a cold sore to a patch of redness just below my bottom lip that my GP was concerned about enough to send me off to a dermatologist who diagnosed actinic keratosis, a fancy word for sun damaged skin that could develop into basal cell carcinoma if left untreated.

The solution is to burn off the damaged area with a special cream they use to burn off warts.

Because the area of damage is so close to my lips I need to take care, to do it outside of summer.  Wait till Easter time, the dermatologist suggested, once the sun settles and then start the treatment.

This treatment, which I’ve yet to start, horrifies me.

The idea of applying this Efudex cream to a small area of my skin, is like dabbing on acid and waiting for the area to swell up to peel and flake and in between times to throb and to hurt as though I have inflicted a wound on my skin, a wound that should be visible to all.

And so I hesitate and as Easter time draws near, I worry and even more so as the redness around my lips seems to be spreading and I can’t use this stuff over large areas, at least the instructions tell me so.

Therefore, I’ve made another appointment to see the doctor and the hypochondriacal part of me expects the worst:

That they will have to cut out chunks of my lips that have become cancerous.

That the cells of this actinic mess have dug so deep I’ll be like Sigmund Freud with his cancer of the jaw, and all of it visible.

You can’t bandage your lips, or not as far as I can imagine.

I should leave it settle until I see the GP and have a more accurate appraisal.

I hate the ‘worried well’ of me. The hypochondriacal me who expects at any minute to come up against impossible body states that signal my death.

I’m not ready to die yet, and in all likelihood, I’m not dying.

I feel ashamed in the face of other people’s far greater suffering. But I have so much to do, so much to get through and so many responsibilities to others.

And that’s only the start of it.

In between this preoccupation with the state of my lips, I have others who worry me, and I can’t write about them and their stories, but I know how much my concerns over them contribute to the load.

8 thoughts on “Fat lips”

  1. I had cold sores as a child, and mouth ulcers and heat spots. And plooks. Plooks go without saying. I still get the odd spot and they irritate me every bit as much as they did when I was young—I hate pimples—but I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I had any of the first three. One day they simply faded away. They plagued my childhood though, they really did, and I’d be hard pressed to say which was the worst. At least the heat spots tended to avoid my face. I was never a vain child but I was self-conscious. I still am. I do not like to stand out from the crowd. So you can imagine how I felt as a young teen when a patch of impetigo appeared on my left cheek. I probably should’ve been made to stay home—it’s highly contagious apparently—but, no, I got dressed and went to school and suffered all the jibes that came my way and that made me the man I am today. I’m pretty sure I would’ve got here without the jibes.

    I’m very conscious of my health but I’m not what you’d call health conscious. I don’t obsess about my aches and pains but I’m never allowed to forget them; they wouldn’t like that. At least most of them keep to my insides apart from the dry skin on my face. I moisturise when I think of it but probably not enough. It’s odd isn’t it? We’d be quite happy to hobble around on crutches or with an arm in a sling but God forbid we find a spot on our nose when we’re ready to go out and face the world. It’s the face. Faces are important, far more so than arms or legs or anything in between. It’s the first thing we look at (well, second if you’re a male looking at a female) and that’s what we make all our rash judgement on. When will we all grow up?

    1. I’d agree Jim, faces are important and even when we’re not particularly vain it’s bothersome to imagine some defect on your face that’s not usually there. At least we’re not at the stage of the elephant man with bag over his head. Things could be worse. Thanks, Jim.

  2. I do hope this clears up quickly for you, Elisabeth. Having a facial blemish makes one feel very obvious – and not in the right way.
    I too have problems walking and chewing gum, Elisabeth, but apart from a recently badly stubbed (possibly broken?) toe, no major injuries. Yet.
    Personally, I love wearing lipstick and never feel dressed without it. I especially used to love ‘Guerlain’ lipsticks, which were scented with the softest of violet perfume. So unique, but not any more, sadly.
    Ah, yes. The worried well. Remember Spike Milligan’s answer to “What would you like written on your headstone?”
    Answer: “I told you I was sick!” Makes me laugh every time.

    1. Yes, indeed Karen, those words on Spike Milligan’s imagined tombstone, so evocative for us all. I suspect I’m having a conversation with death these days and it’s okay, still hopefully far away but always getting closer. Thanks.

  3. Cold sores flare up at times of stress and fatigue—sounds like you’re going through a rough patch. Hope you’re still managing to write, and sending you good wishes. x

    1. Turns out it wasn’t a cold sore, Louise, but the stress factors were there for some as yet unknown reason. Still it all seems to be on the mend now. Thanks, Louise.

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