Saturday, February 28, 2009


Word of the Day: February 28, 2009 skin

I sometimes play this game with myself where I pretend I do not speak English. Then I try to figure out in my non-English-speaking mind what some random English word might mean. I think I started this game when we were visiting Germany, years ago, and words would appear on signs regularly, ones that looked rather odd to my American eyes. We’d come up with our own meanings after a while. One does such things when they travel the Autobahn for hours on end in a van full of relatives. Words like einfart and ausfart and sparkasse. After a while we figured out the real meaning of einfart and ausfart had nothing to do with bodily functions. They meant enter and exit; obviously freeway signs. Einfart and Ausfart sound so much more interesting than enter and exit. I still tease my sisters when I go over to pick them up for something and they are not ready, shouting up the stairs that they had better sparkass. I think in reality that would mean something like: you’d better bank, or cash machine, or something like that. So for some reason this morning I look at the word skin and repeat it over and over in my head. (Such practices lead to odd thinking.) I wonder to myself who in the world came up with that word. Repeated over and over again it spins out of the realm of logic and takes on an alien form up there in the left side of the brain, jumping over on its alien feet into the right brain where all sorts of strange ideas play hide and seek all day long. I think skin joins the ranks of words whose sounds do not match their meanings. Skin, the surface of the being of God’s most complex creation; flexible and vast and living and essential…it should first of all be a much bigger word, at least three syllables, and it should sound sort of royal. Or at least scientific, being after all the body’s largest organ. So then my head clamps onto the thought that skin is an organ, which sort of blows me away, and I think strange things like, “if one were to cut the skin all the way around the arm like the bark of a tree – all the way around until cut meets cut – would the arm die like the tree would?” Duh, self! That’s why we have doctors. And tree doctors.
Ever since I had Guillain Barre syndrome I’ve had skin trouble. Maybe it came before Guillain Barre. I think it came with my first allergic reaction, come to think of it. Dave says that if I ever disappeared and became the topic of a late night re-run of CSI, they would only have to look at Dave’s fingernails to get my DNA. I can tell by the familiar “impending itch” feeling when I am having a reaction. Allergic, perhaps, to my own skin, because we can’t find what else it might be. When we were in Houston with Kate last summer I think I had a reaction to the new soap I bought for her shower. Dave was loading the car for our trip back to Utah and I started the old itch thing. I immediately took two Benedryl. Soon my breathing got shallow, and then my vision blurred and I told Kate to find my purse and get my epi-pen. She was worried, and Tiffany, her roommate, ran out to get Dave from the parking lot of their apartment complex. The mother in me, not wanting to traumatize my daughter, sort of non-chalantly said, “Oh Kate, this happens to me all the time. Aren’t these epi-pens just amazing?” and as I said this I took the pen out of the tube and said, “See, it’s just like a ball point pen. You just jab it into your thigh and…” Next thing I knew I had shot myself in the thumb. Not the thigh. Not the large muscle of the human thigh, but the tiny fleshy pad of the thumb, underneath which is a bone. So the thin soft needle, when it hit the bone of my thumb, bent like a fish hook and I could not get it out. Meanwhile my thumb is swelling up and I am losing consciousness as my blood pressure drops with the allergic reaction, and I am scared to death that I have wasted the only epi-pen I had in Houston! But, praise be to the Lord and the wonder of medicine, the Epinephrine entered my bloodstream, even through the tiny human thumb and, though nauseated, I came back to myself. Only I had this 8 inch epi-pen sticking out of my thumb and I could not for the life of me get it out of my skin! Poor Kate, I made her take one end and pull while I held my thumb with the other hand and pulled in the opposite direction. Seriously, it would NOT come out! Eventually I twisted and pulled and it responded, bringing with it a nice chunk of thumb flesh. Just then Dave came in, incredulous to the thought that all this had happened in the few short minutes he had been loading the car. After a blessing and a prayer and some gentle hugging we took off into the Texas desert, my poor freezing cold swollen thumb tucked into a down pillow on my lap. The Benedryl started to kick in and sleep overcame me. Somewhere in the middle of Nowhere Texas I called Libby and asked her to Google “epi-pen in thumb”, cuz my thumb was colorless and numb. Fifteen minutes later she called back. “Get to an Emergency Room!” Turns out people lost such digits under such circumstances. But ER’s are hard to come by in the Texas desert. So I called Enrique Baires, our friend and neighbor who is also an ER doctor. “Yes, you need to get to an ER,” he said. “But if you can’t, find some way to keep the thumb warm so the blood will circulate.” So, like any normal thinking human being would, I stuck my thumb in my mouth, while we looked for a hospital sign. I imagine cars passing us got a kick out of that picture. Turns out, thanks to Google map, there were no hospitals within a hundred miles. But there was a Walmart. So we worked our way back to the camping department and bought some hand warmers. I wrapped one around the poor white thumb and put a sock over it then wrapped that in my pillow. Eventually, praise be to the Lord, the thumb took life again. By morning it was the color of healthy skin, except for the bruise and scab where the needle had einfarted and ausfarted.
Maybe my poor skin is just rebellious about having to be stretched so thin. Hmmmm.


  1. I love to read your writings. keep 'em coming! this one made me chuckle about the same german words we wondered and joked about as kids. And thank goodness you still have your thumb!! I once touched a small part of a nicotine patch while putting it on a patient. Wow! what a buzz from a little thumb!

  2. What an "on-the-edge-of-your-seat" post. I nearly passed out mid-way, during the "needle-won't-come-out-of-thumb" section....grooossss!*Note to self on epi-pen administration. I actually may need to use one at school one day.

  3. Wow- what a good story. You really do have an exciting life. As for the word skin, if you get technical it's really a four syllable word "epidermis" (remember fourth grade, "Your epidermis is showing.." Some other cool words I like are tactical, oceanic, configure, magnanimity, discombobulated, coagulate, recapitulation, sabbatical quintessential, and trajectory.