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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part two of a series of excerpts from “The Monsanto Papers.” Read part one.
Lee wouldn’t think about the sprayer accident again until many months later, when an odd-looking scaly lesion popped up just above his right knee. It itched and cracked and oozed. As time passed, the patch near his knee was matched by another on his arm. And another on his torso. Small bumps the size of BB pellets sprouted out of his skin.
Lee changed the laundry soap and dryer sheets his family used and tried an assortment of creams, but nothing helped. Dread grew with every new spot that erupted. Eventually, nearly Lee’s entire body, including his face and scalp, was covered in painful sores. Some became infected, including one on his head.
As his condition progressed, Lee’s once unmarred skin broke open at the slightest touch in some places, and wearing clothing became almost unbearably painful. A lesion even developed on one of his eyelids, making it impossible for him to open the eye without grimacing in pain. The softer the skin where the lesions sprouted, the more searing the pain, Lee learned.
Strangers started to stare when Lee went out. His sons’ friends asked if he’d been burned in a fire or suffered from some disfiguring disease. “What’s wrong with your dad?” became a common question for Ali when Lee attended a football practice. He took to wearing long sleeves, long pants, and large sunglasses in public, hoping to avoid the pitying glances from strangers.
In the early stages, when the skin eruptions were fewer, flatter, and less painful, Lee could still sometimes tell himself they might just be part of a weird rash. He kept going to work as usual and kept doing his regular rounds, including spraying weed killer. He convinced himself that the skin problems would resolve themselves, just as the bee stings and bloody scrapes he suffered on the job always had. But when the sores spread to his face, Lee had had enough.