This story is by Jeanie Malone and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jess tapped out a dance routine to ease her nerves while she waited for the doctor. She tried to forget the humiliation of being diagnosed with parasites and still having them after two months of treatments.
Dr. Hall looked down nervously at his chart as he entered the room. “I think you need to see a specialist.”
“What kind of specialist?”
“Well, around here, you might get in with an infectious disease specialist.”
“Do you still think it’s scabies?”
Dr. Hall scratched his head. “I saw the eggs of something under the microscope, but I think you ought to see someone who deals with this sort of thing. You say you haven’t left the country and haven’t been in contact with anyone else who recently traveled, right?”
“That’s right. Could I get it from my job? We handle money from businesses all over Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. My department stays nasty because they don’t let the janitors back there.”
“I don’t think you could get it from money. But I really want you to see someone else. I’m writing you a referral, but to be honest, I’m not sure that will get you in. Usually you need to have traveled outside the country.”
“Well, I don’t know. Let’s just hope you can get in.”
Jess felt a lump in her throat as the last infectious disease specialist turned her down. Who knew that doctors who specialize in public health research often turn down patients who don’t fit the criteria for their current study? “Stupid research hospitals. What good are they if they won’t help me?”
“What now?” She scrambled to form a plan, since she wasn’t allowed to return to work until having the diagnosis of a social parasite cleared. After formally taking a two month medical leave, she poured herself into research, desperate to find what caused her body to go berserk.
Sleepless days and nights were filled with research and efforts to purify her body and home. Stinging sensations and stabbing pains kept her awake whenever she lay down. “Six months and no success.” She cursed the Ivermectin as she choked it down.
After an exhausting day of research, she knew it was time to go to work. It was a ritual she knew all too well, since being diagnosed with persistent scabies six months earlier. She situated her sterilized tools on the freshly sanitized countertop. To the left, she laid her hobby knife fitted with a scalpel blade, her grandmother’s spearhead pottery tool, angled tweezers, a cuticle trimmer, and needle-sharp sewing scissors. To the right, she placed a pumice stone, dead skin file, two sizes of nail clippers, cotton swabs, and several neatly folded pads of tissue.
She swabbed alcohol over her skin, keeping her eyes closed until it dried, unless the blisters in her eyes were worse and her vision blurred; then she would open her eyes to let a few drops roll in. She loathed the pain but was desperate to annihilate the parasites. “Damned doctors!” The pain fed her bitterness against modern medicine.
Chad had a weak stomach but a strong immune system, so he remained in their house with his bride of ten years, though he wasn’t helpful in researching or cleaning to rid their home of something he could not see. “Were you able to keep food down today?”
“No, I couldn’t even finish eating before I got sick. Same as usual.”
“So sorry, Babe. What can I do to help?”
“I wish I knew.”
That night after Jess languidly came to bed too exhausted to operate anymore, she lay jerking and scratching as usual, watching the sun brighten the sky. Finally, she drifted off to sleep. She awakened at six as usual to Chad’s alarm and was instantly seized by intense stinging and itching. Deep pains shot through her entire frame as if her sinews were hardening and ripping away from her muscles and bones.
“Ugh! I cannot take this anymore!”
“Do we need to go to the ER?”
“You know they can’t help me.”
“Maybe they could do something.” He grabbed his bag and looked over his shoulder. “Call me if you need anything. Jack can cover for me. I love you.” Chad was out the door before she could respond.
Jess again sought rest as she writhed in pain and pleaded with God. “Please help me. Please!” She welcomed the moment of stillness until the bedding moved in waves around her. “Oh God, no!”
Jess finally escaped the bed to call Chad. “It’s in the bed, moving the sheets. What are we gonna to do?”
“Take it easy. It’s gonna be okay. We’ll take the bed out as soon as I get home from work. Until then, shut the door, and stay out!”
That evening they wrestled the two thousand dollar memory foam bed to the roadside. Chad tried three nights to sleep on a zero gravity lawn chair before moving in with his parents. Jess slept on her yoga mat on the hardwood floor until moving the mat on top of a new camping cot. Her travel pillow was wrapped in an ultra-thick lawn and leaf bag and sealed with duct tape. Her new sleeping arrangement did nothing for her pain.
Soon, their sofa, loveseat, and chair hit the roadside where the mattress had lain. “This is useless. It multiplies too fast.” Exhausted, she cursed her weak immune system.
After a year of fighting her unseen foe, she felt damned and depleted but knew that she had to save herself. Everyone else was gone. At 3 am, it was just her and the parasites in an otherwise abandoned house. She sealed what she could in plastic and scoured everything else in toxic cleansers. Daily she soaked laundry in permethrin then washed it in a hot water mixture of more permethrin, laundry soap, and borax then rinsed with vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils proven to kill insects and parasites.
She analyzed and tweaked her strategy often, hoping for improvement. Since the FDA maximum dose of oral and topical ivermectin and other anti-parasitics prescribed by her primary physician and dermatologist didn’t work, she eventually gave up on modern medicine and poured herself into alternative cures. Before diving into herbal remedies, she considered equine strength ivermectin from the farmers’ cooperative.
“I’m gonna get better.” She forced a smile each night before operating. As she cut, congealed, grainy blood pushed its way out, adhering in sticky lumps to surrounding, intact flesh. After the usual three hours, she cleansed her fresh wounds and made her bed. She struggled her fluid-filled legs to the mat and finally drifted off as the sun came up.
After a couple of hours, she awoke to stinging in her extremities and the pain of her fresh wounds. Delirious, she drew her legs to her chest while still on her thin yoga mat. “Not again.” There was fresh tarry substance staining her sheet and mat.
She desperately researched new possibilities daily, taking notes and making charts to see which creatures best matched the characteristics. She studied everything from nematodes to amoebas and yeasts. Many creatures matched some, but not all, characteristics. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
After eighteen months, she still laundered her bedding daily in heavy pesticides, tried to capture the parasite in photo and video, and spent hours trying to remove it from her body.
She went days without eating, hoping to starve it. Maybe it was feeding off what she ate. “I can hold out longer than some dumb parasite.” The many pharmacotherapies provided by her GI doctor failed to help her digestive issues.
Not knowing what it was made it nearly impossible to fight. She eventually stopped laundering with pesticides and cutting her flesh.
Loved ones steered clear as she warned they may become infected, too. They stopped calling and texting, too. Her only company was her two cats and a dog and an occasional Jehovah’s Witness. She felt abandoned and neglected. “Dear God, I need You. I am exhausted. Please don’t be done with me. Strengthen me and guide my research.” She started researching older, chronic illness diagnoses.
Two years passed from when she first started self-operating to remove the parasite. She stared at the scars around her drooping eyes. Her eyelids now sagged, and the thin skin under her eyes looked as if it would tear with the slightest smile. “Ouch!” She brushed against three new sores on her neck as she brushed her hair. She smiled knowing this and her symptoms came from several genetic diseases and not parasites. She only wished doctors had connected the dots years ago to prepare her for how severely her rare diseases could interact. Specialized care was not special in her book.
“So I’ll pick you up at seven?”
“Sounds great.” She smiled as she confirmed her date with Chad to buy a new bed.
“Be right there.” She bowed her head again. “Thank you, God. I’m gonna be okay.”