Thursday, December 19, 2013
a light unto my pests
Almost no one remembers anything about Robert Burns in high school -- other than "To a Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church."
Almost every boy in my class loved the piece. It had all the elements of a good poem. An insect. Distractions in church. And, of course, the pompous, style-obsessed woman -- a part just designed for Margaret Dumont.
The high school textbook summaries always completely missed the point of the work they introduced. You remember, those wide-of-the-mark openings written by some failed writer in upper Vermont: "Using the occasion of seeing a louse crawling upon the bonnet of an upper-class lady, the speaker reflects on class, humanity, equality and pretension using his characteristic dialect and a mastery of subtle tonal shifts."
Really? Any boy can tell you what made the poem worth remembering -- and it wasn't that.
If someone tells us they have cancer or a broken arm or arthritis, we react compassionately, inquiring if there is anything we can do to help, while sympathetically caressing their arm. But let someone tell you they have head lice, and just watch how that compassion --let alone the petting hand -- disappears.
There is something about those pesky little insects. And not just because they can be passed from head to head at the drop of a hat.
There is social opprobrium. Something nasty. With a hole at the moral center.
If head lice have the scent of moral exile about them, bed bugs bear the cross of every negative stereotype of the South. The mere mention causes proper necks to whip and refined tongues to cluck.
But, I am here to tell you: My name is Steve. And I have bed bugs.
Well, that may not be true. But I certainly have something odd going on at night in my house.
My first night back in Melaque, I picked up four of five bites on the inside of both arms and on my torso. Mosquitoes, thought I. They had been hanging around the house waiting to dine on me. Or maybe no-see-ums.
Because that night had been so hot, I slept on top of the sheets. The next night, I slept between them. The bite count was up over ten. All in areas that would be covered by a t-shirt and shorts. Outside of that boundary -- no bites.
The third night, I had over thirty. I looked as if I has suffered another bout of chicken pox. And the itch was driving me just one step closer to Bedlam.
Off to my doctor I went. She was bemused by the bite pattern. Possibly a reaction to detergent in the sheets -- or in my clothes. But they were the same clothes I wore up north. No bites there.
Because I was itching so bad, she prescribed an antihistamine. I barely noticed the itching because it made me so tired and sluggish I didn't even dare drive. I stopped taking it.
Tuesday morning, while showering, I noticed that one of the bites seemed to be a bit infected. If it had not been where it was, I would have ignored it. But it was on my (OK, we are all adults here; sniggering will get you excused from the class) -- scrotum.
That was good enough to get me back to my doctor. She pulled out her handy magnifying camera and the offending spot popped up in technicolor on her monitor.
She hmmm'ed in that way that doctors do. The sound that focuses the patient's mind on nothing but the doctor's face -- usually a mixture of concern and frustration.
Her son, a doctor in Guadalajara, was visiting her for the holidays. She asked if he could take a look. "Certainly," I said. "Is there anyone else in the waiting room who would like a look?" She swatted my shoulder.
They peered. Adjusted the camera angle. Consulted in Spanish. And peered again.
My doctor decided to try a round of antiviral drugs -- her hypothesis being that the bumps may be related to shingles, despite their location and lack of pain.
Her son's hypothesis is the same as my original concern. Bed bugs.
I had looked all through and under the bed several times to see if I could find any evidence. I didn't see any. But last night I slept in the guest bed. No more bites.
During the night I am going to try a test he suggested. I will place a candle in a shallow dish of water and let the candle burn all night.
No, I am not hoping that Guadalupe will perform a miracle and drive the bed bugs to my neighbor's house -- something a Mexican friend suggested. The burning candle will give off carbon dioxide. That is the way most blood-sucking insects find us. By the gases we emit.
The plate of water is to trap them. It will be interesting to see if I end up with a collection of bed bugs, no-see-ums, or mosquitoes. Or if there is a new culprit out there to be captured.
Who knows? Maybe I can set out a lady's church bonnet.
It would certainly be a classic trap.
Note -- You should feel really fortunate that I did not share with you my latest portrait shot.