Gameshow contestant Rolo Tomassi: “I’ll go ahead and finish the category. ’21st Century America’ for $500, Alex.”
Alex Trabek-like gameshow host: “These three interrelated things were part of Greg Seltzer’s life in July and August 2018.”
Rolo Tomassi: “What are an infection common in daycares, a road trip to Cooperstown, and not showering for 2.5 days?”
Alex Trabek-like gameshow host: “Correct, select again.”
A Problem is Brewing
Just over two months ago, I started developing a crusty, reddish spot at one corner of my mouth. After a few days of plastering the area with moisturizer and some antibacterial ointment, the problem hadn’t improved. A visit to urgent care left me with a diagnosis of impetigo, which my wife playfully refers to as “little baby disease.” As her comment suggests, this bacterial infection is most common among…infants and children. I admit to occasionally having a juvenile sense of humor, but really? The info sheet I was given with my prescription had a picture of a baby in a diaper. “Little baby disease,” indeed.
Back to Urgent Care a few days later because the prescription creams were failing to do the job. What’s more, I now was also feeling as if I had some bumps on my lips. These bumps weren’t readily visible, though. The feeling was like I had microscopic grains of sand stuck to my lips. In addition, my lips kinda burned, were getting cracked, and had developed pleasant-looking spots of weeping nastiness. A doctor examined my mug. “Herpes,” she flatly stated.
Just kidding! Still impetigo, but now what was needed was oral antibiotics and a stiff dose of prednisone (complete with a Thanksgiving dinner grocery-list of side effects). At this point, my trip with a few buddies to Cooperstown for the 2018 Hall of Fame induction weekend was only three days out. By the time we were made the trip, it seemed like things were improving on my lips, around my mouth.
America’s Pastime and a Thirst for Frosty Beverages
We stayed in Binghamton, about an hour and a half from Cooperstown, and, much to my delight, I soon found out that upstate NY is a great place for beer. While Binghamton itself seems to punch above its weight class in terms of quality watering holes, there are several local breweries in the area. This makes sense: I learned that the landscape around Cooperstown was THE place for growing American hops during the 19th century (plus the water in the region was both readily accessible and high quality). We made a stop at the Ommegang Brewery (I guess they call it “Brewery Ommegang”) late Sunday afternoon as we journeyed back to Binghamton for the evening. This bucolic locale had many good Belgian-style beers and a great selection of tarty and sour brews (my analysis should probably be more in depth–“the clean finish is a playful contradiction to the robust aroma and malty body”–but I simply don’t have the skill). Anyway, here’s a gorgeous fall photograph of the site:
Backing up to the induction ceremony itself, the weather was fantastic: some clouds and a temperature hovering around 80 degrees (for a visual, see my terrible panoramic photo taken from the back of the ceremony site, Porta Johns included). We certainly got lucky with the conditions, and, since upstate New York isn’t Southern California, the weather isn’t likely to always be this nice during the late summer (note the lack of covered space at the site–that is, unless you want to hang out in a toilet). A popular idea was for people to head to the grounds on Friday or Saturday and plop down their folded up tents and camping chairs to reserve their sports for the ceremony (this could be viewed as a variation of the Pittsburgh “parking chair”). Our group arrived mid-morning Sunday, several hours before the event’s start. The place had already filled up to the extent that we couldn’t see the stage very clearly; since I was sitting on a blanket like a baby at the beach, I definitely couldn’t see the inductees and event speakers. However, there is a huge video monitor where you can see what’s going on. Also,if you ever make it out for induction weekend, I wouldn’t recommend relying on the refreshments provided onsite. I would advise bringing plenty of water–or other choice beverages–something that provides shade, a chair, and something to occupy yourself with as you wait for the start (I say this last part because the video monitor played an endless loop of baseball-related clips that, while interesting, became much less so the 3rd, 4th, and 5th time around). It was great that the local schools and community groups have kept up a tradition of selling hot dogs, popcorn, soft drinks, water etc. at the ceremony, but the food and drink options were otherwise nonexistent (and the lines for concessions looked like a security line at major airport).
Another interesting thing I learned on this journey is that Binghamton’s minor league baseball team–the Double-A affiliate of the New York Mets–is named the “Rumble Ponies.” This name is apparently a nod to Binghamton’s being known as the “Carousel Capital of the World.” Yes, the Carousel Capital of the World. Wikipedia and knowledgeable sources around the Internet also tell me that “Timber Jockey” is a term used to describe individuals who ride carousel horses, and “Stud Muffins” refers to the local citizens’ collections of carousel horses (these terms were two options–as were “Rocking Horses,” “Gobblers,” and “Bullheads” that were on the table when it came time to re-name what had previously been, simply, the “Binghamton Mets”).
Wait, There’s More!
