Sunday, March 14, 2010

You Give Me Fever

Cold sores. Fever blisters. Whatever you call ‘em, I get ‘em. It’s my understanding that, secondary to gender, there are two types of people: Those whose lips suddenly erupt into the fluid-filled equivalent of bubble-wrap and those who don’t. Color me among the unfortunate.
It’s supposed to be a wintertime thing and usually is, but mine can show up any time of the year. Other people complain about the cold and flu season because they’ve woken up with a stuffy nose; my big grief is greeting the day looking like Oscar Wilde on his syphilitic deathbed.
As if the indignity of seeming a lesion-ravaged leper were not enough, the appearance of these unwelcome intruders upon my person is always accompanied by the acute paranoia that this one inch flawed area on my body is all anyone else can see, as though I were wearing a two foot, novelty foam rubber top hat that, through means of a concealed battery pack, also flashes a neon announcement to the world that blinks “Herpes! Herpes! Herpes!” on and off accompanied by the sound of an air raid siren. This is not an unfounded fear. When you get a cold sore there is always an amateur microbiologist amongst your peer group who feels compelled to mention, usually in the largest crowd in which you circulate, “You know that’s a form of herpes. Not Herpes Simplex, the kind you get from sex, but it’s still herpes.” Thank you dear good doctor. I was still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that canker sore is only one consonant away from cancer sore. It’s like hearing that you’ve got the good kind of leukemia.
What makes this situation fully mortifying is that you know only part of the population will accurately comprehend this information. People who don’t get cold sores are in no particular rush to study up on them. They just assume you’ve had your mouth on the nastiest part of a nasty person. It shows on their faces, like spotting Catholics on Ash Wednesday. You find yourself mentally constructing a profile of the average fever-blister-getter in hopes of determining who around you might be sympathetic, much like trying to figure out if the cashier at the beer store is gay. You also assume people are profiling you as well. You can feel total strangers thinking “Yes, I have severed cat heads in my freezer at home but at least I’m not unclean.”
Getting a fever blister is a horrorshow of premonition, based on the fact you feel it coming, like radiation victims knowing handfuls of hair in the shower will soon mean skin detachment and explosive diarrhea. You feel something akin to razor rash, only coming from inside your lips. This reminds you of how utterly awful shaving is going to be for a while--dragging a razor across a blister-ensconced upper lip merely slices them open, resulting in robust and bleeding scabs (always seen as cute, cute, cute) whereas not shaving causes spiky hairs to form inside the pustules which prick the living crap out of you from within until you want to tear your lips off your face with locking pliers and throw them in the river.
This initial tingling (which will move from that, to pain, to feeling you have pubic crabs swarming on your mouth) signals that your little translucent friend is on its way and there is nothing, nothing you can do about it. You have a day to gather supplies before you transform like a werewolf; supplies to keep you nourished and entertained while you avoid letting anyone see you for the next two weeks.
The next stage is a pronounced redness, which indicates that your earlier paranoia was well founded. At this stage of the game it can pass for a wine-stain birthmark, which although unattractive still allows you to move through society without suspicion of being a slut. It does, at least, allow you to gauge the surface area of the soon-to-be blistered skin and know just how much of a whore you’ll soon be judged.
Then come the blisters, tiny at first but by the end of the day they look and feel like water balloons. The pressure build-up from the inside fluid is so intense that, should you prick one with a needle, you can spritz down the back of someone's shirt merely by pursing your lips. This, in fact, is generally what happens to people who feel moved to mention the word herpes in my presence.
There’s a popular radio ad for a product called Releev that claims to be able to cure this condition “in just one day.” Don’t you believe it. What you get for your twenty bucks is a little tube full of mysterious goo that is as effective for treating cold sores as a glue stick is at fixing amputated limbs. If you want to go cheaper there is the proven favorite Campho-Phenique which treats your problem through aversion therapy by assuming you’ll forget all about the fact that you have a fever blister if you run around smelling like moth balls.
The timing involved is invariably the worst--so much so I believe the virus is wired to the subconcious in such a way that when I know I'm going to be most socially prominent the pustules are simply willed into life. I would bet money I could be locked away, alone, in a remote cabin for years and never get a fever blister. The Unabomber probably never bought Blistex in his life.
One first date, though, and my lips will sprout what appear to be pepperoni slices before cocktails have arrived. I am at my most charming and suddenly my date's getting-to-know-you smile is replaced by someone watching a toddler get autopsied. The conversation awkwardly turns to getting tested. For everything. My new friend slowly slides their chair back as if six more inches distance will prevent them from being quarantined. Another date destined to end with a handshake.
I always do the worst thing possible and drain the blisters. I know it simply prolongs their presence, but I reach a point where I can't bear to be in public a second longer looking like I've got inflated condom tips growing from my skin. So I stand before the mirror with a needle I've sterilized by wiping on my pants and go to town. The fluid leaks all over and it appears my lips are actually crying over the way they look. Unfortunately, the now-stretched skin, not having all that pretty fluid to fill it up, hangs in tatters like a window treatment in the projects. So I tear it off, revealing raw, open flesh, and what do you know? My mouth has it's own little vagina and it's that time of the month. Now I really look like a freak. I could, I suppose, carry a supply of tiny band-aids with me I could curl around my lip to hide the soon-to-be scab, but that would only result in a hundred "What happened?" conversations which would be much worse than the usual, embarassed, looking away. I've tinkered with the idea of inventing stories involving highly theatrical bar fights or near-death spider bite episodes. But then most likely the pooling lymph fluid would ooze away the adhesive, revealing me to be both disgusting and a liar when the band-aid finally slides off and drops off into my soup.
I find myself trying to point the offending side of my face away from all possible viewers, so that I end up twitching around the room like David Byrne dancing. I can't imagine this works in the slightest. "That poor man," people must think, "He's hurt himself very badly or maybe had a stroke, in addition to his diseased, fucked-up lip."
The trouble with having a scab that feels like a manhole cover stuck to my mouth is that patience is not my strong suit. I always attempt to peel it off long before it's time has come, resulting in more fresh blood and having to start the healing process over from scratch. But at least I'm left with something, a part of me, I can turn sticky-side-up and put in the chairs of people I've seen giving me the herpes look. Especially if it's summer and they're wearing shorts.


  1. Crack on a stick, ChaCha, that's truly vile. So vivid that I'm hallucinating my own cold sores right now. I don't get those, but the story makes the ordeal seem unquestionably familiar. I feel the urge to cleanse and exfoliate.
    I do get festering pits inside my lips opposite my gums, but fortunately they don't show. They just sting, taste vaguely of iron, and relentlessly taunt my tongue into exploring them.

  2. Ok, right on the money with this one! Grossly funny and once again thankful I am no longer in reach in case I ever stared too long at your festering lips! And try that crap that's like $15 for a little teeny tube (of course I can't remember the name at the moment). Hubby swears by it and I even used it once and it did make it go away quickly!