My Affair With Transdermal Patches / 27 November 1998

It all started when I woke up with crippling back pain. It was just like that time back in school when the gang thought it’d be a hoot to give me local anesthetic and plunge industrial-grade acupuncture needles into “funny” sensory locations on my brain’s topography. And sure enough, when I woke up everything was in black-and-white and my knees were itchy and my back hurt and I couldn’t get the taste of wild strawberries out of my mouth. Ha ha. So I thought maybe there’d been another prank played on me and I tried to be good-natured about it, not get all pissy and give whomever the jokester was a sense of cheap satisfaction, but after a while I had to let out a few small yelps of pain.

I could barely move. Had I accidentally cracked my spine whilst thrashing around in bed to that one dream where I was practicing my robot dance for a large crowd of Mink Stole lookalikes, all propped up on wooden legs and not particularly enjoying my display? Was my back simply not used to my new, sexy mattress, a sleeping surface that actually gave way to a body’s contours, unlike my recently-disposed-of futon? My infirmity started to concern me because I live alone and all of my neighbors within shouting distance had long since learned to ignore any unusual noises coming from my apartment. Would it be possible to throw some sort of projectile — a pillow, remote control, something — at the phone on the other side of the room and knock the receiver off the hook, then find other projectiles — a shoe, deflated love doll, July issue of Better Homes and Gardens (but a sampling of the uncatalogued detritus that forms a thick moat around my bed) — to fling at the phone until a serendipitous number was dialed, allowing me to scream for help?

Then my back felt a little better so I got up and went to work.

But still, it killed for days and days! I knew for a fact that it couldn’t be some exercise-related injury. Perhaps my spine was simply fed up with the 5-7 solid years of being in either a sitting or prone position, and was crying out for some variety. The way I hobbled around and howled whenever I had to look over my shoulder while driving made me feel old. I started shaking my fist at the air. When I actually began to feel animated lightning bolts shoot out from my back, I knew it was time for some Doan’s Pills. Here’s what Doan’s Pills do:

  1. Jack, and
  2. Shit.

So I contacted my mother for advice, and sure enough she had a slew of exercises, tips, tricks, medications, and sailor’s prayers for me to try out. She especially sang the praises of Salonpas Topical Analgesic Pads which I’d never heard of but I figured were worth a shot. These pads are little white rectangles of tape that smell sort of minty, mentholy. All you do is stick them where it hurts, and they release some sort of pain-numbing medication right through your skin and into your body.

Now, those nicotine patches have been all the rage amongst pop culture pundits for a while now but I never really encountered one in person and so I never really thought about what they were, how they worked, or what their massive potential was.

Even though I adore the concept of pills, I’ve always been a little suspicious of them. How do they know where to go? My back hurts, so I’m swallowing a little capsule that’s going to my stomach? Where’s the sense in that? Same goes for liquids. But with the transdermal patch, you put the thing right where it hurts and sit back and wait for the healing to begin. Put the medicine right where it needs to go. Sure, it doesn’t really matter, but psychologically I feel like I’m doing something more productive, and illness is pretty much all psychological anyway, so, for me, that’s all I need (of course, now that I admit this to myself, the patch may not have the same effectiveness — shoot).

I’d be heartily surprised if transdermal patches didn’t crossover into other genres and become the hot new fin de siècle fad. They can easily be decorated with eye-catching colors or corporate logos, and embedded with just about any substance imaginable. Why spend all that time rubbing suntan lotion all over when you can just slap a patch somewhere and let the fluid seep through your pores (perhaps a new status symbol would be having a deep, rich tan with a small rectangle of pale, dead skin where the patch was)? Why go through the trouble of cooking a Thanksgiving dinner when you can put the turkey patch on your forehead, the stuffing patch on your gut, and the pumpkin pie patch on your ass? Why bother going to a sporting event when you can just buy a whole roll of Insta-Misanthropy?

There came a point, however, during the last week, when I realized that there may, perhaps, be a downside, as I found myself sitting in a food court, completely mummified in hundreds of Salonpas patches, floating on a beautifully ethereal cloud of anesthesia, blissfully disconnected from my corporeal self, but always wanting one more, one more to fully obliterate all physical sensation.

Previously / Epileptic Aether
Next / Fifteen Stories

Joshua Green Allen

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