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.

Breasts, Brains and Cold Sores

Today is the sixth week since I broke my leg. It is fast becoming my leg again. I can bend it effortlessly though not as far back as I once could. I am not sure I could sit on it yet. I can bend well within a ninety degree angle, though not much further. I have enough movement in my knee to be able to drive my car again. An automatic. My healthy right leg does all the work.

It is still an ordeal of sorts to get into and out of the car but I can now do it unaided. I hobble to the front door, release one crutch and lean it there beside the car, I open the driver’s door, and then toss in my crutches over onto the passenger side. Finally I slide myself into the driver’s seat all the time careful not to twist my bung leg too much at an angle so as to disrupt the bone. Once behind the wheel, I am mobile again, an independent woman in her car.

I have almost stopped worrying that the bone might move. I think it is held in for good now, but still I must take care not to bear weight on my left leg yet, much less to fall or I might not so much displace the bone as fracture it all over again.

Someone told me – in the blogosphere as I recall – that you cannot break a bone in the exact same spot again, that the scar material of bones becomes fixed like the most rigid of concrete, while somewhere else I read that once broken, a bone is more vulnerable, that the fracture points of bones are far more brittle.

I do not know the truth of this. I do not understand the science. I rather enjoyed the idea that once broken, never broken again, like once bitten twice shy, once hurt, never open again, but this is not so perhaps. Points of vulnerability become even more vulnerable.

We have returned for a dose of bitter winter weather again this weekend, with much of the State of Victoria on flood alert. This after over ten years of drought. The dams have moved from being slightly over quarter full a little over a year ago to almost half full today.

Half filled dams are a bonus. I do not remember in my lifetime a moment when the dams were almost full. Half full is about as much as we dare hope for. But then again I rely on memory and my limited knowledge here.

I have only started to attend to the state of the dams in recent years. When I was young and felt more omnipotent than I do now I did not bother with concerns over the state of the land, though I can always remember a terrible fear during the bushfire season even as we did not live close to the bush.

Bush fires are a feature of every Australian’s consciousness. They begin early summer and erupt unpredictably one after another till the end of the hot weather. They are one of the reasons I could not bear to live in bushland.

To worry all summer long about the weather and those hot fire ban days, which arrive with increasing regularity in this country, would throw me out.

There are so many things over which I have no control, weather being one of them, I could not bear to be daily anxious about what the weather might bring during bushfire season.

When I was young, my other uncontrolled worry was the arrival of cold sores on my face. When I was young I might have copped a cold sore almost monthly. Someone explained to me early in the piece that once you have suffered with cold sores you have them for life.

Cold sores are caused by a virus which lives in your lip. Usually it sleeps there and gives you no trouble, but the minute something goes wrong for you, it flares up like a bushfire.

The cold sore virus is linked to my emotions, like the handle of a tap. Become upset by something and the handle turns. It can even be an upset of which my mind might not be aware, though not my body. My body knows more than my conscious mind, but my unconscious mind drives the other parts of my mind and body or so I believed as a ten year old trying to fight off the inevitable but uncertain arrival of cold sores.

They start as a tingle in your lip and turn into a watery blister that swells to what feels from the inside when you scrape it with your tongue to be the size of a cricket ball. In the mirror this blister stage looks nowhere as bad as the next stage after the blister bursts, usually a large blister or a series of little blisters clustered together.

When I was a chid there was an ointment my mother sometimes bought from the chemist called Stoxil. I was not the only one in my family who copped cold sores. The sooner you applied the Stoxil the more likely you were to beat the virus, or so the writing on the side of the Stoxil tube said. I never had the ointment on hand to test this theory out. My mother, if she bought it, bought it after the event.

Once a cold sore took hold on my lip it was there for up to ten days or more. After the blister burst it became a wide spreading and throbbing red welt that over stretched the edge of my lips and to my mind made me look even more ugly than I imagined myself to be when I was a child, uglier even than the ugliest child in my classroom.

In my family the theory followed that the oldest were the ugliest, growing more beautiful down the line. The youngest girl and boy were the most beautiful. To compensate for this, the reverse applied to brains.

The oldest were the smartest and the youngest were the dumbest. This put me, sixth in line, in the invidious position of having neither brains nor beauty, right here near the middle. I figured in my position, one below the middle, my cleverness won over my appearance if only by a muddling amount.

I was not smart at school, as Mother Mary John in grade six testified after I failed mental arithmetic.
‘I thought you were bad,’ she said, when she handed back my exercise book covered in crosses, ‘but not that bad.’

Mental arithmetic troubled me by its name, mental. Mental with its links to mind, and numbers and to cold sores.

There was a direct line from somewhere in my brain to the place in my lip where the cold sore virus lived. When I was thirteen, I worried about the line for weeks before I became bridesmaid at my second oldest brother’s wedding. I was in between dress sizes and the dressmaker my sister-in-law-to-be had appointed complained to her that people like me were the worst to make dresses for. We were neither child nor woman.

If I had copped a cold sore on my brother’s wedding day, then not only would I be this hybrid creature who needed a bra that had so much padding inside the cups that my brothers laughed the first time they saw me lined up on the steps of the church before the wedding, I would also be ugly.

I recognised my brothers’ sneers. They knew my body was fake. I knew my body was fake, but the dressmaker had insisted there would be no point in making a dress that fitted my exact size at the time. Within weeks my breasts might erupt just like a cold sore and, given that she had started to make the dress at least three months before the event, she needed to be sure she could accommodate all eruptions.

Breasts, brains and cold sores, they go together for me in an uneasy sequence. I could not control them. I could not control how much my brain might hold in of the times table I rote learned on weekends in readiness for Monday morning tests when we lined up in the class room and took turns to recite the tables one after the other.

My surname began with the letter ‘S’. I was always to the end of the line and the end of the line was where the hardest sums landed – the seven times eight type questions, which so often evaded me; the nine times six.

Even now I can feel a prickle in my lip as I remember how the impossible sum tripped the point in my brain that pulled the cord that sent the signal down to the virus in my lip and told it to wake up and get back to work.

To fail mental arithmetic not only showed up on my school report at the end of term, it showed up on my face and everyone could see, how dumb and ugly I was, even when my sister-in-law-to-be had dressed me up in a canary yellow silk ball gown that fell all the way to my feet and was topped off by two enormous bosoms that were not my own.

Eruptions came all to easily in those days. Perhaps it accounts today for why I make such terrible mistakes and can never quite manage to conceal them.