Under My Skin: An Itching Memoir

I know I have an enviably high pain threshold. Getting a tattoo is more of an irritation than a breath-holding, white-knuckle, beet-red face challenge for me. Been there, done that—eight times now.  I learned of my threshold early on, which was heightened with every tree top that I scaled, and subsequently slid down. A summer’s day wasn’t complete unless I had a poison oak encounter, rusty barbwire lacerations, burrs in my hair and bark burn up and down my inner thigh.

Every Hide n’ Go Seek game provided a minor concussion or severe scrape of some sort from the farm machinery or barn rafters that I found spectacular hiding spots in. But the day I ran barefoot across the gravel driveway after Kiley and stepped directly on the flame-orange charcoal briquette heater, I knew I was near invincible. The electric coil was used to kick-start the briquettes in the hibachi, and most often set ‘safely’ on the driveway to cool. The sizzle and stick of that thousand degree cheater-heater on the sole of my foot nearly sent me to the moon. Certainly, it called off the chase after my sister, but I had to shake it off. Running across the gravel elicited enough yelps as is, and the short, picky, sun-bleached grass offered no reprieve. My solution (always in clever avoidance of a trip to the doctor or emergency room)? I filled up my cowboy boot with ice cubes and acted calm, cool and collected while I ate my steakette and gherkins with one foot threatening to catch on fire.

I can handle throbbing pain. I’ve had some spectacular bike wipe-outs that have left me with “boy scabs” as my sister calls them. You know the ones—girls playing with skipping ropes could never get a scab as big as their kneecap. The ones that fester and can be picked at all summer long until the skin below reappears as a shiny Pepto Bismol pink, are boy scabs by no other name. AKA:  the forever reminder of the sidewalk and the BMX dump that made me see silver stars falling out of the sky like snow.

When I commuted by bike to my massage clinic in Dunnville, I was routinely chased by farm dogs looking for cheap thrills. They’d pop out of the grassy ditch, all teeth and growl and lunge for my shoelaces. Fudge dumped me once. Blackie bit through my spandex with the reflective tape and sunk into my calf muscle, and another trio sent me over my handlebars. When I found myself flat-out on the country road, the dogs sat at the road’s edge to observe my slow recovery. I assessed each part for sensation and potential bone ruptures through skin. My elbow had no skin left on it, and my handlebars were rotated in a position that would be great for making permanent left turns. My elbow joint seized up, and the gravel-pocked gouge out of my knee had already seeped enough blood down to my ankle to turn my white sock raspberry. But, I cranked my handlebars back into place, apologized to the dogs in case I hurt any of them in my colossal fall, and rode to work, crying every bit of the way. I massaged five people that day with an elbow that looked like ground beef, in need of a super-absorbent maxi-pad to soak up the carnage.

So, I can take it. I can even laugh at such moments. Like the time I walked an hour home from the Royal York Hotel on a sidewalk that more closely resembled a skating rink. The snow was coming at my face like sewing needles. I stopped at the Wine Rack for a bottle of Ontario merlot, picked up an arty movie and had sugary visions of a rejuvenating night stretched out on the couch. I thought I should throw a load of laundry in, but living in a brownstone, there were only two washers and two dryers shared by fourteen units. Proactively, I decided to check to see if the machines were being used before hauling my laundry downstairs.  I took the first step to the lower level and flew down the next seven steps to the very bottom. I landed on my same elbow that never really recovered from the above-mentioned dog chase wipe-out. AND, I pissed my pants. Once again, I couldn’t unhinge my elbow as it took the initial impact in my quest to save the just-purchased wine. The second critical blow was apparently sustained by my bladder. I was wearing my tan cargo pants and I had pissed myself right down to my knees. Now I really had to do laundry, whether I wanted to or not.  I suffered greatly, and could hardly hear the movie for the heartbeat in my elbow, but, the laundry was done, neatly folded, and I carried on.

So, I think I qualify as a tough broad with titanium willpower to ignore slips and bites that would normally send the average person to triage. But, this itch issue that I have? I can’t stand it.

I’ve been itching since September, unable to pinpoint the source. My hands have been a constant, but sometimes I get a full-blown episode where the only parts that don’t itch are my eyeballs.

I’ve had chicken pox and poison ivy. I greedily ate some mystery orange in Costa Rica and karma smacked me with an open hand for not sharing with my fellow jungle volunteers. My whole face felt like it was flammable, and after an hour of unbearable itchiness, I lost complete feeling in my lips and tongue for about another hour. Apparently they’re called Fire Oranges, and they are not edible. Duh.

All natural itch remedy

On another visit to Costa Rica, my then-partner and I arrived late into a small town that had one bar and one ‘hotel.’ The room was a steal at $15 US, but with it came a bed full of bugs. Kate insisted that they weren’t bed-bed bugs, they were merely bugs that happened to be in a bed. She swept them away with her hand and insisted that after a few margaritas, I wouldn’t even care or remember. She was right. The tequila acted like an anaesthetic and became a wonderful coping mechanism for something that would have otherwise had me cocooned on the balcony in a mosquito net in a standing position.

