Son of Son of Meltdown/I am Zapped

One symptom of my polycythemia vera is itchy skin. All over? two people asked in one day. No, not all over. Not my hands or feet or face or scalp. But just about everywhere else, so much of everywhere else that it seems like everywhere. It stings as well, sometimes as bad as backyard ants that attacked me while I was trying to rescue my sister, who was being dragged by her (unwitting) friends one night through an ant bed. We rushed inside and ran to the bath tub. I ran water all over my legs and R, all over her head, where the ants had nabbed her. This was in Texas, but before the era of Fire Ants, or else we might not be here to recall the event. Today I'm home, trying to take a short nap and my skin is stinging and I already took a 24-hour Zyrtec (which was mislabeled--should be 24-minute) three hours ago. The itch and sting cause panic and weeping and thoughts that it will always be this way, I can't do anything about it, the medicine doesn't work, Atarax was great while it lasted, before it stopped working, I'm helpless; time stops and this becomes my whole life, I can't go anywhere, I can't escape into sleep. I'm living in the moment, can't see beyond it except to an entire life bounded by this, making me unable to leave the house and it's so bad I cancel my therapy appointment later in the afternoon. I try to reorder some gabapentin, but my prescription is outdated, and the gabapentin didn't work anyway, but it was a fleeting reassurance to think about gabapentin, that there might be something out there that I could reach.

That was a couple of weeks ago. I ended up taking more Zyrtec, and I think a benadryl, and I slept three hours. I'd been to a dermatologist who specializes in skin problems caused by non-skin diseases. He was born in Colombia and his father grew up with a kid who always said he wanted to be a writer. Yes. Garcia Marquez. The dermo said that was a 50/50 chance that phototherapy would help, and his people said they'd check with my insurance. Last week I called to see what the insurance decision was and found out it was in my favor! So yesterday I got zapped. I went to a little office without windows with two nice ladies in it in solid-color uniforms. There were three or four big upright tanks (reminding me of the big round French outdoor bathrooms) and I changed into a gown and paper footies and went inside (luckily, the one that was open on the top), wearing stiff dark goggles over my eyes, attached by an elastic strap, my eyes closed. The lady in green set the machine for 38 seconds and I could hear whooshing around me and could see, through my closed lids and the goggles, purple light, and it seemed to last about two minutes. Then the sound and light stopped and I put on my gown and footies and pushed on the metal bar to open the door. I felt like I'd been in Mr. Peabody's WABAC Machine and that I should be stepping out into the 18th century or any other era. But I was back in the Office of the Two Ladies with dream catchers and psoriasis bulletins on the wall.

L saw me a few hours later and asked if I was still itching.

I was zapped on Monday and now it's Thursday. I'm taking one-a-day Zyrtec just once a day. But I've also been inside a lot; being outside can make my skin itch because there are so many allergens out there.

[Dog scratching pic:]

La Nausée dans le Métro

Nausea makes me feel gentle, compassionate toward everyone sitting with me. Slows me down. Makes it so I can't read on the L. I have to look. I feel sorry for people. The man with the bump in his nose with his head down. Somber. I feel open to others: the two boys with freckles and tan hair and baggy tan shorts in the two seats that hug the wall, their mother catty-cornered. The older one's (maybe 10?) eyes open, alert, waiting and watching for Grand. Finally, they're there and leave for the excitement that awaits them there.

Nausea can be subtle. You pay attention to yourself. Is it gone? Where is it? What was the matter again? What did I feel? It comes back when you're unaware. There it is again. Pressing against the soft palate, the nape. Back again, inside the head, between the nape and the palate. Alighting as softly as a moth. Now somewhere down the throat.

I had La Nausée Monday night (threw up--not so subtle) and the next day. Tuesday morning I went to the drugstore to pick up Effexor, which had been waiting there for me for a few days. I'd kept meaning to pick it up. Monday night I was going to, but then there was the chance to see Metropolis at the Music Box, in all its restored silent-movie science-fiction proto-Nazi benevolent-dictator-propagandistic Deco-Expressionist-melodramatic glory.

It ended at 11, after the pharmacy closed. At the CVS Tuesday morning, N, one of the few techs who has stayed there for years, was speaking casually in Spanish to a couple. When they left she got my Effexor and I said I had una pregunta por la farmacia--, happy that I remembered the word for question, since it's a cognate in French, which is usually the primary second-language that pops into my head. N corrected me: La farmacéutica, and I kept repeating it after her to capture all the syllables. I told la farmacéutica (in English) that I had felt nauseated, and that I'd run out of Effexor for a couple of days, and I was thinking the two were connected. Yes, she said, that's a symptom. Withdrawal.

I took the two big red capsules of Effexor with the water I'd brought (or brung, as we used to say in my Texas childhood) with me, and wanted to feel better immediately. I didn't. It took about 12 more hours to be entirely free of the nausea.

The stupidest illnesses are those that we can control. Nausea caused by sloth.

{Breugel the Elder, The Seven Deadly Sins]


First, the mice, since I'm a bit late on reporting this. You may have already heard about this: immunologists at the Cleveland Clinic have come up with a prototype vaccine that inhibits growth of and prevents breast cancer tumors in mice. So far the FDA has approved two cancer vaccines--both against viruses. This one targets an antigen. Human trials could begin next year. Would you volunteer for such a trial? I'm not sure whether I would. The study is in the journal Nature Medicine. You have to subscribe to access the whole article, but you can find the abstract here.

Second, orchids. Today was the 15th anniversary of my meeting L. We went to a fundraiser for Growing Home tonight at the Cultural Center, which is a gorgeous white marble and mosaic building that the first Mayor Daley wanted to tear down. His wife saved it. L brought me a stem of white orchids and a raft of barrettes. The barrettes were to hold the orchids in my hair. I managed to attach six blossoms. This was uncharacteristically romantic for L. Usually he goes for more practical gifts, like jumper cables and L.L. Bean shirts.

I didn't get him anything. He said it was OK. The centerpieces of the dinner tables were bricks and little squares of dirt with sprouts growing out of them. We took some bricks home because we use them to wall off our trees and plants from neighborhood dogs. We have become great brick scavengers, which is nice because L was never an alley picker like I am.

Growing Home trains homeless people to work on organic farms. What could be better?