Saturday, June 10, 2006

Little Miseries

We used the last drop of the old shampoo last week, the kind that recently changed its formula to incorporate "amino acids" and perfume designed to evoke the experience of gorging on fruit cocktail in an overstocked florist shop. The old shampoo smelled like soap, and its scent faded within minutes. The new kind creates the impression that Pepe LePew is perched on on one's scalp all day.

Yesterday afternoon I took a shower. I put a few drops of the new Amino-laced stuff on my scalp and cringed as the aroma bloomed around me. I rinsed and rinsed and rinsed. No avail. I began to panic. I grabbed the first thing I spotted: an old bottle of green vegan shampoo that had been sitting in the shower stall half-used for several years. I worked a good dollop of the stuff into my hair and instantly remembered why the bottle had been so unused -- the green shampoo's scent -- a morose powdery, flowery bouquet redolant of over-deodorantized armpit -- was even more revolting than the fruit cocktail's, and even more impossible to rinse off. Now there were two competing stenches on my head, both equally impervious to rinsing. Desperate, I grabbed a third bottle, again from my vegan shampoo era. I rinsed off a thick coat of black dust, opened it, and sniffed. Peppermint. OK, I thought, this will do -- but, no, it had dried to a solid, minty sludge at the bottom of the bottle. Maybe it was for the best.

By this morning, the green shampoo had won out. The smell was, if anything, stronger. I peered into the mirror, expecting to see a green fog surrounding my head or, at the very least, some wavy green cartoon stink lines, then stepped into the shower. There was one bottle left to try -- the last in an ancient triumverate of ghastly vegan shampoos. I'd always mistrusted this one. The label boasted of being "animal free" but the ingredients listed "keratin amino acids," keratin, of course, being one of the components of HAIR. But since I'd long since despaired of finding a usable vegan shampoo and had been slathering myself willy nilly with cow ever since, I squirted some into my palm and began working it into my scalp.

The stuff was earnestly unperfumed: it smelled of the deep, secret, oily components of soap. It was an unnerving smell, reminding me of the big cake pans of yellow soap my Lithuanian grandmother used to make out of bacon drippings and beef fat. And it had the same consistency. It was like shampooing with Crisco. And, impossibly, it seemed to enhance the lingering odor of yesterday's green shampoo.

I gave up. I dumped a few can-equivalents of fruit cocktail on my head, and got out of the shower.

It was then that I noticed it. Two inches west and one inch north of my navel. A pudgy round black thing. With legs. Which it was waving in apparant delight. As it --- SUCKED MY BLOOD !!!!!

Competing waves of vertigo and panic struck me.

Omigod. A tick. Omigod. Omigod. I'm gonna die. Of endstage Lyme disease. I'll be crippled. Demented. But first I'll get heart block and bilateral facial paralysis ! Omigod I wonder if that penicillin left over from the root canal will help, I'll take a gram, maybe even two grams, yeah that'll kill those little spirochetes, omigod, omigod, calm down PT, you're a doctor for goodness sakes, gotta get the thing offa me --

A phrase from Harrison's Principles Of Internal Medicine bubbled up out of my medical brain and cut through my panic.

"Ticks should be removed with firm traction with a forceps placed near their point of attachment."

This is clearly a plan of attack devised by an ivory-tower dwelling academic white-coat who'd never confronted with the necessity of removing a tick from a hyperventilating patient. One might as well advise using gentle persuasion or earnest cajoling. Here ticky, ticky, ticky ! But if it was good enough for my patients, by God, it would be good enough for me.

I grabbed my tweezers from the medicine cabinet, tweezed the thing near its point of attachment and pulled. Firmly.

And what often happens with the "firm traction" method happened. The body popped off the head. I looked at my tweezers -- a headless tick torso with a ruby red drop of MY BLOOD oozing out the end.


I flung the thing into the toilet, grabbed the nearest implement (a rusty safety pin), rinsed it off and jabbed it in a cake of soap (Ignatius Semmelweiss be damned), and cored the little bugger's head right out of my flesh. Violating just about every tenet of medical commonsense. Doing things that, if a patient did them, would earn them a firm, physicianly, tut tut.

What would I do next -- Q-tip my ears ?

Omigod, omigod I thought, staring at the little hole I'd gouged in my skin I'll probably die of flesh eating bacteria before the Lyme disease can even set in --

But, for a few moments at least, I forgot how bad my hair smelled.

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