Getting Burned – The Blue Light Special

22 04 2008

I’m working from home today, in part because nobody would want to see me in my current condition. My face is bright red in spotchy patches. I cannot touch my skin, it burns so badly, and I have to be heliophobic for the next 48 hours — in other words, I have to stay out of the sun. The reason — I had photodynamic therapy (PTD) on my face yesterday.

That is the cost of growing up in a sunny climate (Colorado) with a fair complexion. After awhile, you get so many actinic keratoses (not sure if that is the right plural, but they are the pre-cancerous skin cells that the dermatologist likes to freeze off when they are few and far between) that only a more generalized treatement will work. What’s it like?

First, your skin has to be thoroughly cleansed. The clinic I went to (Straub, in Honolulu) used an acetone wipe. Then your face gets wetted down with a substance known by the trade name of Levulan, or aminolevulinic acid (ALA). Precancerous cells grow more quickly than normal cells, and they are thirsty for the amino acid that gives ALA part of its name. That will shortly lead to the downfall of the AK cells, who in this case suffer from gluttony. The first part of the PTD process takes five minutes at the most, then you get sent away for an hour and a half of “marinating.” The ALA has to soak in, and meanwhile, you have to stay out of the sun. Fortunately, it was just coming up to lunch time, so between lunch and a good book (Earth: The Sequel), 1.5 hours was easy to kill.

The remaining ALA is rinsed off the face, then comes a pair of yellow swim goggles and a space helmet — a U-shaped wrap-around blue-spectrum sunlamp. I had a small fan that blew in my face, and a spray bottle full of water that I could use to keep myself cool, and the radio running in the background to keep my mind off the sharp pinpricks that started erupting all over my face. For 16 minutes and 40 seconds (exactly), I sat in this contraption listing to Don Maclean sing about American Pie. And meanwhile, my face was turning into a mince-meat pie.

When the egg timer goes off, the blue-light special is done, and so am I — well done. I leave with instructions to avoid sunlight for 48 hours, use sunscreen for four months, and itching and peeling over the next several days. The first two days of that feel like a bad sunburn … can’t touch my face, can’t pucker, can hardly open my mouth wide enough to slide a bite of food past my teeth. But I must say, it’s better than the alternative.

I’ve had all sorts of people say, “You’re a naturopath, why don’t you use a natural cure? I heard about some kind of tar you put on a precancerous spot …” and so forth. Well, maybe there is some tar that works naturally. But I would have been tarred and feathered from the top of my bald head to the bottom of my chin, and then some, in order to cover all the spots. That’s the thing about natural remedies … the best ones are those that are preventative. Once something starts up, you have to weigh the alternatives. There is a ledger that balances between effectiveness and expediency, between an ideal lifestyle and the need to carry on with daily life. In this particular case, the dermatologist’s therapy came out on the positive side of the ledger, even if my face does look like hamburger for a couple of days.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: