Monday night was a torment of itching. I hardly slept, and in the morning the rash was worse and had spread to my shoulders, lower legs, and feet. I'd formulated plans the night before to go to work Tuesday and pop over to the employee health clinic, but I realized I couldn't possibly show up for work in the state I was in. I called my boss and told her I'd have to work from home and then I made an appointment at my doctor's. I haven't been sick enough to warrant calling a doctor since 2001. My appointment wasn't until 2:30, and I spent the day in agony, worrying about what was wrong with me. I didn't have a fever, but the rash looked exactly like chicken pox. It isn't unheard of to get it twice, and my immunity has been doubted because I had the chicken pox as a newborn, before my immune system had matured. By 11:00 am, I was utterly convinced it was chicken pox. I was actually hoping it was chicken pox, because the alternatives I had started to worry about (some sort of systemic poison ivy) were even worse. By the time I had to leave for the doctor's my imagination had me admitted to the hospital and hooked up to a ventilator.
At the doctor's, the NP took one look and said, "chiggers." That was unexpected. Chiggers had not occurred to me. If you are not familiar with chiggers, take a moment to read this very informative WaPo article which labels them "one of the most feared parasitic bugs in the United States."
During a chigger bite, the chigger’s mouth parts inject saliva into the skin that contains a digestive enzyme which causes skin cells to rupture and turn to liquid. The skin is partially digested even before it enters the chigger’s body. The chigger then drinks the dissolved, digested skin tissue. While a chigger is attached to the skin, it will continue to inject saliva under the skin.These tiny motherfuckers had LIQUIFIED MY SKIN. Chiggers live in patches, and if you are unlucky enough to step into a chigger patch, you will be covered with hundreds of bites, which is what happened to me. I'm actually very fortunate, other than wanting to claw off all my skin and then set myself on fire. Chiggers don't carry disease and their bites are harmless, other than putting you at risk for skin infection from scratching. That said, other than overtly painful experiences like childbirth, I can't think of a time when I have been more uncomfortable. The NP suggested benadryl, and cortisone cream mixed with coconut oil. I'm afraid of benadryl--would seriously rather be itchy than take it--and the cortisone cream didn't help at all. The only thing that brought relief was cool baths and cold compresses. I returned to work on Wednesday, still feeling miserably itchy. Today, the rash still looks terrible--it takes weeks for the bites to disappear-- but the itch has calmed down considerably.
If the chigger’s saliva and associated stylostome penetrates the lower levels of the skin, the resulting welt can be particularly large and itchy. This is one reason why a chigger welt can last for several weeks. It takes time for the body to heal a hardened tube in the skin that is filled with chigger saliva and liquified skin.
Scratching helps dislodge the chigger and stops the injection of more saliva into the skin. If a chigger victim has only a few bites, it’s easy to scratch away the chiggers. If a victim has several hundred chigger bites, however, it’s more difficult to scratch away all of the chiggers. It’s not uncommon for an unfortunate victim to be covered by hundreds of chiggers.
If you talk to enough of your friends, you’ll probably find someone you know who has stepped into a chigger patch and encountered many chiggers. It’s an event that they will never forget.
True words, friends.