“I’VE GOT SOMETHING LAYING EGGS IN MY SKIN AND THIS GUY IS ABOUT TO DIE ON ME WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE’S NO INTERSECTION OF WEST GULF AND EAST GULF I’M LOOKING AT THE SIGN!”
Michael is re-enacting a variation of the 911 call he made today and we’re laughing as we drive to Goodwill from urgent care. We’re laughing because that’s not the way it happened even though that’s the way it could have happened, and we are really, really glad there’s nothing laying eggs in his skin and that the man who fell out during his Segway tour today was merely dehydrated and not having a heart attack.
“I had a hard day,” he says, easing into the car and trying not to ooze on the leather.
“Yes, you did, baby,” I say, as I pull onto the road that will take us to the CVS where a dose pack of Prednisone is waiting for us with his name on it. He also needs loose-fitting clothes that will protect him from the sun and let his skin “breathe,” which is why we’re on our way to Goodwill. We buy three sets of scrub pants in shades of ER Green, ICU Blue, and First-Year Resident SeaMist.
For four days, we’ve been treating this growing, angry, blistering vesicular rash as poison ivy, and I’ve seen poison ivy, I’ve had it, and Michael has too–a lot–and so we did the whole Technu, Oatmeal Bath, Ivarest cycle, but the darn thing kept getting worse. And then it started to open. And ooze. And get crusty. I began to fear that the spider bite he sustained two weeks ago had somehow envenomated his bloodstream and he was having a delayed allergic reaction to the venom. Is such a thing even possible? I don’t know. I feel like I heard of that happening before, so I went with it.
He scratched in his sleep while I secretly pored over web pictures of poison ivy, spider bites (do not Google “images of brown recluse bites”), and poison sumac. After a thorough forty-five minutes of internet research, I diagnosed him, resoundly, with poison ivy. Thanks to the internet, anyone can have adequate medical knowledge.
The itching became so intolerable yesterday that I found Michael buck naked in the shower spraying his legs with Great Value All-Purpose Bathroom Cleaner with Bleach.
That was enough for me. “We have to take you to the doctor,” I say, and so off we go this afternoon to the Lee Convenience Clinic, where I was again reminded that Michael and I have the same form of insanity implanted in our imaginations, which has its pros and cons.
Everything was fine until we got in Room 5 and saw his condition under the clinical flourescent lights. What had looked like textbook poison ivy in our bathroom now looked like something out of a Stephen King novel.
“Eww,” Michael said, stretching around to look at the back of his legs. “It looks kind of worse under these lights, huh?”
“Ah, yeah.” I didn’t want to tell him that part of me felt like shrieking. We both remained understated.
Then Celeste came in to take his vitals and took one look at his legs and said “oh my GOD.” We immediately launched into our “poison ivy” routine and Michael and I both mentioned about the spider bite in case that somehow triggered the reaction and maybe there was a dual envenomation (when in doubt, use big words that sound in the jargon), and she said, “no.”
“What?” I say.
“That’s not poison ivy.” And it’s like, the way she said it, you know. As if there was some kind of worse diagnosis we lay people couldn’t even imagine that was often mistaken for something as common as poison ivy. As if, perhaps, we were in danger.
Michael and I are stunned. Not poison ivy? No. How could that be? And if that corruption all over his legs that was now spreading to his torso and FACE wasn’t poison ivy, what the hell was it? The thing on his leg, the Rash, instantly goes from being a friendly backyard mishap to a mysterious, possibly deadly, disease.
“Huh,” I say. “Well what do you think it is?”
She points at it with the eraser of her pencil. “That,” she says, “is scabies.”
Let me say here that Michael and I don’t actually know what scabies are. But we know that the word sounds like something horrible, something horrible that infests and feeds and pumps out wiggly white larvae and is like having leprosy.
Then the nurse-thingy makes it worse. “Oh yeah, look at those strings there” and she points to lines of bumps along his calves and inside his knees. “That’s definitely not poison ivy.” She looks at us over the tops of her glasses.
“What are scabies?” I say, although I’ve already made up my mind about them. Michael is now getting off the table and pacing around the tiny sink, grabbing at the hems of his shorts as if to squeeze the infesting parasites riddling his skin to keep them from spreading.
“They’re little bugs found in dark moist places, like under shrubs and stuff, which is why little kids get them so much.”
