Long have I suffered. For years I thought the minor lesions on my arms were remnants of the good old days in the caustic soda operations unit at Dow Chemical’s Pittsburg plant. I repaired the pumps and maintained the network of pipes that moved the hot product out of the huge cauldrons where it boiled away at over 700 degrees fahrenheit. Boiling sodium hydroxide condenses and falls like caustic snow. The operator bathes his exposed skin from time to time in a reasonably strong wash of hydrochloric acid in order to neutralize the product that’s clinging to his sweaty arms and burning holes in his flesh.
But a few years ago Ann, the dermatologist, told me it was a mild form of cancer. She gave me a tube of some hideously expensive ointment and asked me to rub my lesions away. The stuff made me so irritable – grouchy – that I could only finish one treatment. The second tube has lain dormant in my medicine chest, but a few of the cancerous spots have gotten bigger over time so I took out the medicine and smeared it on and – presto change-o! Grouchy again. I have an appointment for Ann to take a look at my skin on Monday. Hopefully she has a chemical that doesn’t produce the side effects.