Trending Topic: ITCH

It was becoming difficult to differentiate between the sweat and tears that were sliding in salty lines down to my jaw.  My iPod was at the Teenage Boy volume level until a wasteland of songs came on that I had to skip through because sometimes Johnny Cash and Laura Branigan are too hard to run to. My breathing returned to a normal, non-hyperventilating rhythm.

Don't ask...

I was thinking about irrational and random things, like my high school yearbook graduation photo. We all submitted corny and clever quips, mottos, nicknames and our future aspirations to be posted underneath our grinning pictures. My career ambition? “To be a hand model for maxi pad commercials.” Did my parents proud with that one.

For those who haven’t followed my Trending Topic of ITCHING since October, well, I’ve been itchy since October. Fingers of blame have been pointed in many directions: too many years as a massage therapist with my hands dipped in oil for six hours a day, chimpanzee cooties from the Congo, mould, dairy, latent jungle parasites, Canadian winters, Tide detergent, parabens, gluten, people with hair, meatballs and spandex.

For over a thousand days (or, since October if you’re really counting), I have watched my poor hands react in a full-blown arsenal of hives, weeping patches, bumps and all other manners of rejection. I know this is some kind of message from the Universe, but I have a lot of messages  in my inbox, coming in from all fronts. As a social media savvy sort, I have Facebook and Twitter posts to get through first. Reading what the Universe has to say will have to come after that.

But as I ran through Riverdale park with Stevie Nicks and the late afternoon sun on my shoulders, I thought about what the Universe might be saying.  I could decipher the Universe easier if I broke my wrist. I could Nancy Drew that in a snap—“you need a break from massaging.” Duh. Then I had an awful thought that made my breath thin and rapid—UNIVERSE, PLEASE, please, don’t break my wrist right now. The thought of wearing a cast and having the itch issue that I have would be unbearable. I would have to saw off the cast with a breadknife and take a belt sander to my arm.

For a few weeks now, I’ve been getting knowing looks from crystal meth addicts who are also scratching as much as me. It’s a tell-tale sign. They nod in recognition as I walk through Allan Gardens. I belong.

I used to get compliments on my hands all the time—now I just get comments like “Oh my god! What happened to your hands!” They have become their own reality show. Every day at work I show my palms and flip my hands to the horror of my co-workers. Then I show them the welts running up my forearms and even my own eyebrows raise when I see the impact my body is taking.

The most convincing thought that I had that assured me that this was definitely not cool and normal, came in the form of Sandra Bullock. I imagined her calling me and saying, “Hey Jules, now that Jesse is outta the picture, I was wondering if you wanted to go for a walk along the beach. I know this great place where we could get ice cream—best waffle cones you’ll ever have. You know, we could watch the sunset, hold hands…” AH! And this is when I realized how awful my situation was. I would not be able to hold hands with Sandra Bullock because my hands look and feel so awful that I can barely stand them.

I kept thinking about Sandra as I passed an American bulldog on Yonge with a plastic cone around his head. I spoke to the owner as we waited for the light to turn at the intersection. Lucy was on her fourth cone, she had busted the previous four apart with her aggression. Because she had a delicate eye graft procedure, Lucy has to wear a cone for six weeks. I need a cone. I need cones around both my wrists to prevent scratching.

Leaving my mark on Maker's Mark

Two months ago, heavy drinking allowed me to sleep through the night. I was like Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. I had a big belt buckle and some bourbon, and could knock off nine hours of itch-free sleep. For some reason this has changed. I’ve tried different formulas that include whiskey and Reactine allergy pills, Benedryl  and lychee martinis, and even Guinness and steroids. I’m lucky to get a sound two hours of sleep now.  I drink a double-shot latte at work and fall asleep for the rest of my break.

Maybe I’m allergic to the allergy pills?

As a massage therapist, I am careful to practice what I preach. I am excellent at pampering myself with manicures, $6 beet juice and wheatgrass drinks, shiatsu, reflexology, Oprah magazines, zen moments in bookstores and long runs. I tell clients that when a health issue interferes or affects their daily routine, it’s time to isolate the cause and make drastic changes.

So, now I’m a big, fat liar. A massaging hypocrite. Still, I tell myself that, just like Jann Arden sings on her album Free, “everybody’s broken.” Every human is given something to tackle—gluten allergies, acne, obesity, whiplash, sciatica, depression, ruptured Achilles, addictions, asthma—we all have something to contend with. Being the optimist that I am, I think of all the conditions and issues that I don’t have, which makes me feel remarkably better.

A colleague at my spa has had insomnia for the last two months. She fights all night for maybe three hours sleep and arrives at work like a zombie, dizzy and exhausted. We talked about how easy it is to adapt to a new sense of “normal.” She can no longer remember what it’s like to sleep a full eight hours. I can no longer remember what it feels like to not be itchy. I asked Lori, who was diligently charting her clients as Lilian and I chatted what her issue was. Just to make us feel better. She won with degenerative disc disease.

