by Liz Smith | bio

I know I’m supposed to always be full of gossip, entertainment and good cheer. But what I am these days is a medical “expert” on what can happen in menopause to the old immune system when it fails in small, but not deathly, ways. I have the minor irritations of both psoriasis and peripheral neuropathy.

The first is scaly, itchy reddened patches of skin where the skin actually begins multiplying twice or three or four times as much as normal in spots anywhere on the body. It’s rather like runaway multiplying cells that cause cancer, but it is not fatal — just unattractive.

For years the late Johnny Carson on the “Tonight Show” would speak laughingly of “the heartbreak of psoriasis.” Finally somebody told him that psoriasis isn’t a laughing matter to anyone who gets it and he stopped. It can be really horrible and debilitating, as when it spreads over joints and people have to be hospitalized.

The only workable Rx I have ever even heard of against psoriasis is something they developed to fight leukemia. It didn’t work against leukemia but it did help psoriasis; it was such an extreme medication, however, that I don’t think it is in use.

The second annoyance is the dying of the nerves in my toes and feet. This is peripheral neuropathy. These feet? My dancing feet? My Fred-and-Ginger-famous feet? Well, frankly, they’ve become a big pain in the ass. But I am one of the lucky ones. I don’t have neuropathy in my hands.

And although neuropathy means your nerves are dying, it does not affect circulation. I still have excellent circulation in arms and legs. Plus, if I keep socks and shoes on, I can sometimes forget my ailment, which is a little like having one’s feet “go to sleep.” I frequently get up in the night and walk and stomp around my bedroom.

It is at night when I am barefoot that I suffer from the tingling, horrid feeling that my toes are dead or dying, and I have a sensation that I have layers of cardboard attached to the soles of my feet. (Sleeping in cashmere socks helps, but not enough.) Wearing flat, larger, more comfortable shoes and having bi-monthly pedicures helps. In fact, the experts say that one of the biggest obstacles for all of us as we grow older is a lack of attention to the feet. They recommend bi-monthly pedicures or visits to a podiatrist. If you can’t do it yourself, someone else must do it.

Sometimes I gaze lovingly at the Manolos and Jimmy Choos in my closet, but I can only stumble out in them now on very rare occasions for a few hours and not much actual walking. And I suffer torments when I take them off. I fear high heels and I have had it.

Medicine has help for these two ailments but they are palliative. There is no known, positive cure for either. I have had acupuncture and every ointment known to man, along with spritzes, sprays and ultraviolet light for the big P. Only needle injections of very small doses of cortisone help psoriasis. But it usually returns a few weeks later — if not in the same spot, then somewhere else on the body. It seems to like my scalp best. And, like Woody Allen, I sometimes say, “Why can’t dandruff be black because we’re all wearing black?”

Also, I find the longer I have tried to lick neuropathy, the steadily worse it becomes. A woman sufferer I met on Martha’s Vineyard said to me, “I feel like I have on anklets when I have no shoes and socks on.” Mine isn’t that bad. But it isn’t a lot of fun and it comes on so gradually you just might get used to it — like an old friend.

When I see the things other people suffer from, I am loathe to complain. The glass is still half full for me. I just have to steady THE GLASS between my scalp and my feet.

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  • Melissa Brown February 14, 2008 at 8:47 am

    Liz, a friend of mine pointed me in your direction, as we share the same growing up roots in Fort Worth, Texas. You might have know my family, specifically my mother (Alice Marie Shannon) and aunt (Ollie Shannon), or even Jack or George.
    I really appreciate your humor, honesty and candor regarding life in general, as well as your own personal experiences with psoriasis and peripheral neuropathy. This kind of stuff isn’t for sissies.
    Since my mother passed away 3 years ago, I’ve been scanning old photographs, documents and diaries, some of which I’d never laid eyes on before. This spurred me on to start a journal of my own life growing up in Fort Worth. I’d told myself that this was for my siblings (10 of 11 still living), my daughters and my grandchildren; and a way to pass this information along in a more organized way. Actually, I found that I’m doing it mostly for me. That was a surprise, but it’s also given me huge insight and much pleasure to write.
    I intend to read you daily now, and hope that you might enjoy some of my stories posted in the site below:
    Thanks so much for your contribution to my entertainment and enjoyment in reading.
    Melissa Brown

  • Beth Camp February 2, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    Thank you, Liz, for showing your readers how to gracefully face the challenges that occur when parts of us don’t quite work like they used to. Your humor and practical discussion is encouraging. I remember feeling somewhat stunned when my toes began to tingle. My doctor used a feather to test my toes, and I was told the source could have been thyroid, diabetes or idiopathic. My luck — idiopathic, so no underlying cause that could be determined. But, like you, I’m lucky the neuropathy is only in my feet, and so I take my daily alpha lipoic and hope for the best. May your feet take you wherever you wish to go! Beth

  • Laura Sillerman February 1, 2008 at 10:02 am

    Brava for being such a brave broad and sharing these private burdens.
    Neuropathy is a big topic in my household and we are convinced it is yet another reason for supporting and encouraging stem cell research.
    Beyond that, there is evidence in a study done in Denmark of a connection between statin drugs and peripheral neuropathy. That might be something to check with your physician.
    Most important is that we all know a good attitude is the very best prescription for overcoming symptoms and you, lovely, courageous and brilliant woman, certainly have that.
    Laura S.

  • Carolyn Hahn January 31, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    LIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I feel for you. My father (75) has both psoriasis (unsightly, uncomfortable, not easy to get the medicating cream on, he says) and peripheral neuropathy. He’s not a whiner, and he’s almost done hiking the Appalachian Trail on weekends, but…mortality looms.
    I am about to go to England with him for a week. My husband will stay home avec les chats, my stepmother will stay home and tutor Russians, and I am so glad to have time with my dad. I hate that he has to go through anything uncomfortable about aging (needing naps, not liking to be out driving at night, these weird little things like the neuropathy) but I’ve learned so much from him and maybe he has learned a few things from my wonderful stepmother (85) and from me.
    Even the things he hated a few years ago (fatigue, needing naps) turned out to be from meds…question everything!
    Thanks for this post, Liz.