Posts Tagged With: itching

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

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:

The hot dog bun/parasite home remedy post:

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

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