Dr Smiter and the $70 jar of zit cream

The good news is, it’s not skin cancer.

The bad news is that I got hosed. Big time.

Defense against Things That Go Bubble.

The story goes like this: about a month ago I noticed a tiny patch of dry skin above my eyebrow that simply would not heal. Having been a lifeguard as a teenager, in the days before sunscreen was really talked about, I am always alert for anything on my person that resembles skin cancer.

(This is not to be mistaken for garden-variety hypochondria, I hasten to add: I am fair-skinned, blue-eyed, and fair-haired [well, under the grey] and as such am a prime candidate for Things That Go Bubble.)

Anyway, after a month of applying moisturizers to no avail (and quietly imagining worst-case scenarios involving face transplants and deathbed confessions), I made an appointment to see the doctor.

My regular doctor being on maternity leave, I was seen by her locum, who (typically for Ontario) kept me waiting for more than an hour, then took a brief look at my “complaint”, said “No, that’s not anything to worry about,” and sent me off with a prescription for an “antibiotic” in my shaky little paw.

Don't call me in the morning.

“This is what Dr S. [my regular physician] always prescribes for things like this,” she added reassuringly.

Reassurance, however, was in short supply at the drugstore: “Oh, we’re out of this and will have to order it in,” said the pharmacist mysteriously. “We may be able to get it for you late tomorrow,” she added in the hushed tones of one selling yellow-cake uranium out of the family Toyota.

Summoned back the next evening, I presented myself at the pickup counter and grew wide-eyed with dismay as the pharmacist opened her fridge, extracted a very large plastic pot of something-or-other (“Convenient new larger size!” says the jar, cheerfully) in an equally outsized bag, and handed it to me with a bill for seventy bucks.

As a freelancer, I have of course no drug plan (or health insurance, come to that) and as I began resolutely to hack off the part of my right arm that would serve as payment, the clerk informed me that I would now have to wait for “counselling” from the head pharmacist.

(I once had “counselling” from a similar entity who held my Ventolin puffer refill away from me, like a cookie from a naughty child, and sternly inquired, “You are before having this pill?” But that’s a smite for another day.)

Anyway, I stood glumly at attention, holding the stump of my arm, listening to the many and varied instructions for this magic pot of elixir, and nodding dimly in the manner of one condemned.

HOW much did you say this costs?!

“Must be kept refrigerated.” Check.

“Apply only a tiny amount.” Check… wait, so why the bloody enormous vat of it?

“Highly perishable and it expires in three months. You must throw out any of it that remains.” (So basically I’ll use $2.00 worth and bin the rest? Fantastic!)

And… “It’s benzoyl peroxide. So wash your hands after you touch it.”

Wait — WHAT?

“This is ZIT CREAM??” I croaked.

“Well, yes,” said the pharmacist, mildly annoyed. “It’s used for acne.”

There was a very, very long moment as I stared darkly at her, my eyes blazing in my very, very acne-free face.

However, there was no turning back. I stumped gloomily out of the store with my investment a few moments later, muttering dangerously (and thus fitting in nicely with the rest of the people on that stretch of the Danforth), and drove myself home, still muttering, where I proceeded to Google the substance in question.

Yup. Zit cream. Sold over the counter as, say, Solugel, for about $12 a tube.

My next "prescription," I'm guessing.

Aside from the fact that this concoction will ultimately dry out my patch of dry skin even further (prompting another trip to the doctor who will probably then prescribe a $200 tube of Jergens lotion to re-moisturize it), there are a couple of lessons to be learned here.

First, if you’re handed a prescription, look at it and ask the doctor what the substance is that he or she is prescribing. Had I done that and been told “zit cream,” I would have had an awful lot of questions for her, starting with “Have you had your eyes tested lately?”

(But seriously, if your doctor knows you don’t have a drug plan, sometimes they will give you samples of whatever they have on hand, rather than making you drain your bank account. It’s always worth asking.)

Second, it’s worth Googling the drug in question before you hand in the prescription slip at the pharmacy, or at the very least asking the pharmacist what you’re getting before s/he fills the prescription and there’s no turning back.

This is NOT to say “become the difficult, annoying customer from hell” (because, after all, they know where you live) but rather to say that you need to ask questions because sometimes there are options — generic brands, for example, or over-the-counter versions.  Many pharmacists ask these questions themselves (“If you don’t have a drug plan, may we substitute the cheaper generic version?”). Mine didn’t, this time.

Anyway, what’s done is done. I now have a HUGE tub of expensive, perishable zit cream in the door of my fridge, and a sour taste in my mouth (although admittedly that’s partly from the lemon slices in all the gin-and-tonics I’ve had to consume to soothe my mangled pride).

However, I am nothing if not generous in my misery: if you, dear reader, should find yourself in possession of a brace of pimply teenagers, or are suffering the after-effects of too much candy and cola (or hormones) yourself, have I got a bargain for you.

You know where to find me — I’m the hunched, twitching figure, back-lit by the light from the fridge, fondling the overpriced jar of acne lotion.

Yessssssss, my preciousssss.

Look, Mum -- no zitsssss!

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