In last week’s column I waxed rhapsodic about my getaway with Krista in Arizona: no curfews, no agendas, no early morning alarm clocks, no children, no worries…no problem! Tennis, swimming, lazy walks, excellent food, beautiful hikes, sun, warmth, and a cherry-red convertible Camaro. Good times galore!
Ah, but as the late, great John Lennon once wrote, “Instant karma’s gonna get you, gonna knock you right on the head….” Of course, the eloquent Mr. Lennon also gave us “I am the egg man, they are the egg men, I am the walrus, goo-goo-gjoob.” Perhaps I am better off intoning the preacher and author of the 20th book (Proverbs) of the Protestant bible: “Pride goeth before a fall.”
In any case, a few hours after I’d written last week’s column and sent it over the internet to the Daily Advocate’s Editor, I noticed something odd taking place on my chest. A few angry, red bumps began to form, and they were extremely itchy. “Hmmm,” I mused, “perhaps some obscure Sonoran Desert insect feasted on me while I was lounging poolside.” An hour later my forearms began to pulsate, and tiny red dots emerged there as well. They burned a little, but I figured if that proved to be the worst of the situation I was going to be just fine. No big deal.
Two hours later, in the early evening, it became clear that I was confronting a big deal. The red nodules were metastasizing rapidly, and had spread to every area of my body that had been exposed to the sun: my chest, back, arms, thighs, and calves were covered with crimson splotches. I looked like a cursed character from a Stephen King novel. By 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday, despite being utterly exhausted, I couldn’t sleep due to the constant prickling sensation throughout my body, from my ankles to just below my chin. Sigh. I was stuck in a hotel room with a peacefully slumbering spouse and an invisible phantom who clearly derived great pleasure from stabbing me incessantly with a thousand tiny pins. There was nothing to do but, as my father used to say, “suffer in silence.”
Despite my growing dermatological dilemma, Krista and I managed to enjoy a leisurely morning and a light early afternoon lunch before returning our hot rod and boarding our return flight to Chicago and the final, late-night connection to Dayton. I must have been a comical sight at 30,000 feet over, say, Omaha: I squirmed and grunted and tried desperately to secure a little relief by rubbing my back on my seat, like a little boy (or middle-aged man with prostate “issues”) with a full bladder and no restroom in sight. By the time we landed at Midway Airport I would have paid $1,000 to any hapless traveler willing to scrape gently the section of my back I couldn’t reach. It took every ounce of my feeble willpower to refrain from scratching myself into a bloody mess. The itchy sensation was so powerful, so relentless, I started to grind my teeth.
We arrived home somewhere in the neighborhood of 1:00 a.m. Grandma greeted us and gave us the quick 4-1-1 on her week with the children and a variety of other domestic details. I thanked her, hugged her, and proceeded upstairs to douse myself in that blessed concoction known as calamine lotion and to pop a Benadryl. As I lay in bed that night I recalled Job 2:8 (“Then Job
took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.”) and rapidly fell asleep.
For the next several days I followed a sad routine of gulping ibuprofen and Benadryl pills, drinking as much water as I could stand, spreading pink calamine lotion on my forearms, and praying for relief to arrive before I committed suicide by scouring pad. I nearly went crazy. I forgot all sorts of things and suffered from episodes of mild vertigo in my sleep-deprived, skin-irritation-induced psychosis. Friends claim I spoke gibberish on a couple of occasions, and that my appearance was so grotesque they googled “nearby leper colonies” just in case.
It is now exactly one week since I first noticed the emerging symptoms of what Krista ultimately diagnosed—correctly, I think—as “polymorphous light eruption.” I am functioning like a normal (I think) human being again. I am focusing at work and at home. My memory is better. I’m speaking properly. I am weening myself from the pills and pink lotion I self-medicated with in order to gain a small measure of relief. And my children don’t recoil in disgust at my appearance.
Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at email@example.com. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.