When I begrudgingly went to my doctor, there was initial heavy-suspicion that I had simply become intolerant to massage oil. Ten plus years of having my hands immersed in coconut, grape seed, sunflower seed, jojoba and other essential oils was bound to have some recourse.

I was shipped off to see a dermatologist who kindly told me that as long as I continued to massage, I would continue to itch. She wrote out a hasty prescription for a steroid cream that might cause glaucoma. Great. I’d stop itching, but I might go blind. I consoled myself with thoughts of the massage college in Shanghai that teaches the blind how to massage. I could always find gainful employment there.

The dermatologist was naturally my last resort. I will always try every home remedy that someone’s  mother’s sister’s aunt swears by (this is why I ended up with a hot dog bun soaked in skim milk hockey-taped to my ass when I had parasites, and licked 9-volt batteries for good measure).  I bought some tar soap that was recommended for occupational eczema. It was black, kinda sleek-looking, but I smelled like a miner. All day long all I could smell was pennies, and it was me. Bleh.

Like a good hypochondriac, I consulted Google and Wiki. Someone’s mother’s sister’s aunt suggested soaking my hands in oatmeal because the colloidal properties of it would leach out the itch. I already felt like I was covered in leeches, so, I was game. I opened a pack of microwaveable maple-brown sugar oatmeal with walnuts, stirred in two cups of tepid water and soaked my hands for five minutes.  No I didn’t. An oatmeal soak? That’s just too messy.  I tried eating oatmeal cookies instead, but felt nothing.

I tried nettle tea, because someone’s mother’s sister’s aunt said it changed her life. Nothing. It just tasted like gerbil shit with a spoonful of honey. As a second-to-last resort I went to the Ten Ren tea shop in Chinatown. Surely I would find a magical cure there.

I told my story of woe to the tea shop owner who immediately plied me with a free sample of ginger tea and a candied hibiscus flower. I explained how I wished to have my skin removed from my body. How I was embarrassed to be seen in public because everyone was probably stereotyping me as a crystal meth user. I showed her my raw hands and claw marks. She eyed me suspiciously, like I was trying to cover up kinky sex with the claw marks that I had on my back.

“No tea for itch.” She suggested my liver might need a cleanse and pushed some rose petal tea on to me. She scared the itch right out of me when she told me that diabetics itched. That night, drinking gewurtztraminer instead of the grandma’s bath water rose tea, I phoned my help line (my mother), who reassured me that diabetics itch all over and have dry skin like a shedding snake. I couldn’t possibly just have diabetic hands. Because that’s where it started, my hands. And, after a week of massaging, my body and nerve ending s go haywire, as does the itch.

Les (who does NOT have worms in her eye)

“Do you think it might be some of your African friends? Or your jungle friends?” This is my dad’s polite way of asking if maybe I have parasites again. I relay the story to my brother Dax, who tells me of the latest lab horror story he heard about an individual who went to Africa and came back with a 10-inch worm in their eye. “Worse,” he told me, “it was a blood-borne parasite, so the guy had them not just in his eye, but probably in his organs too. Worms love to go to the heart and lungs.”

So, now I was diabetic with heart worm and possibly lung worms as well. Surely I would never be kissed again. Exasperated, I had to take my dermatologist’s advice and not work for a week to see if things improved (or if I developed glaucoma from the steroid cream). The itch diminished, but how would I ever be able to pinpoint the cause? If it was shrimp or cashews, life would be over.

I kept thinking of our childhood dog, Xanadu. He had such a severe case of fleas one summer that he actually ate all the fur off his back and tail.

Xanadu before the anteater stage

He looked like an anteater by September. If I close my eyes, I can still hear his teeth going in the wee hours of night, like distant machine guns. Biting, chewing, pulling every last bit of fur out of his back.

I needed oven mitts. I was waking up itching myself like a crazed person. I heard more horror stories– about people allergic to their own sweat (thanks Kathleen). About rashes induced from exercise (thanks Karen).

Was it my detergent? I stopped washing my clothes altogether. Nothing. It wasn’t my coconut shampoo—otherwise I would have pulled a Xanadu and removed all the hair from my head. I stopped splashing on my Burberry. No reprieve.  It wasn’t my deodorant. Was it my winter gloves and scarf? Was it a message from the universe that I should move to Bora Bora?

Exasperated, I went to the holiday party that the Body Blitz spa owners held at the Drake Hotel. I confided in one of the owners, saying that obviously I was allergic to meatballs, martinis and people with hair. The other owner came up to me moments later, quite concerned after hearing about my terrible allergy. Was it true? Meatballs and martinis? How random!