When I had trench foot in the jungle, I became convinced that I would have it for the rest of my life. Much like when you get a sore throat. One hour into waking with a sore throat and you can’t remember what swallowing without knife-like pain was like.


I have taken action with this situation, and have been very proactive in isolating the cause of my non-stop itch. In fact, I went all the way to Venezuela to do my research. However, when I returned from my itch-free week, I realized that I only narrowed my itch source down to Canada. Something in Canada is making my skin crawl. It could be work, winter or my house. With the Venezuela sun still retained in my bones, I began to wonder if it really was something inside the house. I moved and started work within the same week at the end of September. I still suspiciously lie on top of my mattress, wondering if two cross-Canada trips in a moving truck has allowed some evasive mould to sneak in somewhere between Moose Jaw and Wawa.

I’ve even thought about things that I eat on a daily basis (besides my words). Soya milk, bagels, peanut butter, bananas, 300 almonds. I phased each of them out with no obvious results.

My friend Katie, who had travelled overseas and had similar post-travel itches, suggested I freeze all my clothing to be on the safe side. All my clothing? And while freezing my clothing I could bake the ten pre-fab Dr. Oetker Ristorante pizzas Kelly has packed in there?

Another friend advised it might be my spandex, so I’ve been running in shorts and stopped wearing my gloves that have a spandex-blend. The cold only split the exposed skin on my knuckles to a more disastrous state. I fill all the splits with barrier cream at night, but when I lace up my shoes to run in the morning, I open all the areas that semi-healed to the point where I contemplate stitches.

I walk around with Costco –sized lotions. I have Uremal at the ready and Aveeno with soothing oat essence in every room. I eat more sunflower seeds than all the squirrels in Cabbagetown to up my Vitamin E. I still drink the crappy liver-cleansing rose tea that gives me greenhouse breath. But I’ve abandoned the steroid cream.

The steroids took away the itch, yes, but also took away my skin, as witnessed when I went to Margarita Island. I talked to my parents before I left, and expressed my nervousness in using sunscreen as my skin was having a panic attack over everything. My mom suggested I just let the sun fry my skin, it would be good for it.

If Diane Keaton went piranha fishing...

Ha. Day one. The steroid cream that I had been using in such liberal amounts left me with the fragile skin of a baby’s eyelid. As I was reading Andrew Westoll’s The Riverbones  and sucking back frothy pina coladas, I was oblivious to incinerating my hands. The next morning, I woke up with a left hand that seemed more suited to a sumo wrestler. I had no knuckles. My hand looked like I had been stung by a thousand bees. One pinprick and it would have exploded. I went for breakfast and hid my hand behind my book. I grabbed arepas and pineapple with my good hand and scurried back to my room. Now what? The sun was a magnet to my hand. The heat coming off of my hand in the shade was enough to fry an egg. I probably needed emergency medical care of some sort, but I dug my winter gloves out of my bag, put on my bikini, grabbed my book, picked up a 10 a.m. pina colada for the beach and stretched out.

As I pulled on the black gloves I initially felt like the biggest dork on the beach. Surely EVERYONE was looking at me and wondering what the hell was wrong with the chick wearing gloves on the beach. I felt a bit Diane Keaton-like, slightly regal in my bikini, with gloves.  But my hands were safe. Sweating, but safe.

That night, a couple from Orillia invited me over to their table at the Mexican a la carte. Joe asked me point-blank, “So, where’d you get the gloves?” (Which I did not wear to dinner).

On the jungle excursion to Angel Falls I pulled on my gloves when the boat pushed off for a two-hour ride through the lagoon to our lodge. Our guide, Rafael, commented: “Black gloves is bad choice for Venezuela.” I almost snapped but internally yelled, “I didn’t plan on wearing winter gloves in Venezuela!” Our local Indian guide asked no questions, and when we went piranha fishing, he insisted on baiting my hook with raw chicken every time.

Why I can't hold hands with Sandra Bullock.

On the second day the edema had left my hand but the skin cracked in the night into a shocking mess. So shocking I had to do a photo shoot as proof. I slathered on wild aloe vera bi-hourly, but ended up wearing gloves the whole time I was in Venezuela. I ended up giving myself a bigger problem than I had left with, but sometimes it’s good to think about something new.

I know a few weeks off work would probably allow my hands to return to normal. But then what?

It seems inevitable that a new career is on the horizon. Hopefully the Universe sends me a text message tonight.

Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Trending Topic: ITCH

  1. What if you’re allergic to booze? Hmm… how frightening is that. I had a friend that broke out all the time, in a rash, due to being stressed. You stressed? I hope you find the answer ASAP!

