At the inside crease in the first joint of my right middle finger, a charcoal gray chip of calcium is working its way to the surface. This has been going on for months. But now the tip of the chip is visible, and if I try to budge it, the sharp edges pinch.
So I need to wait it out. Kind of like a tiny submarine that isn’t quite ready to emerge. If only it contained miniaturized scientists, à la Fantastic Voyage, on a mission to repair my immune system.
I’ve discovered over decades of managing calcinosis that it’s better to let nature take its course than try to pry these odd calcium stones from my fingers. For one thing, I can’t really grasp a pair of tweezers tightly enough to dig them out. For another, it really hurts to do this. And disturbing the skin increases the risk of infection. So I use a combination of Aquafor and antibiotic ointments, dressings and bandages to soak them out, gradually.
Most of the time, this works. Once, several years ago, I had to have a clump of calcium surgically removed from my left thumb because it was too painful and wouldn’t come out on its own. Turned out it was attached to bone. But that’s been the exception.
Patience. It takes a lot of patience to let your body heal itself. For scleroderma, there are no quick fixes or easy cures. And there are many aspects of this disease that won’t heal unaided, if at all.
But one of the things that continually amazes me is how my skin, abnormal as it is, still knows how to heal itself. It just has a much longer timetable than normal.
Many of my finger ulcers take months to heal; some have taken years. Some of them form because of hidden calcium deposits that begin to surface; others, at pressure points. And yet, they do eventually heal. Sometimes the skin grows back thicker and sometimes it retains flexibility. The ulcers may reopen, but at least for a while I’ll get a respite.
This week, I was surprised and very pleased to realize that two intransigent ulcers finally closed up—in fall, of all seasons. So I’m down to three bandaged fingers from five. This is a major improvement.
Whenever a piece of calcium finally pops out, I’ll roll it around between my fingertips, just to explore it. How does my body make these strange, pointy crystals? Some can be as large as an eighth of an inch in diameter and leave a small crater in my finger.
But once I’ve cleaned out the hole with peroxide and dabbed on antibacterial ointment and clean dressing, within 24 hours, my skin has begun to repair itself and filled in. It’s really quite remarkable. For all the strangeness of this disease, my skin cells still can repair some of the damage. This is comforting.
Of course, nature can use a bit of help. I take medications to improve my skin circulation, which is critical to healing. I’m vigilant and meticulous about skin care to minimize risk of infection. I change my bandages every morning and use ointment, moisturizer and white cotton gloves at night to aide the healing process.
I also try to be mindful of how I move my hands and grasp things so I don’t bang myself. I take extra precautions, like wearing cotton work gloves when cleaning or moving cumbersome objects, to protect my bandages and skin. And I dress carefully, often in layers, to keep my hands warm.
All of this takes patience, too. After 30-plus years of living with scleroderma, I’ve adapted to the rhythm of my body’s long healing process. Some days, I’m far less patient and rant. But as long as I’m not in any significant pain, I’m able to ride out the frustration and regain my inner balance.
Today, checking the calcium chip’s long journey outward, I’m just glad it’s located in a spot that’s mostly out of the way. Maybe in a month or so, it will slip free and my skin will heal over, once again. Until the next time.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.