We returned from Binghamton on Monday afternoon, and the issue with my face had not improved. In fact, it had continued to worsen as the week went. More of that gritty bumpiness on my lips, more cracking, more oozing. With some prodding from my wife, I made an appointment with a dermatologist. From there, it was a guessing game as to what, specifically, was triggering what appeared to be contact dermatitis on my lips and surrounding skin. Was it oral allergy syndrome (also known as pollen-food syndrome)?¹ An ingredient in my toothpaste, lip balm, moisturizer? Tim Meadows’ “Shirt in a Can”? A cooking spice? The point is that there were lots of options for what could be making mischief on my lips. In addition to being given a 15-day dose of prednisone (more steroids, great!), I was told to refrain from eating fruits for a week. The goal was two fold: calm down the rash; and see if fruit is the culprit. I looked forward to going home and sinking my teeth into a ripe, juicy…onion, I guess?
After a week sans fruit and on the meds, things had markedly improved, which was certainly a welcome sight. With a bit of anxiety over the outcome, I began to re-incorporate fruit over the following few weeks until my next doctor’s visit. Not long after I started this trial period, the redness, chapping, and generally uncomfortable feeling returned to my lips. But the timing of when this rash appeared and when I had eaten fruits and raw vegetables (carrots, peppers, and tomatoes, in particular), was weird. I noticed that the dermatitis took a while–several hours maybe–to manifest, as opposed to 5, 10, 30, or 60 minutes after eating the food.
Returning to the dermatologist, I was given a patch test and instructed to schedule with an allergist. The patch test, if you’re not familiar with it, consists of sticking several strips to a person’s upper back, covering the whole thing with clear tape, and waiting a few days to see if anything turns up. Each strip has an assortment of common things people are allergic to–a”fragrance blend,” nickel, a particular blue dye, and lanolin, for example. After 2-3 days, you remove the patches and have the area checked out to see which, if any, of these substances your body dislikes. Meantime, I was told not to shower or get super sweaty for the duration of wearing this thing that, when I moved, sounded like I had a flattened diaper pasted to my back.
While waiting for my results, I made an appointment to see an allergist. A skin prick test–mixtures of common allergens, everything from dust mites and cats to trees, mold, and grasses, are placed just below the skin on your forearms–revealed several pretty severe allergies. None of these, however, seemed to be directly tied to many of the foods that I had been eating. So, perhaps this wasn’t food-pollen syndrome after all? Anyway, to make a long story short,
I was sent away from the allergist with more of an idea of what could be wrong, but no specific answers.
So, Who Done It?
Fast forward a few days and my big reveal with the patch test. None of the spots showed a reaction, save for one square: the fragrance blend. As you could guess, this patch is a concoction of several different substances. Looking at the fragrance cocktail, I zeroed in on the components that included cinnamon in some way. Hmm…several of my face products had some of these cinnamon-type elements in their ingredient list. Then I thought some more. For breakfast, I had been sprinkling cinnamon on my fruit and yogurt bowl. I was also in the habit of putting cinnamon on my afternoon snack (probably 4-5 times per week). An allergic reaction to this spice, I found, can take a few days to manifest, and eating yogurt laced with cinnamon certainly would cause some of the powder to get rubbed onto my lips. Thus a pattern seemed to emerge. Maybe cinnamon was causing a lot of this trouble after all? My dermatologist agreed that this could very well be the case, and I haven’t had cinnamon for about a month now. Though I am still dealing with a bit of redness and tightness in and around my lips, there has been nothing that has approached the cracking, weeping rash that plagued me throughout the month of August. I’ve not got this entirely figured out yet, but I think I’m moving toward an answer. A final note: I’m very aware that many people have to deal with much worse when it comes to health issues. I’m very lucky in this regard, both that this isn’t something more serious and that I am fortunate to be able to receive the care and medical advice that I need.
The Saga of the Skin: A Take-Home Lesson
This is just my own experience, but if you have something like this happen to you, you likely will have to do some work on your own to help figure it out. Write down what you’ve been eating. Really think about what you have been putting in, on, and near your body. Make a list of what products you use on your skin. Consider if you’ve changed products recently. Sometimes allergies and problems like this develop seemingly out of nowhere. Your body can decide, with a sudden randomness, that it doesn’t like something in your toothpaste or your face wash.
Crucially, remember that there’s a fine line between doing your own sensible research while seeing a medical professional and obsessing about an unknown cause for a condition. Doing the latter might lead you to read every blog, article, and alternative theory about what could be causing your issue while eliminating and/or substituting, probably unnecessarily, things from your life that are unrelated to the real problem. I may or may not have danced on this line, perhaps even crossed it. This whole goat rodeo has been frustrating, but, as my dermatologist told me, there was absolutely a reason for what was going on with my face. It was just a matter of getting to the bottom of it.
¹To my understanding, this is an allergic response to certain raw fruits, veggies, and nuts. This reaction is NOT a true allergy to the food itself but a result of the similarities between the pollen in trees (birch and alder are notorious instigators here), grasses, ragweed, and mugwort and the protein structures of the foods (this is known as “cross-reactivity” or something).