Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Lip Veil


Years after the ordeal of the lip veil I wish I had a picture, but at the time I was too embarrassed. You see, I needed a lip veil because my lips fell off. I'll bet you're wondering how that could happen. Well, it's complicated. Before I explain, let me ease your mind: they grew back, eventually.
It starts with a hike in the Alaskan wilderness. The trail is overgrown with cow parsnip, a plant with flowers the size of dinner plates. They're so pretty, you'd never expect them to be poisonous.
My hands swish through the vegetation. Of course I don't think about it. I am looking at the view, well, what I can see through the cow parsnip.
Back at camp that night, I feel rain on the backs of my hands. The funny thing is, it's not raining.
And then the backs of my hands grow hot and (this is where things go horribly wrong), I bring them to my lips to cool them.
After that, my hands break out in tiny blisters, which swell and merge into bigger blisters.
In the morning, the same thing happens to my lips.
We are days from the nearest town. It's a little uncomfortable, but I'll manage.
Then it gets worse. The blisters burst and my raw lips ooze with pus. They are sticky and the gentlest touch cuts like a razor.
Talking, smiling, eating, drinking: all very difficult. When I close my mouth, the pus glues my lips together. Unsticking them tears off the skin in chunks like bloody little bricks. I carry on, mouth agape like a fish. I'm disgusted with myself. Also, it hurts.
I smear my lips with antibiotic ointment from our meager first aid kit, and to keep myself from swallowing the ointment I stick a hunk of gauze to each lip. No, I don't need tape. The pus and blood and Neosporin and chunks of lip harden into the gauze, holding it in place.
So I have a lip veil, and nobody has to see what I look like under my epidermis, and I can close my mouth.
Now, out in the wilds of Alaska, people are short on words, and plus, they've seen weirder things than a woman in a lip veil. After all, Alaska is where you go to escape mainstream society, so there's a certain amount of tolerance about these things.
A couple of days later, we stumble upon a general store at the intersection of two dirt roads where I purchase a drinking straw to help get liquids past my burning lips. Glory be! I can't smile, but I'm happy. The proprietor of this lonely outpost looks me in the eye and says, "Bunged your lip, eh?"
"Ungh," I reply through the lip veil. He nods, satisfied.
And I am grateful that I don't have to explain.

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