I am going to tell you a long, sorry story. Whilst reading it, you may question my reasons for doing so. They will become clear.
I spent part of November in Cambodia and Vietnam, teaching on a cruise on the mighty Mekong River. Fascinating, amazing, an assault on the senses. All of them, particularly the sense of smell because although we were on a five-star boat with everything that entails it was, if the truth be told, floating on a wide and powerful sewerage drain. After that was over, the four of us that made up the ‘management’ of the Mekong cruise, went up to Hanoi and then over to Ha Long Bay for a 3-day, 2-night additional cruise. We treated ourselves, because you can’t go to Vietnam and not go to what is quite possibly the most beautiful spot in the world.
Those two countries do not have a square inch to spare. Everywhere, other than the shoulders of the roads, is either inhabited or cultivated. In fact, even the shoulders of the roads have motorbikes buzzing along, each carrying four to six persons and a load of building materials. Apparently they drive on the right hand side of the road, but you could never tell that by looking. They drive wherever there is a gap. Full of people, hot, humid, very tropical and really rather dirty. I had promised the dogs before I left that I would be careful of what meat I ate. I kept that promise. No street food, the rumour is they eat dogs there and I wasn’t taking any chances. You are jostled in crowded streets, there is litter, most buildings could do with a coat of paint and everything is cheek by jowl. It was wonderful. An experience that I was privileged to have had.
I got home on the 2nd of December and on the 5th of December I started itching. Initially it was thought that I was having an allergic reaction to penicillin because I’d had an ongoing tooth abscess problem. The antibiotic was changed, the tooth was extracted on the Thursday and still I itched. On the Sunday evening I took myself off to Mediclinic emergency, desperately looking for relief. I was given a cortisone drip, an anti-histamine injection and one or two other things, but still nothing changed. By this time I was covered in spots, everywhere. Went to my own doctor on the Wednesday, he upped the cortisone and provided me with soothing lotions. They didn’t soothe, nothing changed. I was back on the Sunday and now – because I’ve been in South East Asia – I am treated for scabies, head lice and every other kind of vermin on the list. No change. My skin is feeling raw and I’m thinking these things survived Napalm and Agent Orange in the 70s, they must be extra resistant. Back on Tuesday, next available medication not in stock and a suggestion is made by one of the pharmacists that dog dip might help. Wendy and one of your colleagues may have told you that I had popped in to buy some. Somewhat wide-eyed, your colleague had not wanted to record it for human consumption. I said, put it down for Gladness who is the most likely member of our armed response team to have got mange, because of her heritage. He did. It was reasonably soothing – of all of them the most helpful – but still no real change. I continue to scratch, desperately.
By now my doctors are saying that we need a dermatologist, but it’s two days before Christmas and theirs being a non-emergency speciality, they’ve all gapped it to an Indian Ocean island, or wherever it is they go to escape acne and dermatitis over the festive season. So, I’m put on Tramacet, which I gather is the last stop before morphine, to dull the itch and I continue with all the cortisone, anti-histamines and lotions that aren’t working. The first half of each day, after I’ve been awoken from my Zolpidem induced, disturbed sleep by the itch at about 4 in the morning and have dosed myself, I manage quite well but from mid-afternoon and every evening there is an eruption. Christmas is desperate, New Year no better. All that I’m doing is waiting for just one of the dermatologists to come back from wherever they are, I’m sitting in a corner scratching like a mongrel dog, drinking far too much red wine every evening because it helps, chain smoking and wild eyed. Two inches from an asylum. We’ve also fogged the house twice, brought in the steam cleaners, the washing machine is overworking with sheets and towels being changed daily. Handsome son says he feels dirty. You know, my mother went to Asia and didn’t even bring me a t-shirt. Just scabies.
At lunch time today I finally saw a dermatologist, and that is why I’m telling you this long sorry story, and because you once asked me for a report back on a new product. She’s taken a sample of skin, I have two stitches in my back and I will get the results on Thursday – but in the meantime, she is fairly sure of a probable diagnosis.
Between returning from Australia in October and leaving for South East Asia, I was frantic. We were in the middle of that dreadful postal strike, parcels had gone astray, we were organising couriers, resending orders, tearing our hair out. My new book is proving popular and that didn’t help. But got it all sorted out, hopped on SA Airlink to Johannesburg where I later strapped myself into Cathay Pacific, took off for Hong Kong and heaved a sigh of relief. Had got it all done.
But I hadn’t.
When I returned about three weeks later, on the first night I was home, I noticed that the dogs were crawling with fleas. I had forgotten to give them their flea tablets. Too preoccupied with getting myself and my passport onto that aeroplane in Joburg. Tail in between my legs, feeling ashamed, I dosed them with Comfortis there and then. Do you know where I’m going with this?
The fleas jumped off them and, not wanting to jump back because of Flop’s Marvelous Muti, infested the house and mostly, the chair I sit in every evening. I recall a few flea bites, one or two, nothing major. But, basically, I’ve had an allergic reaction to fleas which should only have lasted about three weeks, but for the fact that they are in my favourite chair and contribute a bit more saliva or whatever every evening. I haven’t seen a single flea, of course, and I have been checking for every kind of insect, believe me. Between you and me, I had been eyeing the dogs flea tablets (on Christmas eve) but figured that was a step too far. Seems I wasn’t too far off the mark.
I am now on new medication, more lotions and, if the biopsy says that the dermatologist is correct, after itching to near-insanity for one full month (exactly a month, as it happens) there is light at the end of the tunnel. Swat Pest Control have been phoned with a request for a deep, deep fumigation and I await a confirmed day from them, that infested chair has been moved out of the TV lounge and my general state of mind is back on track so that I can finish the book I’m writing by the end of this month.
And your report back? Comfortis is good, too #&%$ing good. We will continue to use it – of course we will. It’s amazing. However, don’t. Do not break the cycle. Particularly in summer. I’ve learnt my lesson.
We must arrange a dinner date. Soon.
Kind rgds Hazel