Have you seen my furuncle?
Photo cred: Tim Dougherty
Cycling, and mountain biking in particular, is a sport wrought with danger. The risk of life and limb are a constant threat, and a trip to a medical facility is almost inevitable if you stay at it long enough. Broken bones, road rash, head trauma... all manner of things will see you lying on a gurney while a healthcare industry professional stares at your affected body parts and let’s out an audible “Tsk, tsk, tsk” under his/her breath. Nasty accidents can have the incidental benefits of sweet scars and even better stories, but certain conditions may force you to seek medical attention with little to no associated bragging rights.
I’ve been there, on the fresh white sheet of butcher paper, wearing the open back robe and a look of shame. When asked to lift my loose fitting garment, certain parts of me were moved aside, pulled, and tossed asunder in order to get a look under my hood. I know women are occasionally subjected to this objective treatment at their gynecologist’s office, but for me it was a totally new experience. It was hard enough to admit to the nurse what I was doing there, but the real moment of awkwardness came when my female doctor had my baby makers lifted high in the air to get a much closer look at my saddle sores.
This condition that cyclists often times suffer from comes in many varieties, and the terms used to describe the problem hardly make good dinner conversation; ischial tuberosity, chafing, folliculitis, furuncles, and ulceration. Fancy five dollar words with a Dr Seuss ring to them aside, we’re talking about an irritating bump on your nether regions that’s a direct result of the very activity that it hinders. I’ve been dealing with them for over twenty years, and I wish I had some good advice for you, but other than seeing a doctor to get a prescription for antibiotics or taking up knitting, your options are limited.
Some experts will tell you to take a warm bath. Supposedly the warm water will cause your capillaries to distend, increasing your blood flow, bringing the infection closer to the skin. This will “bring it to a head,” which is a polite way of saying that you will have a miniature volcano of pus on your taint. The whole process of soaking in the tub seems too indirect, a sort of passive resistance Gandhi type approach. I am not the kind of guy that can draw a hot bath, light some candles, turn up the Enya, and soak for an hour. As a multi-tasker, the whole idea seems like a huge waste of time. Since I read all my magazines within twenty-four hours of receiving them and I don’t want to drown a library book, I have looked at other options to entertain myself as I sit waist deep in bubbles. While soaking my furuncles, I have trued a wheel, mended worn out gloves, and even sorted the small parts tray of my toolbox. These tasks were made difficult due to my position in the tub, the proximity of my workspace in relation to the water, and the low, flickering light of the candles... though I did enjoy the Enya.
Although I know better, sometimes the frowned upon but most direct approach seems like the way to go. This involves a safety pin, a handheld mirror, putting a foot on the counter while standing in front of the vanity, and a steady hand. Poking, prodding, and squeezing are at the top of the “things you shouldn’t do list,” but desperate times call for even more desperate measures. Sometimes I get results, but most of the time I end up with a bigger problem than when I started. From personal experience I can tell you that you do not want to try this the night before a big race or a long ride. My success rate with this method is in the 10% range, and if there’s one thing that I’ve learned it’s that I’ll never learn. My only advice to you if you choose to go this route is to lock the door before you start. The last thing you want is for your significant other to walk in on you hunched over with your leg in the air, a mirror in one hand, and a safety pin in the other... unless you don’t mind putting your sex life on hold until she can remove the burned image from her retinas.
Right now, as I’m writing this, I have a plump sore residing in the chamois area of my backside. I’m not sure if it is of the ischial tuberosity or folliculitis type, but I do know that I’m leaving it alone now. Its presence is the direct result of an increase in saddle time and the rising temperatures of summer working in combination to create a swampy area where the wild things are. I’m not concerned as of yet, since my new friend hasn’t been around long enough for me to name it, and I probably have enough time between my bigger events to let it heal naturally. It’s way too soon to go down there with sharp objects, and since I can’t find my Enya CD, I’m just going to take the wait-and-see approach... for now.