Sweating the Small Stuff

September 11, 2007 at 6:23 pm (Uncategorized)

0041-0605-2521-5741_TN.jpgI’ve been sweating a lot lately.

“Great,” I can hear you thinking. “Here I wanted to learn about sarcoidosis or raising a child when chronically ill, and this disgusting lunatic is writing instead about her personal hygiene – or lack thereof.” Believe me, I know how it sounds. Consider yourself lucky you don’t have to know what it looks like, or even worse, how it feels. Women aren’t even supposed to sweat, I know. They’re supposed to glisten. And I’m aware that perspiration isn’t the most couth topic. But trodden social standards notwithstanding, I need to write about the liquid pouring off of me at inopportune times.

For the past few months, regardless of the temperature outside, I have been sweating up a storm. It starts with a vague buzzing in my scalp or behind my knees and a feeling of being flushed (but not overheated). A couple of minutes after the tingling begins, I am literally soaked. Sweat pours down my face, and drips off my neck. My hair is damp on top, though the strands closest to my neck are sodden. My arms are wet, as are my legs. If I’m wearing pants, they’re stuck with sweat to my waist and legs. If I’m in shorts, the sweat pools at the tops of my socks. My shirts are marked with permanent rings. I’ve had such severe sweat attacks that I could wring out my clothes, just as if I had doused them in the sink. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve considered bringing spare shirts along when I have to be away from the house for a few hours.

If during the days I’ve left the feminine ideal of “glistening” in the dust about forty miles back, it’s only worse at night. I’ve had the night sweats associated with sarcoidosis on and off for over three years, but these latest nocturnal visitations are like nothing I’ve experienced before. I awake in the dead hours of the night, soaking wet, wrapped in sodden sheets. My hair has so much moisture in it, it looks as though I’ve washed it. Although I want to strip the bed, I’m loathe to rouse my exhausted husband in the middle of the night (and I usually haven’t sullied his side of the bed), so I dry myself off, change nightclothes, and try to fall back asleep on some towels covering the damp sheets.

At first, I assumed my hyperhidrosis was my fault. “It’s because I’m fat,” I concluded. But then my husband, Jay, reminded me that not every overweight person spends her days (and nights) in a portable sweat bath. “Besides,” he said. “You’ve lost weight, so why would you all of the sudden be sweating more?” Hmmm. Good question. Once self-loathing is removed from my paradigm, it’s tough for me to find a solution. Odd – and sad – how much faster and easier it is for me simply to conclude that any health problem is of my own making than to look for an external cause(but that topic is a separate essay) . I next blamed my elevated blood sugars, but those too have been in decline as of late – and yet the sweat still pours off of me.

On my most recent trip to the specialists in Philadelphia, Jay encouraged me to broach the topic of my constant and copious sweating with the pulmonologist. Her response to this new symptom was nearly identical to my other nebulous health problems that have arisen at the same time I’ve had sarcoidosis. In other words, the sweating thing is a bit of a mystery. She said it could be caused by sarcoidosis being involved with my sweat glands or being active in parts of my brain; it could be caused by prednisone; it could be exacerbated by blood sugar levels. Who knows? For now, we’ll monitor it, but if it worsens, more testing will be necessary. Does this sound familiar?

Regardless of whether or not the sarcoidosis gurus can come up with answers to my problems, I still need to explain them (or at the very least minimize them) to my three-and-a-half year old son, who takes in every detail I’d prefer him not to notice. Having a young child when ill forces me to normalize decidedly abnormal situations. Andrew, who has spent all but the first three months of his life sharing me with sarcoidosis, is accustomed to his Mommy’s medical trips. For him, it’s normal to leave home every three to six months to stay in Philadelphia, where various grandparents entertain him while his mommy disappears into the bowels of a hospital for tests. For him, it’s normal that I receive day-long infusion treatments, that I am perpetually sick with some infection, that he needs to wash his hands frequently, that I need more sleep than either his father or him, that I have had to take medication that makes me vomit and lay abed all day. After all the justifying and creative interpretation I’ve done, laughing off my pools of sweat as another bit of Mommy’s quirkiness wasn’t too difficult. “Geez, I am one sweaty Mommy,” I’ll say, if I happen to drip on him. I’ve even created an entire persona – a mock stern Russian mother by the name of Svetie Lana, who not only sweats a lot but also jokingly threatens to leave his toys on the street for “Papa Stalin.”  Although the foregoing description makes me sound like a freak bent on terrorizing my son, really, I’m not, and Andrew actually does shriek with laughter when Svetie Lana appears. He begs me to keep doing the Russian accent.

Since I’ve been able to convince Andrew that my sweating isn’t anything for him to be concerned about, I try not to let it bother me either. But, honestly, it’s hard to be sanguine about sweat attacks because, quite frankly, it’s yucky to be dripping and damp. In many ways, my sweating is one of my most significant health complaints right now – even though I know my concerns are more cosmetic than life-or-death in their scope. Ironically, the potentially fatal arrhythmias that accompanied my cardiac sarcoidosis never really bothered me that much. Of course, I stayed up nights worrying about dying, and I spent an inordinate amount of time (as I still do) listening to the pitter-patter of my heart in my chest. But in terms of day-day-day existence, excessively sweating irritates me more than the electrical dysfunction in my heart ever has. And while I frequently write about the “big” issues of Chronic Town – the whispers in my head that I’ll die before my son has grown, my mourning at the restrictions illness has imposed on my life, my fears of never getting well and having my son view me as an invalid – it is sometimes the seemingly trivial and often scatological concerns that make living with a chronic illness so challenging. And so isolating. In fact, I think it’s precisely these “little” things that doctors are willing to disregard – the sweating, the weight gain, the joint pain – that are the defining features of Chronic Town.

I’m hoping that the arrival of autumn will help stave off my sweating. Or perhaps as I work my way down on my daily prednisone dose, I’ll dry up a bit. Maybe losing more weight will help. I remain optimistic that Svetie Lana is not a permanent fixture in our home. If she is, it’s time for us all to start sweating it.

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