Monday, July 7, 2008

In Europe

Poster Boy and I backpacked Europe. We had a romantic, crusty view of what that meant. So we washed our socks in hostel sinks, we slept on the floor in train stations. We weren’t quite cool enough to leave our copy of Let’s Go Europe at home, but we tried very hard to travel light and live cheap.

One bit of advice in that guidebook (which now sits, battered and dusty as a trophy in our bookcase) that we ignored: Pack your own sheets. Specifically, they tell you to sew up a sheet so it’s like a little sleeping bag. Seriously? We didn’t even really consider it. We were backpacking for chrissakes—we drank cheap wine out of the bottle in parks in Prague, we filled my purse with lunchmeats and breads at continental breakfasts, eating them on the beach in Nice later, after the cheese had warmed and softened. We certainly weren’t worried about sleeping on some stinky sheets every once in awhile.

Then, in Florence, out at dinner, Poster Boy noticed a few red bumps on my neck. Hm. Hives? Weird. But I have that tragic white people skin that bruises and reddens with a change in barometric pressure. I took a swig of wine, shrugged, and continued eating the most delicious slice of veal I’ve ever had in my life.

When we went to bed that night, I noticed Poster Boy had the same rash. He does not share my naturally rashy skin type. But there, crawling up his back, was a small colony of red dots. I wondered if I was imagining the itch on my neck. Like when you see an aunt trotting across the picnic table and you’re suddenly sure there’s also one running up your leg.

But no. The next day, the rash spread. And it itched. We both had it. I had a feeling I knew what it was. A trip to an internet café confirmed my suspicions: Scabies.

I won’t go into the whole story here of the rash’s progress, how we had to move on to Rome and stay in an incredibly crowded hostel, how I had to wear fingerless gloves to hide the rash on my wrists and a scarf around my neck at all times lest we be discovered and kicked out of the hostel, about the misery of the day we had to wash everything we had with us (including our backpacks) in hot water and then carefully wrap it all in plastic without touching it, or the part where we go to the hospital in Rome, confused by the fact that we don’t have to bring any money, and spending hours being bumped around from doctor to doctor before we were told that the one we should probably see wouldn’t be back in until after the weekend.

Eventually we got the medicine we needed, with very specific instructions. It was clear we couldn’t do this in a hostel, so for the first time since we’d been on that side of the pond, we got a hotel room. A decent one.

In the anonymous, beige room, we started by taking off our clothes and bagging them. Next, we emptied a vial about the size of a bottle of Visene into a plastic cup, which we topped off with water. Then we washed our hands, and using cotton balls, systematically applied the milky liquid to every inch of skin on our bodies. We each did a lot of the work alone, but there are areas that are difficult to reach, you know?

When Poster Boy was standing stood up on the toilet seat with one leg on the tank, and in the fluorescent light I was painstakingly smearing a funny-smelling liquid on all of his bits and pieces, I was reminded that there are times that being in love is awesome. This was not one of them. But this was a time when having someone by your side, someone who’s already seen your asshole, is really fucking useful.

I don’t know why the woman at the pharmacy didn’t mention what would happen 20 minutes after the application. Maybe we looked like the sort of people who like surprises. But what happened is that every inch of skin on both of our bodies turned candy apple fucking red and BURNED. Yes, interwebs, it burned so badly that I had to go cap lock on your asses. It burned everywhere. We poured giant cocktails, turned on the TV and lay on top of the clean white sheets (I know, you’d think we would have learned), trying not to touch anything.

Oh, and 12 hours later, we did the second application.

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