Years ago there was a commercial—at least, I think so, because I can’t find it on YouTube, which is, of course, the repository of all things ephemera—that involved a nosey neighbor who wore white gloves. She would come to visit, and while her hostess wasn’t looking, check to see if there was any dust on the furniture by swiping a tabletop with one of her gloved fingers. Heaven forbid if she found a smudge and you failed The White Glove Test. Your reputation as a proficient homemaker would be ruined.
That was, of course, back in the day when women wore white cotton gloves to go shopping and white kid gloves to a cocktail party. My mother used to outfit me and my sister in white cotton gloves, black patent leather shoes and roll brim hats with grosgrain ribbons that dangled down our backs when we went into New York City for an outing. You could walk into any department store and find a variety of fine gloves for every occasion, and a saleswoman who knew how to fit you.
No more. So when I recently had the brainstorm to use white cotton gloves at night to relieve my ulcer-ridden fingertips from the bandages that have begun to shred my skin like cellophane—an insidious problem that seems to have arisen from some kind of reaction to the adhesive in the only bandages I can tolerate otherwise—I went online.
This is why I love the Internet. Type in a phrase like “white cotton gloves,” and you discover a variety of options plus an anthropological snapshot of how our culture has evolved from the formality of the early ‘60s to our denim-casual style of 2013. No dress gloves in the top ten. But you can find white cotton costume gloves from party stores and white cotton gloves from parade uniform suppliers.
Dress-up resources aside, the best option, for my purposes, were white cotton gloves from a photography supply site for handling archival film and other materials that shouldn’t get smudged by the natural oils in your skin. The kind of oils I don’t have enough of to keep my fingers lubricated and my skin elastic.
These lightweight gloves cost about eight bucks for a dozen pair. They are so thin, I can text with them on my iPhone. And they’re hand-washable.
Best of all, they seem to be helping my skin to heal. My new routine at night, after I shower and bandage any ulcers that are open wounds, is to slather my other fingers with a really good moisturizer, dip the most delicate tips in Aquaphor ointment (which I’d normally bandage for protection from overnight cracking) and pull on the gloves.
It feels absolutely luxurious to get out of those bandages, even while I sleep. And the treatment is working. In just a few days, I went from seven heavily bandaged fingers to four. This is a major accomplishment. Especially in January in New England.
If I’m not going out of the house, I can even cut back to two bandaged fingers, and either wear hand lotion under a pair of the white cotton gloves to protect my fingers while I type (I cut down the fingers on one pair and stitched them on my sewing machine to fit my stubby fingers for day use), or swaddle the most sensitive tips in white cotton-polyester finger cots—like little white socks for your fingers, which I also found online.
Now, you may ask, why didn’t I think of this before? I’ve spent a small fortune on bandages, ointments and dressings to protect my fingers over the last 30 years. Honestly, I don’t know. Probably because I’ve been so focused on finding the right bandage that it didn’t occur to me. Also, my finger skin is extraordinarily fragile because my circulation is lousy, even with medication. And I’ve had far too many infections. So I’ve always erred on the side of overprotection at the first sign of damage. What spurred this latest experiment was a conversation with a wound care specialist. When I showed him my shredding skin, he said you need to get out of the bandages. His ruminating about silicon finger protectors got me thinking about low tech solutions, and here I am.
The system is not foolproof. Of course, nothing with scleroderma can ever be that simple. I have to continue to be vigilant, to catch any skin cracks or scaling, and just keep moisturizing during the day. The finger cots really help with this, because I can moisturize any damaged skin, slip on the cot, and keep going.
Right now I’m typing with four bare fingers on my right hand. One, my ring finger, has had an ulcer that has refused to heal for at least six years. I’ve gone without a bandage or open sore on that fingertip for over a week. In January. In New England.
So, miracles can happen. I’ll continue to bandage up against dirt, bacteria and the elements when I go beyond my doorstep. And I know that my ulcers will continue to wax and wane. But at least I can get some relief at night. And who knows. Maybe white cotton gloves will come back in style someday.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.