Monday, June 6, 2011

Chigger Please!

I both love and am, apparently, wildly allergic to summer. My eye surgeon says it's entirely possible that my cataracts are related to too much sun-- so there's that. But what's a girl to do when she grew up spending summers at the Jersey Shore, happens to be light sensitive (read: falls into depression without proper sun worship), and attended college in Florida? My school, USF, was known by it's popular nickname: The University of Sun and Fun. All dorms had built in pools out back and when I first arrived winter of 1983, a helpful stranger told me during registration that I mustn't ever sign up for classes between 10 and 2. I thought this was related to something academic until it was spelled out for me: those are prime tanning hours.

To this day, I swear I don't even have to step outside and still, starting in April, my skin just naturally turns brownish orange. I know, I know-- all that sun will kill me. And in recent years-- long after the horse was out of the barn (all those years of slathering myself in baby oil and broiling on the beach, those are the sun sessions that are going to take me down given the 20 year damage delay...)-- I am, by my standards anyway, more cautious with sun exposure. I now own over-the-glasses-sunglasses and a big straw hat, for example. And, even if it is just in the interest of keeping my tats bright, I will sometimes bother with applying sunscreen.

In April, Warren and I went camping at the beach for several days and I was caught off guard. The wind was whipping and the sky was overcast giving the false sense that the sun was not reaching our epidermal layers. It was and I accidentally overdid it, winding up with blisters from my burn. Ever since then, I have been itchier than I can describe, even though the blisters have long since vanished. It's not the first itchy summer I've had. In summers at least as far back as 1995, for no reason I can pinpoint, my arms just go nuts with the itch. Maybe it's pool chlorine. Maybe it's skin dryness. Who can say? All I know is that this year it's been worse than ever.

A nurse friend suggested I might have chiggers. Why hadn't I thought of that? I started googling around and, though it didn't make me itch any less, I was relieved to discover that chiggers are not -- as many believe-- larval mosquitoes burrowed under the skin. They're microscopic mites that stay on the surface, latch on, and start sucking. They don't want your blood. They want your pre-masticated skin tissue. There, don't you feel better about chiggers now? The itch comes when your body fights back. It's complicated and not worth going into, except to say that you can blame your own self for being itchy if chiggers are the cause.

I had some chigger spray in my medicine cabinet which I combined with ample doses of oral Benadryl to get me through the night. The chiggers (or whatever) are worst when I am trying to sleep. I don't think the Benadryl so much relieves the itching as it does distract you from it by powering dreams that are full of LSD-Lite hallucinations, magnificent anxiety-riddled scenarios, and a need to pee about forty times as you become more and more dehydrated.

When I ran out of chigger spray, I went over to CVS to procure more. I found products to stop every itch you can name: butthole itch, jock itch, athlete's foot itch, poison ivy itch, etc. But no chigger spray. So I say to the kid behind the counter-- the one stuck in town getting minimum wage this summer while his wealthier UT coeds are off to far flung destinations-- "Do you have any chigger stuff?"

You shoulda seen the look on his face. Clearly he thought I was trying to punk him and I knew he'd never heard the word chigger before. Nor did he want to hear it again. I'm with him on that-- it's a very bad word. It sounds entirely too much like that other word, one of only a handful that I ever go out of my way to avoid. In general, I cuss like a sailor with Tourettes Syndrome, and I always invited my son to do the same (at home), citing First Amendment rights. I told him there are no bad words, just words used for bad purposes, and he should let that be his guide. There were exceptions, and the n_word is top on that list.

So yeah, I felt bad for the CVS checkout clerk, and he was so uncomfortable I, in a rare moment of sound judgement, decided not to make things worse but going up and saying loudly, "Oh, wait, I'm sorry, I said CHIGGER..."

This all comes back to me now as last night I had another bout of middle o' the night itch. It was nuts. I freaked out. I wanted to tear my arm off. But now, as I'm sitting here, the itch is quiet. I'm not letting that fool me. I think I might have to go back on the Benadryl regimen.

Meanwhile, when I'm not contemplating running razorblades over my arm in order to facilitate sleep, I have other summer itch factors with which to contend. I'm wildly allergic to poison ivy, a fact I unfortunately discovered in 1988 upon rolling naked through a field of it with a lad of Norwegian descent. It was dark out and we were drunk so we had no idea... until we wound up in the hospital, our limbs swollen like Macy's Day Parade balloons, our bodies pumped with steroids.

I'm also incredibly allergic to insect bites. I carry an Epi-Pen just in case a bee decides to go after me and sometimes, at wedding rehearsals, I only half-jokingly let the groomsmen know where to find the Epi-Pen should I need a shot mid-ceremony. Mosquito bites flare up in ginormous red welts, a sort of sick, connect the dots circle of hell that would surely impress Dante.

And then there are the fucking fire ants. See that picture at the top? The other day at the pool, I felt this vicious pain ripping through me, looked down, and saw the swelling beginning. At first I wasn't even sure which type of bite I was dealing with, but later one of those disgusting whiteheads formed and then I had all the evidence I needed: ant bite.

Ant bites always take me back to a long ago summer in Galveston. Henry and I were packing up to head back home, and I had the car in the alley by the garage apartment where we were staying. The front passenger door was open-- I was loading stuff in-- and suddenly I felt a million points of flame. I looked down to see I'd stepped into an anthill and they were swarming my foot and ankle. I screamed and fell back, landing in the passenger seat. That wouldn't have been so bad except for the fact I had just placed a paper bag on the seat, a bag in which I had placed one of those souvenir dead blow fishes-- the ones covered in a million super sharp spines. So, yeah, ants ripping at my flesh while a blow fish gets karmic retribution by deeply impaling my ass.

Ah, summer.


Sue J said...

have you tried Chiggerex? It's wonderful!
Last camping trip I was covered from the knees down with chigger bites.......and apparently I'm allergic
People were freakin' out when they saw my legs!!!! LOL
I would have gone outta my mind without the Chiggerex someone gave me.
also if you throw a cup of bleach in your bath water, it's suppose to kill any critters you picked up camping

60schild said...

My experience with chiggers goes "waaay" back to Girl Scout camp in "waaay" South Texas in the summertime where we doused each other with some sulfur based powder...something as bad as the cotton doubt. Chiggers on the arms just doesn't make sense to me. The little beasties live in the grass, and this year,in my garden and crawl their way up your legs to nice tight where your underwear has elastic bands. If you see a nice red welt, coat it with fingernail polish or Chiggerid to smother the little devils.