Sunday, August 5, 2018

When Skin Goes Wrong, “Vacationland” Review

A few weeks ago I noticed a small abrasion on the back of my forearm, a few inches below the elbow. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I had a vague memory of bumping it a little too hard on the coarse concrete wall of the public swimming pool, and figured I had scraped it on that. So I ignored it—after all, these things tend to heal up quickly on their own. Except it didn’t. It got redder and angrier by the day. Not to be deterred, I started putting antibacterial cream on it and covering it with a bandage. And yet larger and angrier it grew, like the Venus Flytrap in Little Shop of Horrors, until before I knew it the seemingly inconsequential scrape had turned into a red, criss-crossing mass of bumps and itchy scabs, which I found myself staring at, bandaging, and feeding anti-bacterial cream obsessively, all the while performing Jedi mind-tricks to convince myself that it “seemed to healing up a little.” My will finally broke on Friday, and I busted out of work early to humble myself at my local drop-in clinic. The verdict? Cellulitis and a concurrent allergic reaction to the bandage adhesive. After 48 hours and counting on oral antibiotics, and no bandages under the doc’s orders, it does, objectively, look much better. It’s still bad, but it’s not…well, I won’t go into gory details, but let’s just say it’s on the mend.

I don’t know why I waited so long to have it looked at. I think it was a combination of cognitive dissonance and my ingrained sense of stoicism when it comes to Things Going Wrong with My Body. It was a scrape. A scrape is not a medical emergency. You rub a little dirt on it and move on. The worried well should not be sucking up our medical resources, fleeing to the doctor’s at the first twinge of discomfort, surfing down rabbit holes searching obsessively for all of the deadly diseases that each passing pang could be a symptom of. Plus, none of my real, actual medical problems have ever been fixed by modern medicine. I gave up on having my knee fixed when no one could agree on what was wrong with it after three MRI’s. And I still have annoying lady problems, but I’ve just let them have their way, as nothing I do and no doctor I visit seems to engender a permanent fix to the issue. Besides, I am a semi-intelligent adult human who should be able to apply basic first aid to a silly scrape. But this one beat me. I needed help. I was actually pretty scared by the time I finally went in to see the nice doc at the walk-in clinic. I knew I should have gone in at least a week earlier, but I was both stubborn and in denial. I don’t have any real life lesson here, except that maybe if you have a wound that is reverse-healing, you should just suck it up and see a professional instead of trying to MacGyver that thing.

On a less gory note, I read “Vacationland” by John Hodgeman this week. I haven’t read any of his other work, although I did take a brief stab at “The Areas of My Expertise” a while back, which I found to be too high-concept and just not for me. But I was willing to give him another chance. For those of you who don’t know, John Hodgeman was that guy who played the PC on the Mac vs PC commercials back in the late 90’s. Before the commercials, he was an unassuming magazine writer, (albeit a Yale-educated one) and has since been catapulted to a sort of obscure fame among highly-educated hipsters. My personal journey with John Hodgeman has been a slightly bumpy one. Year ago, I started listening to his podcast “Judge John Hodgeman,” and I loved it at first, but after a while the endless parade of well-off Brooklynites with their Problems Lite and graduate degrees started to wear on me. I still listen, though, just because I really like John Hodgeman as person and think that he actually comes up with very thoughtful, fair judgements that dig deeper under the surface to get to the crux of what seem at first to be shallow issues.

Because I still associate still him with a degree of hipster cynicism, I was very surprised to find that “Vacationland” was deep, lyrical, poetic, humble and heartfelt. It’s basically a series of essays that cover his time spent in Maine and New England, his relationship with the people and land, his musings on adulthood and aging, and on his uneasy relationship with what he sees as his unearned fame. It’s hard to describe these essays in clear terms; they are stories that could only come from him and his perspective. I refuse to use the word “quirky,” but these are very individual tales from an ultimately sensitive, perceptive and forgiving voice. I haven’t been this emotionally moved by a series of essays for a long time. I thereby wholeheartedly recommend “Vacationland.”

Now, I’m off to go scrutinize my wound again. I can’t have that thing getting away from me this time!

--Kristen McHenry

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