Sarah DeVries
A victim of heat rash. A victim of heat rash.

Intense itching took some time to diagnose: it turned out to be heat rash

A doctor was certain it was allergies; another said it was scabies

This is a tale of an itchy adventure.

It started a couple weeks ago, in the middle of the night on Friday. I was woken up by a sudden itching, and thought, “Oh man, some mosquito or spider made it into my sheets!”

I know this is enough for some people to wake up completely and spring from their beds in a panic. It’s happened enough to me though that if it’s not too bothersome, I’ll just roll over and hope that whatever bit me and the reaction to it go away already so I can go back to sleep.

On Friday nights, my daughter goes to her father’s for the weekend, and I was at least glad that whatever got me didn’t get her, too. The next morning I had some itchy spots on my stomach, but still didn’t think much of it; they seemed like normal little bites.

Plus there were other things to take care of, like my kitchen flooding from the rain and finishing up some interviews for an article. I made a point to order flea medication for my dog, and went about my business.

By Sunday, things had gotten much worse. The itching had spread to my legs and arms, and was getting more intense, especially at night. I don’t think I slept more than 30 minutes straight starting that night, continuing for the next 10 nights (don’t ask me how I got my articles and translation assignments in that week — I’m not totally sure!).

On Tuesday, still sure that something had bitten me, I sent pictures to a trusted doctor friend. He assured me that it was definitely allergies, and told me to take a different type of antihistamine than I already had. I did, but nothing changed. A dermatologist friend he’d consulted with agreed that it was allergies, and gave me a list of expensive yet boring soaps and lotions to use, which I bought: still no change.

At this point you know I’d crowd-sourced it because this is what uninsured millennials do during a dangerous pandemic. After all, a doctor’s office or clinic is not the safest place to be these days, so if something might be resolvable at home, we try that first.

A friend of mine in another group took pictures of my now horrendous-looking skin along with her to see her doctor in nearby Coatepec for similar symptoms, and the doctor was completely sure of his diagnosis for both of us: scabies.

This seemed strange to me, as it’s one that comes about from extended skin-to-skin contact, something I think most of us have had very little of lately. Still, the symptoms made sense: body covered in rash, concentrated in “hot” places that mostly stayed covered? Check. Much, much worse at night? Double check. (I’ve since realized that they call any kind of mite infestation here “scabies,” even when you’ve picked up something similar outside in the garden.)

My friend bought the treatment that he’d prescribed — an internal anti-parasite pill, and a special cream to kill the mites — and brought them to my house. I took the pills, used the cream, and felt immediate relief. I think I even slept that night! Clothes, sheets, and pillows were washed, beds and sofas vacuumed, every surface disinfected. My daughter got a preventative treatment with the mite-killing lotion just in case, though mercifully she hadn’t (and hasn’t) shown any symptoms.

But it didn’t last. The next day I was still itchy, and that night my skin was back to its own torturous “new normal.” I called the doctor who said to give the treatment a couple of days to work, and thanked my lucky stars that at least I was going through this in Mexico, a place where I could actually get the doctor on the phone instead of having to go to the ER to hike up thousands of dollars in bills.

I read on the internet through tears of despair about how the itching could take several weeks to a month to go down, and thought I’d surely die before then. As a longtime migraine sufferer (the only other malady I suffer from that makes me feel like I’m literally about to die), I even thought to myself that I’d be willing to accept a few hours of migraine in exchange for a little relief from all this extreme itching. Selling my soul to the devil was another option I’d have gladly accepted.

I finally decided to go to a dermatologist’s office after I’d had quite enough of “giving the medicine time to work.” A friend had recommended him, and while I was desperate for any kind of relief, I was immediately nervous at the tiny, packed waiting room. At this point, though, my suffering was greater than my fear of proximity to others, and at least everyone was wearing masks.

The doctor diagnosed me immediately: heat rash, surely aggravated by the mite treatment. This was also a strange diagnosis to me as Xalapa is quite cool most of the time. That said, it’s the rainy season, and the humidity mixed in with some very hot days indeed has been through the roof, which I’m sure had something to do with it.

Though a friend had mentioned the possibility of heat rash earlier, I’d written it off thinking, “Surely heat rash couldn’t cause this much itching!” Alas, it can and it did. A cortisone shot and some more expensive creams, and I was sent on my way.

It’s been almost a week since getting the correct treatment. I’m still slightly itchy, but at least it no longer appears that I have leprosy. My suffering is down 90%, and I’ll take it! And if something like this comes up again that I’m not able to resolve on my own within a couple of days, it’s back to the dermatologist I go!

During this past week that I’ve been healing, I’ve reflected quite a bit on the delicacy and sensitivity of this white skin of mine. Racism has made it a premium in most of the world, and I can’t help but feel that its susceptibility to so many maladies is cosmic justice.

My daughter, thank goodness, has darker, sturdier skin: I almost cried the first time I saw how she simply got more brown at the beach rather than turning into a strawberry/lobster hybrid like I do, even with SPF 50 sunscreen.

I’ve decided that my own version of the racist notion “mejorar la raza” — in English, “improve the race” is this: reproduce with someone darker than you so that your children have a fighting chance of getting skin that can actually take a few hits!

Sarah DeVries writes from her home in Xalapa, Veracruz.

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