Monday, October 7, 2013

how I caught the plague

"Good morning, Coda!" I called out to my neighbour's dog.  He didn't reply.  Something was wrong with him. He just lay there on the front porch, not moving.  I took a closer look.  The poor thing had gotten his leash completely tangled around the wooden planks of the porch and had been stuck in the same spot all night, helplessly watching the snow fall down on him with his dog house only a few feet away.

"Oh, you silly dog," I scolded him, tugging at his leash and freeing him.  Coda wagged his tail and celebrated his newfound freedom by jumping up on me. "Get off me, you goof!" I said, patting his back.

That was how I was convinced that I got the fleas.

It was that, or maybe from my friend's cats that I've been checking in on every few days while she's gone. Really, I don't know how I would have gotten fleas because Coda was out in subzero temperatures all night, and those cats never go outside.  But you know, it's just my luck that if there are bugs to be found, it's going to be me finding them, because one day I found myself scratching.

And scratching. And scratching.  Eventually I looked down and realized that it wasn't just a situation of dry skin. I had little red dots all over my skin.  All over my body.


All of a sudden I was a googling machine, searching for online answers in an information-gathering frenzy.

do i have fleas or allergies
what do flea bites look like
what do flea bites look like ON HUMANS
how do i get rid of fleas
bubonic plague
will fleas die in freezing temperatures
are there fleas in the arctic

(Terrifyingly, this is the first hit that comes up for that question. I'm sure it's a hoax, but it's still a frightening thing to see.)

I compared the photos on the internet to my skin.   These bumps looked an awful lot like flea bites.

"Maybe you are just turning into a zombie," one Internet friend suggested helpefully.

I had the same first instinct that grown adult does when they face a situation they don't know how to solve.  I wanted to call my mom and whine. I am making this your problem now, Mom, deal with it!

Unfortunately, the phone lines were down.  Our landline hasn't been working all week, actually, ever since the phone company sent a technician to "fix it".  But now my cell phone had no reception either, which means I didn't have the option of calling my mom and forcing her to solve all my problems from 3000 kilometres away. It also meant I couldn't call my husband either, who was out with his boss for the night.

So I dealt with the situation by cracking open a can of beer.

That didn't actually solve the problem. I have a mild allergy to alcohol that causes my skin to get hotter, and,

lo and behold, itchier.

Perhaps I should seek some medical advice on dealing with this.  Unfortunately, I was living in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and the health station was closed for the weekend.  We have no hospitals, walk-in clinics, or Telehealth Ontario. There was a nurse that was on call for emergencies...but you'd have to have a working phone to call the nurse on call.   Also, I wasn't sure flea bites constituted an emergency, as miserable as the itching was making me. The pharmacy was also closed for the entire weekend as well, so I wasn't going to be able to buy any sort of ointment to relieve the itching. Oh, Nunavut.

So I went back to the Internet to figure out how to deal with the fleas. The Internet told me:

Take a shower.
Do the laundry.
Vacuum the house.

(The Internet sounds a lot like my mom, actually, or me, when I'm bossing my husband around.)

I took the shower. It was a cold shower, because hot water made me itchier.  The bumps had spread all over my body.  I was afraid to put on pants, because the fabric rubbing my skin would only irritate things further.  I often don't want to wear pants, but rarely am I afraid to put on pants.

Then it was time to do the laundry, in order to make sure no nasty fleas were living and laying eggs in my clothes.  I have caught bedbugs numerous times before while traveling, so I am familiar with the routine of washing every article of clothes I've brought with me. However, when you are not in a backpackers' hostel but rather your own home where you have a lot of clothes, laundry becomes a daunting task. Not so much because it's a lot of work, but because, well, that's a lot of water to use up when you don't have a huge water supply.  The general rule is to do only one load of laundry a day, because otherwise you might run out of water.  I definitely had more than one load of laundry to do.  I did not want to run out of water.

I took the chance and did two loads.  Luckily, the water held out. For now.

I vacuumed every single damn inch of the house. I vacuumed the couch cushions. I vacuumed the vacuum. I took out the vacuum bag and threw it in the trash and then took the trash out.

I read somewhere that fleas like humid environments.  I turned off Herbie the Humidifier.  Luckily, the Arctic air is generally pretty dry.

I opened the windows because the cool air felt good on my tortured skin.  I was still not wearing pants; hopefully nobody was watching through the windows.

I had heard that fleas and flea eggs would die in freezing temperatures.  Thank God I lived in the Arctic.  It was early October and  -0.3°C outside, with a light dusting of snow on the ground.  The whole outdoors was a freezer, ready to be used.

I dragged out every single pillow we owned and dumped it on our front porch. I pulled out the couch cushions,  I tossed out my shoes, coat, and purse.

It was in the middle of this crazed scene that my husband walked in, winding his way around the garbage bag that I had thrown on the front porch. (I hadn't taken it out all the way to the garbage bins because I wasn't wearing pants, and even when completely covered in insightly bumps, a lady must have dignity.)

"What is going on?" he demanded.
"I have fleas!" I whined, dramatically extending my arm for him to see.
"You don't have fleas. That's a rash."
"It's fleas!" I insisted.
"If you have fleas, I would have fleas.  I don't have fleas."
"You don't?" I asked.
"I don't. You have a rash. Will you please bring the pillows back in the house?"

I paused.

"Well, at least I did the laundry," I said, trying the salvage the moment.
"Did you use fabric softener?" he asked, as he opened the dryer.
"Oops. I forgot."
"How do you forget that? It's an important part of the laundry process."
"Well, it's not like I forgot the laundry soap."
He held the sheet up to his nose and sniffed. "I think you forgot the laundry soap."

This is what happens when you leave me all alone on a Friday night.