Under My Skin

The sublet we’re living in right now is mostly empty. We’ve got a bed and some side tables, but the girl living here before us took the dining table and couch with her, so we’ve been on the lookout for new furniture. The other night while we were walking around the city we happened upon a sturdy looking coffee table that someone had thrown, legs up, into a dumpster. We quickly checked it over for any damage or stains to see why someone might have thrown it away, but we couldn’t find anything, so we hauled it back to our apartment.

When I told my brother about our find on the phone, he warned me in a grave tone, “Zoe, you’d better be careful. Your neighborhood is notorious for bedbugs.” Oh dear.

I checked over the coffee table carefully once more, but I couldn’t find anything, and we haven’t had any bites yet. Fingers crossed. Anyway, I think bed bugs are more common in things made with cloth, like matreses and couches, so we’re probably safe for now.

Although we haven’t had seen any bed bugs yet, all this talk of bugs reminded me of my run-in with them while I was studying abroad…

About two weeks into my homestay in Nepal, I started to get an itchy rash on my upper chest and back. I thought it was an allergic rash of some sort, so I popped a few allergy pills and tried to ignore it. A few days later, my host mom started to notice it too. She told me it was probably a heat rash and doused me in prickly heat powder. But as the clouds of powder settled, and my itchy skin just kept itching, it started to dawn on me that something else was going on.

After class that day, I was talking with some other students and the program director about  rashes and I showed them my own, which had, by then, spread to my arms and hands. She looked in between my fingers, where the bumps had settled as well and said, “I think you’ve got scabies.”

When I first heard the term, I didn’t actually know what they were, but it certainly sounded sinister, like some awful hybrid of scabs and rabies. After she told me that, I was starting to freak out a bit, but I was still holding out hope that somehow it wasn’t what it looked like.

There was an intern at the study abroad program who agreed to go with me to the doctor to have my rash looked at. While we were waiting to see the dermatologist, she did an amazing job of distracting me from my building anxiety. We talked about college, the US, her plans to study there. Finally, the doctor called me over to his desk, got out his magnifying glass, merely glanced at my rash and said, “Yep, that’s scabies alright.” Cue the tears. I was already experiencing loads of culture shock and language overload and on top of that, I had to get scabies. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You just need to put lotion on it and it should go away in no time.”

“Okay,” I thought, “I can do this.” I went to the pharmacy, got some medicine, and then the intern and I left to go home on the bus. She got off at her stop, and I kept going until I got to mine.

When I got into my room, and looked more closely at the medicine, I quickly realized that my idea of what he meant by lotion was far different from what came in the little bottle. I had imagined some kind of flowery-smelling spot treatment that I would apply in dabs. In actuality it was a chemical-infused pink goop that I had to smear thoroughly on my skin from neck to toe. So much for clean PJ’s and sheets.

The next day I skipped class to pour boiling water on my clothing, to ensure that all of the mites were killed. I remember hauling piles of my clothing down onto my host family’s front yard while curious neighbors stared unabashedly, probably mystified by my behavior.

Later that week, we left for one of our study trips to Chitwan and Pokhara. I took only what I needed and quarantined the rest of my clothing in my room. I locked the door to make sure no one would come in contact with the infested clothing and hoped that the mites left over would die while we were gone (which they did). I had to use the boiling water trick a few more times on the clothing I brought with me, but slowly the itching and red bumps subsided.

Getting scabies was definitely one of my low points while studying abroad, but I got over it. Besides, it really does make me appreciate the fact that at least, for now, there aren’t any mites burrowing under my skin or bugs crawling in my bed.

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