Michael has been working in the yard a lot, and removing Spanish Moss, so her theory is starting to gain traction with us. Now we are starting to fear Michael’s rash the way we fear alien takeovers. I am starting to hate the rash.
Before Celeste showed up to take his weight and temp, we were watching the open sore on his shin seep a clear golden fluid, like sap, and as Celeste has been talking to us about scabies, we’ve been noticing this particular river of ooze getting thicker, trickling towards Michael’s toes. “My guess is scabies,” she says. “But we’ll see what the doctor says. She’ll be in in a minute!”
“I think it’s poison sumac,” I say to the closing door. Then Michael and I are alone in the room. With the scabies.
Michael starts examining the back of his thigh in the mirror by the examination bed by lifting it up to his head and staring at the reflection. “Oh my God,” he says.
“I know!” I say.
“Do you think this is scabies?” he says.
“I don’t know! I don’t know,” I say.
“It’s. It’s. It’s.” Michael can’t really say what’s on his mind because that would mean we’d all have to acknowledge there are bugs inside of his skin laying eggs. And we’re both thinking it, but deep down I think we’re both holding onto the hope that it’s poison sumac.
“I’m just going to, you know.” Michael rips two or three Kleenex from the box on the counter and bends over to wipe off the bit of gore on his shin that we’ve been watching for the last ten minutes. Both of us think the goo is just going to wipe off, like a tear, or maybe like blood from a skinned knee.
But it doesn’t. When he tries to wipe it off, it STICKS, stays, and DANGLES from his shinbone like a cocoon, like a…worm. And in that moment the same terrifying thought crosses both our minds: the scabies are about to give birth out of Michael’s legs.
Neither of us spoke, but I can tell you that room was filled with a double silent scream. And I swear to you, if Michael could’ve unzipped his skin and run from the room, he would have. I do the only thing I know to do which is burst out laughing.
“Dude is that LARVAE?” I say.
“DUde! I don’t know! I don’t know.” Michael is about in the same place he was when he was spraying bathroom cleaner on himself, and I have to say that if there’d been a bottle handy, I might not have objected this time around.
So there we are, preparing to accept our new lot in life, that Michael is being eaten alive by scabies that are using him for food and as a birthing center, and we don’t know how we’re going to do this, but I suppose we’ve been through worse.
“I don’t want scabies,” he says.
“I know babe,” I say.
Then, for about six long minutes, we stare at each other and around the room, not looking at his legs, at the scabies larvae oozing out of them, at the rapid rate at which he’s being overtaken.
Soon the door opens and there stands Dr. Chervicki in her EmeraldMeadow MD scrubs complete with stethoscope, and she takes one look at Michael’s legs and says, “Oh my god!” Then looks at me and makes a “gag” face by squenching her nose and sticking out her tongue.
I can’t take it.
“Is it scabies?!”
“Oh. No way,” Dr. Chervicki says. “Look at it. That’s some kind of poison something.”
“Sumac?” I say.
“Who knows. It’s all the same.” Then she prescribes the dose pack of Prednisone, more Ivarest and oatmeal soaks, and perhaps a Benedryl at night so Michael doesn’t get groggy at work. We pay them $171.00 and head to Goodwill, where Celeste, who was happy to hear that her diagnosis was wrong (“I guess that’s why they pay her to take temperatures,” Michael remarks), and sent us to find cheap, lightweight, breathable clothes.
Now we’re home, and Michael is on the bed in his ICU Blue pants with Buckley, who goes for surgery next week, snoozing steadfastly by his non-scabie-babied legs. I conducted more internet research about scabies, and they are absolutely nothing like Celeste describe neither are they anything like the Amazonian horror Michael and I concocted with our imaginations. Scabies are just skin mites although they aren’t particularly cute when magnified 800x.
So, I’m glad that I didn’t see the love of my life pull a live insect larvae from his shin bone today, and he’s glad, too. What I find interesting is that neither one of us considered any other possibility except that he pulled some living thing out of his leg. It reminds me of the time I came home and a box was on my doorstep. I thought for certain it was going to be a human ear. Instead, it was a cherry pie, dropped off by a new friend.
Perception is a funny thing, beloveds.
Night night. And night night scabies all over the world. I wish you had a different name.