I’ve even narrowed my product use to Aveeno. Boring. I’ve moved on from smelling like a jar of pennies to a bowl of oatmeal. And I only use the Replenishing Light Massage Oil by Biotone at work, but it seems to just replenish my itch.

I continue to drink the stupid rose petal tea, which gives me greenhouse breath—but because it’s part of a liver cleanse, I’m still not sure if I am supposed to drink it before or after my bottle of wine.

Maybe it is my “African friends.” As I fall to sleep with oven mitts on my hands tonight, I can’t wait to dream about the 10 inch worm crawling out of my eye (the one with glaucoma).

If anyone has any brilliant ideas for the massage therapist apparently allergic to her career, please share. I am already eyeing a salve made from butter, cloves and juniper berries.

I’ve read that lemon juice works too. Which means tequila might be the cure-all. No need for the salt-shaker, I’ll just do shots and suck on my arm until I pass out.

Ten home remedies for itching: http://health.howstuffworks.com/home-remedies-for-itching.htm

The hot dog bun/parasite home remedy post: https://julestorti.wordpress.com/2009/07/20/dont-let-the-bed-bugs-bite/

Categories: The Kitchen Sink | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Under My Skin: An Itching Memoir

  1. Oh crap you’re still itchy! Horrible, horrible, horrible. What I didn’t see here was a visit to a witch doctor or a shaman! Worth a shot, I’m sure one of the tribes you’ve visited might assist you! Hmmmm I wish I could help you out and remember the drug they gave me to assist with the itch…wait a sec..it just came to me Panectyl. Google it.

    • jules09

      I did visit a medicinal garden in Entebbe, Uganda that had natural cures for everything–from elephantitis to prolapsed rectums. I should have plucked a few random leaves. Surely if the plants could resolve those things, they`d take away a nuisance itch! Thanks for your contribution and sympathies, Kathleen!

  2. I have really sensitive skin and everything makes me itch so I think we can conclude from this that you must also be JEWISH.
    Before I get my hands covered in glue and paint and other chemicals, I slather Mayron’s Barrier and Diaper Cream all over my hands
    It’s not all greasy, doesn’t smell barfy, and has kept my hands free of itchy annoyingness. I also take CLA (Conjugate Linoleic Acid) pills which my rheumatologist recommended. You can get those at the vitamin shop.
    If nothing else works, you could always find yourself a Sugar Mama.

    • jules09

      I think the Sugar Mama bit is the most realistic advice I have received yet. I have fielded many comments suggesting freezing all my clothing due to potential tropical mites, candida, bed bugs, stress, cocaine (but only after work), immunoglobin issues, career change urgings and even a location change to a more tropical clime. Sugar Mama and Turks & Caicos?? Yes, please.

  3. Dax Torti

    Oh, this was definitely the right way to start my day! Bark burn, I’m going to work that into every sentence I can today!

  4. Kay

    I had a dog named blackie! It was a border collie & loved chasing bikes.
    Once again I was enthralled with your phrasing “snow like sewing needles” love that!
    And I’m sitting here consumed with an incredible feeling of a million fire ants walking across my torso…. So thanks for that!!!

  5. itching crazed

    Well, if it makes you feel any better, you’re not alone. After seven years of massaging, my hands have decided to revolt. I was always that person who looked at the people with eczema, winced and said, “I don’t know how you live with that.”

    My skin was always strong with no healing problems. To be honest, I think Biotone may be the culprit as I also used their products and suddenly developed eczema after years and years. Anecdotal, yes, however, I’ve quite a few therapists who report the same thing, so it leaves me wondering if there is some ingedient in their products that is a trigger – although I have always been a cream not an oil, user.

    I’ve gone through the steroids (the oral ones make for a nice relaxing personality 😉 ), the creams, the home remedies. Someone suggested that milk does it. If this is the case, I may have it forever because I can’t imagine life without cheese. I can easily scratch myself raw. People say “don’t scrtach” and it’s sort of like saying “don’t breathe”. To be honest, there are times when scratching my eczema is better than an orgasm. The relief, even for that brief moment, is so complete that my whole body engages. I envsion someone walking in on me scratching one day and going, “Uhhhh, what are you doing in here?”

    I just switched to jojoba oil with nothing else in it to see if maybe using a single ingredient oil would help. I’ll let you know. And please do the same if you find anything.

    • jules09

      I’m glad I can share the trenches with somebody! It’s been almost a year now, and I think I am on the upswing. I’ve tried glycerine, emu oil, avocado oil, Biotone cream, grapeseed, sunflower–and have now been headlong with a pure almond oil. I only use vegetable glycerine soap and have been diligent with using Vaseline of all things as a barrier and protectant. My hands feel like I’ve been eating buttered popcorn all the time but it seems to work–and it was what the dermatologist at Sunnybrook recommended. Next week I go for an allergen patch test where I hope to narrow the culprit. I’ll let you know! And, I feel for you! Really.

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