British cricket fans will be doing a whole lot of sweating this weekend – or maybe West Indian. Hmmm…
But let’s just make one thing clear. Have you ever seen a pig sweat? Me neither. I think people just like to give pigs a bad name. Just saying.
Hyperhidrosis is the proper medical term for excessive sweating. We know sweating is a natural cooling mechanism. Some people don’t like exercise because they hate to sweat! Well, we’ll deal with that some other time. But do overactive sweat glands create medical problems? Before you answer, consider Melissa. She was my son’s high school classmate in Ohio. I recalled Melissa to be painfully shy as I came across her name on the appointment calendar. When I extended my hand to greet her, she kept her arms tightly folded, but I insisted.
“Whoy!” I thought. Her limp hand was like a wet washrag! There she was, this frail, pale white girl, perched on the examining table with that poor-pity expression. I constantly had to ask her to sit up and speak up.Then Melissa showed me a picture in her school uniform. There were humongous sweat stains under her armpits – almost extending down to her beltline!She admitted having to change blouses a couple times during the school day. Never heard of such a thing before. Ailas! No wonder she developed such a severe inferiority complex. Today, Melissa is by far, one of my happiest patients ever. She could kiss the ground I walk on because I found the solution to her sweating problem.
Actually, she did. I simply aided and abetted. But don’t tell her that. She’ll fight you! Let’s come back to that fascinating medical mystery in a moment. Suffice it to say, antiperspirants are next to useless for such patients. (Of course, make sure you’re not using just a deodorant). There are other medical treatments for sweating such as Botox armpit injections, ionophoresis (which requires special equipment) and even surgical removal and grafting of armpit skin. World-renowned Cleveland Clinic next door had just pioneered Endoscopic Thoracic Sympathectomy. This is a minimally invasive (laser) chest operation through tiny incisions to interrupt the nerves along the backbone that control armpit sweating. Melissa agreed to invest in this expensive operation and I set about arranging pre-admission testing (P.A.T) for surgery.
I can tell you that on my mother’s side of the family, we don’t perspire – we sweat! I mean, really sweat. Handkerchief would be useless after one wipe. I remember when Ma’ would drag me along to market in the blazing sun. She was one of the first people I knew to carry a washcloth. People would say we sweat a lot because we had rich blood. Whatever.
When I went to study in the States in 1977, many black churches in the South had no air con. The typical preacher mounted the pulpit with Bible in hand and face towel on shoulder. He would regularly pause to wipe off as he stepped up the cadence of his energetic sermon. So much so, a famous, white, fire-and-brimstone preacher from Columbus Ohio, Rev Rod Paisley, would preach with a BATH towel on shoulder – just to emulate black preachers. Noticing he want!
Some have speculated that younger Dominican women powder their necks white to show that they are not sweaty, but rather all clean and nice. I’m not sure if this practice has died off in other islands, but it is one that seems to be holding strong in the Nature Isle.
Nevertheless, I could sympathize with Melissa. Back in my Georgia college days, I wanted to introduce myself to charming, giggly twins named Diane & Jo-Anne Pilgrim. I got frustrated because the situation never seemed right. One day, outside the cafeteria, I pounced. I summoned my courage by telling myself “Okay stud, we going in!”
I boldly extended my hand. “Hi. I’m Sammy!”
She shook my hands in that gracious Southern way. Suddenly, she wiped it on her skirt with words that pierced my heart. “Oh Sammy, your hands are clammy…” I somehow ended up becoming best of friends with the Pilgrim twins. But let me tell you, back then, I seriously feared I would never become a doctor because of this handicap. However, as I became more assertive, I learned how to manage that – but not Melissa.
Fast forward to 2002. The Internet was just coming on stream in those days. I remember as if it was yesterday when Melissa excitedly told me how she happened to be on chat room with a Black soldier, who, at the time, was driving a tank in the First Gulf War. He had mentioned this urinary incontinence medicine, which had proven so helpful to his sweating problem. Melissa was eager to try it. I agreed. It worked. We canceled the surgery. That medication changed her life!
Oxybutynin, (brand name Ditropan) does not cure hyperhidrosis. But it really suppresses sweating for season. This is a classic example of a drug side effect which actually turned out to be a good thing. Learn to control inter-personal nervousness and you too will become unstoppable. But there may be special occasions when you may not feel like powdering your neck. You may not want sweat to ruin your make-up prematurely and cause you to be all hot and sticky. Now you have options.
If Melissa knew anything about cricket, she would bet West Indian cricket fans ‘ain’t sweating this Sunday. If our Under-19 team could win their world championship, our Women sure can beat Australia –and our Men? They’ll take care of England!
Dr. Sam Christian is surgeon who runs the Urgent Care on 137 Bath Road. It offers general medical care, office surgery and acupuncture. Major Christian is Medical Officer of the Dominica Cadet Corps, Medical Adviser to the Dominica Cancer Society and the Grotto Home for the Homeless. He can be reached at 440-9133. For more information, click on the Urgent Care Website urgentcareda.weebly.com