The aqua package promised relief from the pain of arthritis – a mild roll-on designed to help reduce the discomfort of inflammation. I read the directions on the box – there was a warning that the medication might cause mild skin irritation or redness during the first few times of use, but would eventually subside over time. I figured it would be a tolerable inconvenience to douse the burn of the old lady.
I rolled the clear liquid over my knees and elbows to relieve the sharp ache that pulsed through my joints. A cool tingling skittered over my skin, but no redness appeared. A couple of hours later, I went to bed, sinking my body into the warmth of my heated mattress pad. I fell asleep in moments, drifting away into dreamland, no longer feeling the ache of my joints.
I bolted upright in my bed two hours later; something was terribly wrong. The pain in my knees and elbows had increased in intensity; a stinging, searing pain ripped over my skin, blazing over my kneecaps and elbows. I was on fire. I panicked, throwing the covers off, running to the bathroom, expecting to see a gruesome scene from a Stephen King novel. My elbows and kneecaps glowed a brilliant red under the bright lights of the bathroom. I poured cold water over a washcloth and saturated my knees and elbows, trying to extinguish the fire on my skin. My muddled brain tried to comprehend what happened; I caught sight of the new roll-on lotion I had applied a few short hours earlier. I grabbed the box, ripped out the folded instructions inside and skimmed over the pamphlet, looking for anything that would explain this horrid reaction. Towards the bottom of the page, I found a paragraph with a warning not to use this medication with the application of external heat – such as a heating blanket…
I spent the next half hour washing my knees and elbows with cold water and soap, muttering obscenities under my breath. I covered my raw, red skin with cooling antiseptic. I turned off my mattress pad, and waited for the heat to subside and for my aggravated elbows and knees to recuperate.
In the morning, I woke with no trace of the scarlet hue that plagued me in the middle of the night. I walked into the bathroom and came face to face with the offending lotion. It stared at me with one round eye, daring me to try again. The image of my burning skin came flooding back; with one smooth motion, I swept if off the counter into the garbage.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.