I’ll be honest and I’ll tell you how each one of us contracted the scabies, or the “scandanavias” as Manuel endearingly refers to them. Scabies are tiny mites that like to live in human skin. It’s itchy, but not so alarmingly itchy that you’ll know something’s wrong the first time you get it. I’ll start with the first reported case—mine.
When I first got to Santiago, my roommates from our college house came to visit. Some of you are familiar with the house we called IHOP. For those of you that are thinking of bottomless pancakes, I’m not talking about the franchise restaurant chain, International House of Pancakes. Our IHOP is “Illest House on Pine” because we lived on Pine street, and half of our house was from Philly. They actually used words like “ill” back then.
It was our first night in what I can only describe as a well-oiled machine of a hostel, with something like 10 stories of dorm rooms. I chose the hostel bed where I came into contact with the scabies.
I did what you should do when you contract a contagious skin disease. (Eh-hem, some of my friends have failed to do this) I told the IHOPers I was pretty sure I had scabies. Dylan didn’t believe me.
Dylan knows that I’ve had my fair share of false alarms. I’ve made the motel owners give us a new room because I thought there were bed bugs in our bed. Now I can say I’m pretty well-versed in the classification of bed-inhabiting insects. Those were fleas, not bed bugs. Minor misclassification there. But this time, I knew. I knew it was scabies.
I took the precautions. I sat in the same seat of the car, in a let’s-be-honest pretty lame attempt not to affect the others. Kat, is a nurse and who works with immuno-compromised patients, so scabies would be a real no-no on her floor at the hospital. I tried to be careful and hoped for the best.
When they left, I went to a doctor. He initially prescribed me a medication I didn’t recognize. (I know the treatment for scabies because I’ve already had scabies once before. I want to say more here, but I just don’t think I’m ready to write about that one.)
Anyway, I tried to get the prescription filled. The pharmacist told me that the medication was taken off the market for some pretty gnarly side effects. I just looked it up and found out that Lindane lotion caused seizures, cancer and sometimes death.
I went back. I didn’t say anything to the doctor, and he apologized. But I ended up getting my Permethrin cream prescription. The gold standard of scabies killers. I’m never going to accept anything else.
With my prescription/golden ticket in hand, I went to the pharmacy, only to be harassed by the pharmacists. They were mad at me. They didn’t like the fact that the doctor hadn’t written the quantity of permethrin cream to make. It was my fault.
I wasn’t too stoked on them either. They were telling me it was going to take them three days to make the cream. I was explaining to them that I stay in a hostel, and this disease is pretty contagious. They did that shoulder shrug thing that kind of says i-don’t-get-paid-enough-to-deal-with-your-issues. Given what I know now about the prevalence of scabies in Chile, I think it would be a good move to just have this stuff ready to go in the pharmacies.
But I did get kind of lucky. Usually, in the states, you get a tiny tube prescribed. It’s kind of scary cause you have to cover your whole body with that tube, two times. When dealing with infestations of the skin, it seems best to err on the side of precautions. This time, since they didn’t have a quantity written on the scrip, I managed to talk my way into having them to make me an entire liter of the stuff. I wanted to be sure I had enough ammo to zap these sick fucks.
Anyway, the first time wasn’t too bad. I was in a hostel, with only a backpack of clothes. I could wash everything cheaply and I got fresh sheets fo free. I cure myself.
Days pass. After my Cajon del Maipo fiasco, I was meeting up with some Chileans from couchsurfing, trying to find a new home. We were having a vegetarian barbeque in their front yard. One of their roommates, let’s call him M., is from California. He told me I had to read Dharma Bums, and a few of his other recommendations have been spot on. When I told him my sister was named Galen, he told me a few stories about Galen Rowell’s first ascents of peaks in California, the climber and photographer, she was named after.
I think it was another day that we discovered M had the scabies. He walked down stairs: “I’ve been so stressed, I broke out in hives. Look at my stomach. I am going to get a massage today.”
His roommate, is a doctor. “Wait, let me see that. Is it itchy?”
*Takes very quick look at the belt of red dots around M’s waist.* “Dude that’s scabies”
We deduce that he probably got it during a one-night stint in Chilean prison.
It was then that I had to make a pivotal decision. I was still trying to get these guys to offer to let me park my van in front of their house. I decided to risk it. I told M I had the cream. And that he should take it cause the pharmacy takes way too long.
M was thankful. He was sad that this meant he couldn’t get a massage. I never did get invited back to their house. But I think it was worth it. Scabies is not fun.
Days pass. During this time, I get an email from another girl who lives in Chile. She and her boyfriend think they got it from used clothes. I make a mental note to be careful with the “ropa americana” here.
Days pass. I am staying at a boarding school in the campo outside Santiago. I wake up at night. The skin under my watch is itchy. It’s really itchy. I recognize that insatiable itch. And immediately, in that moment I knew I had it again.
This time was going to be tricky. My van was compromised. And I had to get rid of the scabies while living inside of it.
I had to make the humiliating trek back to the house to ask for my Permethrin cream back. The next day, I filled my surf board sock with all of the clothes and sheets in my van. I walked to the laundromat and explained the situation. I tried not to be bummed that I had to spend $50 on laundry.
I folded up the bed in my van, closed the curtains and covered myself in the cream for the third time since my arrival in Chile. I had gotten used to the slightly tangy smell of the cream.
That night, at the park, I was cooking dinner with a Swiss guy who has traveled all throughout Asia in his jeep. He told me horror stories of not being able to get rid of the scabies while living in his van. How it kept coming back.
A week later, I was heading back to the beach to surf. I still had to do my second treatment. I was talking with —let’s just call her N—and I had the same experience once again.
“Yeah, all the fiberglass is making me so itchy.”
I inspected her wrists and the bumps around her waist. I told her what I thought. She was in denial.
Eventually, she came around. I rejoiced at the fact I was not alone in my illness. I took her and my clothes into San Antonio to get them washed.
This time, the laundromat ladies weren’t so nice. When I asked if the clothes could be ready that day, they laughed at me. They gave me a discount.
N boiled water and put all of her sheets in big pots outside on the fire. I was a little skeptical that she got everything, but she felt good about it so I let it be.
That night, we both applied the cream. We put on our clean clothes from the laundromat. I felt so clean.
We still had half a bottle left.
I needed to tell the story of my bottle of Permethrin cream. I still have it. I keep it in my fridge so that it doesn’t get too hot. Cause you just never know when you or a friend is going to need insecticide.
Update: the running theory in the house is that I gave N the scabies when she came with me to Pichilemu. I’m not convinced but maybe I’m the one in denial.