  2. I can’t believe you are still itchy!! That is the worst!! I really hope it goes away very soon as I completely know what it’s like to be itchy. Odd that it went away while you were away. Most people go away, stay in some shit bag hotel and get itchy while they are there! Feel better soon!!

  3. johanne sauve

    Jules, I think your itch is urging you to get that agent…you know what I’m implying, once more!?
    Hang in there until the publication…

  4. noelle

    Jules, on many fronts I can relate but I certainly did not have the severe reaction as you.

    The first two pictures of your hand, wrist and rash between the fingers definitely resembles what I had. I was put on steroid creams as well, and eventually tried some kind of h’uiles paste (sp??) that my brother suggested from Shoppers Drug Mart and I was cured. Now I have to wash my hands after handling foods of any kind, especially anything starchy or acidity. Sadly, this is also the time in my life I found out I was allergic to cats and dogs. Only to discover later, it’s the saliva. So I try not to have them lick my hands or off I go, running to the bathroom to wash.

    My hands would have little tiny bumps all over them and would be unbearably itchy and I dealt with this for at least six months or more. I do have scaring as the result. Sometimes just to ease the pain
    I would love to run my hands under scorching hot water, the worst thing to do, so I limited my hand washing as much as possible and washed them with gentle soap under cold water, used the paste and it helps.

    Likewise, I wore gloves, only mine were white. I would put the paste on my hands at night and wear the gloves over them to help with the itching. It sounds like you’re doing everything I did, but thought I write a few things down, as one little sentence may give you an ‘ah, ha’ moment. Although, I have a huge list of things I avoid, some oils, anything with latex, rubber…… okay, okay……now this is sounding rather sexual as in latex rubbers, no worries there on my front. 😉

    Tide and bounce are my friends in the laundry department anything else sends my body into rash mode.

    I hope you find ‘your’ cure soon.

  5. Maker’s Mark as an anti-itch medication. Hadn’t thought of that. Does seem to “cure what ails ya!” Hope you get a chance to come visit the distillery and take the free tour then take the free Kentucky Cooperage (bourbon barrel-making factory) tour for a great Bourbon Country experience. Maker’s Mark is located just outside downtown Lebanon, Ky. You can register to win a free Bourbon & Barrels Getaway right now at Drawing is April 2. Enter every day. No purchase is necessary.

  6. Michelle hopper

    Have had exact issues for 3 years now.been to top derm clinics.steroid injections.was even directed uv treatment at cancer center.hands itch soo .worst itch ever known.wrists ,fingers.nothing on palms.more times late in nite.i love the feel of dry washcloth twisting around fingers and webbing.water so hot it scaled rest of my body.feels so good on the hands .major endorphin release.undescribeable.when I get after the itch nothing matters.its evil.i am a auto tech.i need my boss has no clue.even seeing my hands in their worst shape he has no clue.being diagnosed with petroleum aggravated contact dermatitis he still sends his dirtiest jobs my sucks but unfortunately it’s all I know.i got into this line of work by way of gift .taught by a incredible friend who has been gone for many years now.i enjoyed this line of work as he taught.still enjoy .and am very good at what I do.its just not as easy as it used to long gone friend spent many hours patiently teachin my dumb teenage ass till I was able to go do what I wanted ,almost anywhere I wanted with what he taught me.years passed he fell sick with cancer.i went back worked his business till he died. Cannot find words to describe my loss.i could go on and on about my great friend and his teachings and how much I miss him.and I’m sure if he were alive he would understand .I know he would tell me get out of this line of work Donald your hands are terrible.and I will before too much longer if I have just not one too lay down.i keep going and I will keep on until I never forget my great friend and his gift.for me to stop and give all up what he worked so hard to carve of me is not an option.he lost his fight with cancer.of all the years I knew the man there was nothing he could not fix.nothing.i can remember his hands.same thing as mine.they looked bad at times.i had no clue.still dont.i know when they itch I scratch the he’ll out them.scald them with water.doctors can say what they want about how bad that is on be cool if one could come up with something.i will say though I am way better this year than the first two.reason being is that I really really work hard at keeping petroleum off my hands.i can be in the vicinity of diesels and not even touch them and my hands get weird.epoxies as well.time and avoiding what does it has helped me.hell I would have traded this crap for herpes long time ago if possible crazy as it sounds.hell with that from my understanding at least there’s some kinda break u get between flare ups.i can remember going 3 strait months losing my mind with this.the shit ain’t petty either.

    • Hi Michelle–well, I had to finally leave my profession. I wore gloves for the last two years that I worked as a massage therapist and then moved on to an unexpected role as a magazine editor. I should have quit the industry long before this, but, like you, the financial concerns and enjoyment of my workplace and career choice were big obstacles to surmount. Even after taking two months off, away from all exposures, I was triggered easier than ever. It’s cortisol levels and internal stress battling it out, unseen below our skin. I hope you find some relief, I know how sleepless the nights can be! Thanks for your comments here!

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