Ever since the children were little, we’ve generally gone on holidays which have involved chucking everything in the boot of the car and just driving until we reached our destination. Initially the car was stuffed with car seats, potties and travel cots and obviously over the years this has changed and most recently involved a full size cello and a raclette.
Back in the early days, my husband and I were well versed with night shifts and easily managed the 12-14 hour drives overnight, taking it in turns so that we drove while the children slept. Now, the kids don’t sleep until long after we would like to go to bed so there is little point in doing overnight drives. However, the long day drives can be just as tedious and there is so much of whomever’s Spotify that you can listen to. So on the last long journey, we started listening to a history podcast called ‘You’re Dead to Me’ created by BBC Sounds which was absolutely fantastic and really saved the last 4 -5 hours or so of a very long drive.
We started off with The History of Ice Cream (fascinating bit about the Penny Licks!), then moved onto Zheng Yi Sao (girl power!) and then Mary Wollstonecraft (a major advocate for woman’s rights), of whom I had been totally ignorant up to the podcast. Following on from Mary Wollstonecraft, we then went on to listen to the episode on Mary Shelley (the author of Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus), seeing as she was Wollstonecraft’s daughter, and if you don’t already know, their stories are so unashamedly sad.
How does this pertain to dermatology? Well, it doesn’t really. But I did find it fascinating to hear that Mary Shelley had crippling eczema. It was said that her eczema was managed with poultices and bandages, sort of similar to the wet and dry wraps we sometimes use in severe eczema nowadays. There is comment on pustules which come and go, much like we see in recurrent episodes of bullous impetigo, and of course, there were no antibiotics or topical antiseptics in the early 1800s.
Mary’s rashes also seem to come and go. They seemed to come around the month of May on her arms, something not uncommon to those eczema sufferers who are tree or grass pollen allergic. She was sent to a boarding school in Ramsgate for salt water therapy and sea bathing seemed to help her condition. Indeed, many eczema patients nowadays comment that salt water baths help improve their eczema. Mary’s skin condition is not commented upon after the age of 15y so it might have been that she outgrew her eczema as we can also sometimes see happen.
How old is eczema? Eczema is clearly an ancient skin condition, having been reported in Roman emperors. However, there are little in the way of reports of it in Egyptian mummies presumably because the mummification process makes it very difficult to preserve the top layers of the skin. There is, however, one report of subcorneal pustules (a deeper inflammatory skin disorder) in an Egyptian mummy dating from 892 BC. How fascinating!
[Zimmerman MR, Clark WH Jr. A possible case of subcorneal pustular dermatosis in an Egyptian mummy. Arch Dermatol 1976;112:204-5.]
And now I’ve hopefully provided a little light relief (don’t we desperately need it?), I’ll try to stay on the theme of dermatology next month!
Dr Sandy Flann, Consultant Dermatologist