My vanity dictates an annual increase in body maintenance. Efforts to slow the ageing processes of becoming grey, wrinkly, hairy, flabby, toothless and in the toenail region - goaty - are made every day, every week. But this year I’ve discovered that my next inglorious battle will be with skin barnacles. That’s seborrhoeic warts for the non-squeamish. Usually a familial trait (thanks, Nanna), they are benign but also crusty, itchy and after your fiftieth birthday, keen to make themselves at home all over you, surfacing slowly through the skin like submerged pieces of popcorn.
Seborrhoeic warts are rarely mentioned in company - even the impolite kind - or I’d have heard of them. Depending on age, 30-75% of the population endure these scabby growths but my degree in Health Sciences apparently skipped their existence. After diagnosis I did, of course, do my own research and found that the range of online information all led to the same advice - they’re not cancerous so stop worrying. There was no advice for those who worry that a small crop of cauliflowers will ruin the look of a body-con dress.
My GP was reluctant to act, but did eventually refer me to a skin clinic for curettage of those that were “in the way”. She was sympathetic to the irritations caused by underwear, but not to the sheer ugliness of the little monsters taking up residence on my breasts, neck and shoulders. “They can be removed but they’ll just come back” she sighed. You could say the same of grey hairs but they’ve led to a global colourant industry based on recurrence.
Which is, I guess, the point: the NHS will not - cannot - foot the UK’s cosmetic surgery bills. The skin specialist who poked around my human lichen, unimpressed with their relatively small size and number, said as much. “We see people with hundreds of these things and it’s pointless to keep removing them”. It is? Don’t you just mean expensive? If I have life as a Dalmatian to look forward to, then I’ll find a way to pay. Just get these buggers off me.
Lifting up each breast as if to trim the fat from a pork chop, the doctor sliced away at the surpluses near my armpits and then cauterised the wounds. He wasn’t unkind, but was definitely in a hurry. The previous session had overrun, so there was no time to wait for the anaesthetic to kick in. This meant I was a bit wincey throughout the procedure, lying with the equivalent of a paper serviette over one boob since the surgical nurse didn’t seem to think the other one had the same right to privacy. I left with small white dressings all over my torso, victim of a Lilliputian mob stabbing.
This is, of course, small beans compared to the distress of discovering and handling a life-changing disease. One of my friends donated parts of her waist and back to rebuild her chest following mastectomy, and never complained once. Well, only that she missed having a nipple but that hardly counts as grumbling. She was back shopping at Sainsbury’s two weeks later, revealing her beautifully-engineered patchwork quilts to anyone who showed an interest at the till.
My experience - similar to having several mounds of chewing gum scraped from a shoe - was more surprising than traumatic. So, I think I have it in perspective, but still refuse to become a dedoreth kind of a woman. Which, as my Welsh friends love to remind me when I’m still in pyjamas at noon, means “’er with no shape on ‘er about the 'ouse”.
It’s perpetual and it’s tiring to stop stuff from sliding, fading, hardening, yellowing and now, sprouting miniature cow pats, but I am not done with grooming just yet. In the pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment, I thought this ickiness worth sharing.