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  • Jan Flynn

I’m Turning Purple!

Another gift of the aging process I wish I could return

My purple should look so good. Photo by Amin Alizadeh on

It’s happening more and more often. I come in from doing yard work, take off my gardening gloves, and there it is. A spot that I swear wasn’t there this morning.

It could be the size of a pea, or a quarter, sometimes a 50-cent piece. It’s not tender or raised, and I don’t recall getting a bump or scrape in that location — although, who knows; I was paying more attention to pruning or raking than I was to pokes from twigs or thorns.

The thing is, the spot is purple. Not just purple like a minor bruise: it’s a lurid, dark, winestain-from-a-night-you-wish-you-could-forget purple.

The spot sits there, on my hand or forearm, as unwelcome and impossible to ignore as a spider. It looks like it should hurt, but it doesn’t.

What it does do is piss me off. Researching it on Dr. Google definitely does not help.

“Benign, easy bruising that affects older adults” 

This is a condition that affects around 10 percent of people over age 50, with the percentage increasing with age. It’s no big deal from a medical standpoint.

But for a benign condition, it has a thoroughly insulting name: senile purpura.

As if the term “purpura” wasn’t off-putting enough, summoning as it does mental images of wormy, creeping decay. This purpura is senile. And sometimes it gets on me.


But my dermatologist remains unruffled. Since my purple spots — or lesions for which the proper term is ecchymoses (I haven’t researched the etymology but I’m thinking “icky, Moses!”) — are painless and restricted to my hands and forearms, they’re nothing to worry about.

There’s even another name for it: actinic purpura. Which is hardly more appealing, but at least it’s not senile.

Did I do something to deserve this?

Apparently, yes. For one thing, I’ve lived this long. And back when I was a spotless young thing, I had the audacity to expose my naked limbs to the sun.

If only I’d come into the world equipped with a 10-gallon drum of zinc oxide.

Also, I made a poor choice of parents, dermatologically speaking. My father had skin the hue and texture of tissue paper. My mother’s skin had a wee bit more melanin, but as she got older she too bloomed with alarming lividities on her hands and arms.

It’s even less fair that she was thus afflicted, because I promise you my mother never stretched her young hide out in the full sun, wearing nothing but a bikini and a coating of coconut oil laced with iodine, like her idiot daughter did.

In later years, when I was old enough to be concerned about my aging mother but not yet wise enough to know when to keep my mouth shut, her purple spots disturbed me.

“My God, Mom, what did you do to your arm?” I would say, when it looked like someone had tried to stab her with the wrong end of a knife.

“Oh, that?” she would say with her usual gentle calm. “That’s nothing. I just get those. They go away.”

Now it’s me reassuring my adult sons when they goggle with alarm at the lurid blots on my hand I’ve failed to conceal.

My mother’s purple spots did go away; so do mine

Actinic purpura (sigh) fade over a period of one to three weeks. Unlike typical bruises that turn other colors as they resolve, going from blue to green to yellow and back to whatever color you think of as your skin, these babies tend to turn brown.

From there, they may fade, or they may not. Like other whimsical markers of the aging process, they may go the eff away entirely, or you may find you’ve acquired another souvenir that’s here to stay.

And there’s not much to be done about it. There’s no actual treatment for actinic purpura (I’m taking a stand and refusing to call it senile).

There are things you can do, maybe, like apply topical retinoids to thicken your skin, maybe, to make you less susceptible. But then you have to deal with the side effects, which may or may not be worth it.

Maybe taking citrus bioflavonoids helps. Talk to your doc.

You will be told to use sunblock to prevent further lesions. Which is great advice, and you should do it.

If you’d done it 50 years ago, you wouldn’t look like somebody had squished a couple of Concord grapes on your wrist and left the skins there.

I suppose it’s another lesson in acceptance

The aging journey offers many signposts. Pretty much all of them share a message: let that s**t go. The perfect hearing, the bouncy joints, the flawless skin — they’ve had their turn.

Whether you’ve acquired qualities to take their place is up to you, pretty much. If you’re far enough along on the ride, you don’t need me to tell you that attitude and a sense of humor make a whole lot of difference.

I know that. But I can’t help but wonder: what’s next?

I’m not talking about another realm of existence after this one. I’m wondering what new non-returnable gifts the Age Fairy plans to bestow on me before all is said and done.

Disappearing eyebrows? Warts on my nose? Hair on my chinny-chin-chin?

We’ll see. If I’m still here to bitch about it, I guess I win.

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