The Parabola of an Itch
As Wikipedia explains, “In mathematics, a parabola is a plane curve, which is mirror-symmetrical, and is approximately U-shaped when oriented as shown in the diagram below (it remains a parabola if is differently oriented).” No, don’t run away, it’s gets interesting in a minute. Just picture a parabola.
At the top axis on the left is when the itch begins. At the midpoint or bottom, when the number hits zero, is when you reach maximal despair. And at the top right axis, when we’re back at 1, it means you’ve reached nirvana, or the end of the itchiness.
When the itch started, it was nothing much. I was sitting on the sofa reading something about the President. I was already experiencing mild consternation. Then I felt something on my foot. I reached down and scratched. Then I scratched some more. Finally, I took my sock off and surveyed the surface of my foot. Three bumps, and some redness. I shook my head and took my sock off.
Eight hours later. It’s three a.m., the time of most of my small and large emergencies. I’m wide awake and scratching; indeed, I was dead asleep and scratching and I know this because the three bumps have multiplied, thickened, and expanded. And my fingers are cramped up, like they’ve been working hard. Busy little fingers. I stumble into the bathroom, apply hydrocortisone, and check the clock. It’s too early, or too late. I go back to sleep.
Five hours later. I’m now about at the 0.75 line, which brings with it a startling recognition: the itch is worse. The rash is spreading. I conduct a mad search for the steroidal cream I’ve been hoarded since the Last Great Itch. This involved poison ivy (cue the song).
I find the steroid cream: the great and wonderful Alclometasone Dipropionate USP, 0.05 %. There’s half a container left. I apply it and smile.
The first day of itching passes. I am still happy more or less. It’s just an itch. A small tiny rash on the top of my left foot. And no, there’s no way it can relate to the Lamictal I’m taking. Never mind that a Lamictal rash can be deadly if untreated. I’m fine.
I wake up and run into the kitchen in search of the steroid cream. “Morning Mom!”
“Ugh I am dying.”
“Want some coffee?”
“In a sec.” I gasp and apply lotion. It will take ten to fifteen minutes to allay the burn. I turn to my son and for the second time that minute, I lecture myself internally: do not scratch it, do not even think about scratching it, do not even think about not scratching it, it’s just a wee little rash. It’s Day 2. I’m still happy, but it’s definitely an itch on the level of a poison ivy. That said, every bout of poison ivy I’ve had has ended more or less on Day 3 once I apply steroid cream. All will be better tomorrow.
Day 3, Evening.
I’m on the sofa. It’s cozy. I’m curled up next to my man. Suddenly I sit bolt upright. “Oh my God, Ben, get me the stuff fast!”
“The what stuff?”
“Ben,” Maddie explains, “Her foot is itching, get the white and red itch lotion.”
I cringe waiting. It takes him at least an hour to return with it, and he’s our best runner. After my rabbit returns and hands me “the stuff,” I rub it on and say to my man, “Look at it, is it getting better?”
“Same as yesterday,” he says.
“So it’s not better?”
“Is it worse?”
He shakes his head and gives me a sympathetic smile.
“Did you know some people die from Lamictal reactions?”
“Yeah.” I nod sagely. “But this is no Lamictal rash.”
“I suppose you’ve been looking at things on the internet.”
“Not yet.” I swallow, and gaze mournfully at my foot.
Our charity has a big event. I have a speech to give. But my main concern is how to prepare for a night of itching. There will be no removal of socks while speaking. Boots must be worn. Appearances must be maintained. There will be no itching at the Open Mic. It’s two hours before go-time. I sit on the sofa watching football. Iowa’s losing. We are both mournful. We wonder outside at halftime. I am sock and shoeless and it’s freezing cold, but there is hope. It’s been four days. The itch must end soon.
“Sweetie,” my man says.
“Your toes are turning blue, you should put your socks on.”
I bend my toes and shake my head. “Nope. Blue is a pretty color.”
“It itches that bad?”
“Yes. I think I should cut it off.”
“That’s a little draconian,” he says.
“Not to mention dramatic,” I say.
That night. We get home after midnight. I hop out of my boots as fast as a firefighters hops into his. I leave a trail of socks in my wake and I sprint to the kitchen counter. I grab “the stuff.”
It’s Sunday. I look up the Lamictal pictures. I sigh and quiver a little, but I’m still courageous and staunch. My foot looks nothing like the man in the picture, whose back is covered in burning scabbed-over rash fires. “It’s not a Lamictal rash,” I say aloud. “But they really are fatal, and there’s a black box warning on the label. Says you should call your doctor at the first sign of a rash.” I’m leaning against the kitchen counter, one eye warily watching Ben as he throws a book a few inches from my steroid cream.
“A rash can’t be fatal, can it?”
“Yes, Lamictal rashes can be fatal, says so in the literature.”
He gives me a skeptical look. Then a light of recognition comes into his blue eyes. “I’ve seen men lose arms and feet after a spider bite.”
“That’s nice,” I say. “You could cut my foot off right now.”
“Cut it off?”
“Yes. I don’t want it anymore.”
“But you won’t die from it.” He smiles at me.
“No I won’t, not if they cut it off.”
Monday. Two days before we head to Montana for Thanksgiving.
I take a shower. It burns. And now the bumps have spread to the sides of the ankle. EL, it’s probably a Lamictal rash. It’s been five days and the rash is not responding to anything, I think to myself. Plus, you’re going away in two days.
So I call the doctor’s office. They have no appointments until Friday. I can call back in an hour and talk to a nurse. “Okay, thank you,” I say. Then I write a technical note to the doctor in less than 1,000 characters. Afterwards, I speak to a nurse.
Then I wait. There’s no response. I swallow two Benadryls. I’m sleepy and it still itches. I whine all afternoon, and by the time dinner passes and there’s no phone call, I realize I’ve reached the bottom of the parabola, where all hope is lost.
“Did we ever get a fire extinguisher?” I look at my man and give him a macabre smile.
“We really need to get one,” he says.
“Yeah, we did almost burn the house down when we grilled bacon.” I shiver and then add, “I want to extinguish the burn, we should go out and get a fire extinguisher.”
“Doc hasn’t called back yet?”
“No, what if it spreads to my face? Just get me an extinguisher. Or cut it off.”
“A fire extinguisher would give you chemical burns, it’s not a good idea, but we should have one yes.”
“My face has been itching all day. Did you know Lamictal Rashes can be deadly?”
“You should call her again,” he says.
“I’m in despair, and I’m almost out of steroid lotion,” I say.
“But it hasn’t been helping, you still have a rash.”
“Without it, I would have died,” I say.
“Is this your anxiety talking by any chance?”
I grin. “No, this is righteous and unmitigated despair. People can die from this.”
“From Lamictal rashes?”
I dream of parabolas and wake up wondering two things: one, why didn’t I pay better attention in pre-calculus? If I had, I could’ve gone to medical school instead of law school and now I could be writing my own prescriptions. And two, where did I leave the red and white nearly empty bottle of steroid lotion? And with a groan, I stumble out of bed and search for despair mitigation in a tiny bottle.