I will preface this post with the warning that it has been rated RG for Really Gross. Read at your own risk. If you feel the need to respond with comments like, “THIS IS SO GROSS!” you are preaching to the choir, people, largely because the following story addresses the topic that is already #1 on my Grossest Things list. So now, without further ado, let’s get this party started.
I notice that I’m really good at worrying needlessly about things like getting a brain tumor OR running out of bread and peanut butter OR developing amnesia before I can complete the final revisions on my book. Most recently, however, after a snorkeling adventure gone awry, I am obsessively worried that the coral scrape on my ankle is not healing as it should. It’s not a healthy color, and it feels like it’s angry, the way husbandio’s stomach feels when he eats raw garlic. The way I feel when I find boy-pee on the bathroom floor. I’d take a picture of it (my cut, not any of the other angry-feeling things) and show you, but that would be an example of gratuitous grossness. That’s not how I roll.
First things first. I would like to express my condolences to the coral that I surely damaged as it stripped my ankle of a decent-sized swath of skin. But I was distracted by the fact that I was in charge of teaching Buddy to snorkel. Husbandio got Sweetie (the brave one). I got Buddy (the opposite of brave one). And that teaching experience, my friends, will get its very own chapter if I ever write a memoir.
I’m not ever proud of the times I completely lose my patience when I’m helping the kids learn to read or snorkel or ride a bike without training wheels. It’s never OK to lose patience. Just like it’s never OK to touch coral. I am merely suggesting that when Buddy starts screaming (in 3.5 feet of Hawaiian water after he got a little salt water in his mouth), “IT BURRRRRNS! I CAN’T BREATHE BECAUSE IT’S BURRRRRRNING!” I CAN’T BREEEEATHE! AND THERE’S A SCARY THING DOWN THERE, MAYBE AN EEEEEEEEL!” that must provide sufficient distraction to allow unintentional ankle-to-coral contact.
Back on the beach, Buddy is at my side, whimpering about “a salty taste in his mouth.” Then he notices my ankle. “Mom! You’re BLEEDING!” I glance down. Sure enough, there’s a river of red running down my foot. “See, Buddy?” I say. “I’m bleeding, quite a lot actually, and I’m not even crying.”
See what a mean mother I am! I get mad at him for crying and then I praise myself for not crying. In one brief snorkel event, I manage to emasculate my seven-year-old with just a few words. I’m like Zorro, with a snorkel and SPF 80. With sharp, cutting words instead of swords. Swish, swish, swish!
And Sweetie finishes the job I have started. All the way back to the hotel, she describes, in great detail, all the amazing, beautiful, amazingly-beautiful rainbow fish she saw. “It’s not scary, Buddy,” she says. “You just have to be brave and not worry about it.” Swish, swish, swish.
Meanwhile, in the back of my mind, I am trying to remember what I have heard about coral cuts. And how they can get easily infected. So, back at the hotel, I clean the cut, slather it with Neosporin, and bandage myself up, determined to carrying on with my tropical vacation.
Until three days later when I notice the cut is throbbing and doesn’t look so great. It’s got that angry look I mentioned earlier, only now it looks irate. Enraged. Incensed and fuming.
The sight of it grosses Husbandio out (which frankly, isn’t that hard to do). “Yuck,” he says. “That doesn’t look so good.”
And when I head over to my trusty laptop to Google/Bing “coral cut infection” I realize just how un-good things really are. From other folks’ tales of woe, I learn there is a huge likelihood that I did not clean it well enough. That hotel soap was not sufficient. That because this cut has become infected, I will have to be rushed home, body flaring as coral toxins flood my bloodstream, a calamity that will result in double leg amputation which will make it difficult to dance (well) or wear cute shoes ever again. Difficult, but not impossible.
However, as I read on, I learn something even more concerning than coral toxins: the possibility that a whole colony of coral has started growing under my skin.
This really did happen. Some British guy who stepped on some coral (in Hawaii, thank you very much), got himself all cut up, and five days later, noticed the entire sole of his foot had become hard as wood. When he went back to jolly old England, his doctor told him that CORAL WAS GROWING ALL OVER THE SOLE OF HIS FOOT, UNDER HIS SKIN. LIKE A BIG CORAL FLIP-FLOP. (I added that last part about the flip flop.) Apparently his doctor made some joke about him trying to smuggle coral into the country, which would have made me angry had I been the guy with the flip-flop coral foot. But perhaps he laughed at the doctor’s joke. Perhaps things are funnier in a British accent. Perhaps when you have a WHOLE REEF growing in you, your brain gets a little addled and everything seems hilarious. I don’t know.
I do know there are plenty of things in this world that terrify me: Cliffs without railings. People in Wisconsin who drive their cars–FOR FUN–on frozen lakes. Moray eels. Getting buried alive by snow. Throwing up in public. Dying while my children are still children. Sarah Palin.
I have a whole other list dedicated to things that give me the heebies, but at the top of that list is Things That Grow in Other Things. Needless to say, with this whole coral flip-flop story, that’s my worry of the week: Might I have a coral colony growing under my ankle skin?
Husbandio assured me that no, it looks just fine, much better than the other day, that it looks far less oozy and angry. That now it’s just mildly huffy. But then I tell him about the British dude.
“Ugh. That’s gross,” Husbandio says. “Kind of like the bot fly thing.”
Yes, my friends, the bot fly. The King of Grossness on the Grossest Things That Grow in Other Things. A coral colony under one’s skin? That’s in the top five, but it’s nothing compared to the human bot fly.
If you are still reading, this is where things get RG. I will not go into the gory details about the human bot fly. I will simply say this: if the human bot fly’s eggs get on your skin they will hatch and the hatchlings will burrow into you.
At this point in the bot fly’s life cycle, things get a whole lot grosser, so I’ll just FastForward to my friend’s (true!) story about this poor guy who was recently back from South America where he was “violated” by a bot fly. Violated in his scalp. Doctors in South America suggested that he put raw beef on his scalp (to draw out The Violator, who, apparently likes its steak a little pink).
But the raw-beef-on-the-scalp trick didn’t work so this guy (now back in the states), probably in an attempt to take his mind of his woes, goes to see a Knicks game with his girlfriend. Just to try to live a normal life and do things that normal people (without bot flies in their scalps) do. BUT THE BOT FLY HATCHES OUT OF HIS HEAD DURING THE HALFTIME SHOW! So much for a normal life. When a fly hatches from one’s scalp at a Knicks game, things are not normal.
There is just so much that is weird and gross and disturbing about that image, but I’ll let you have some privacy for a moment while you noodle on it.
“Yes,” I tell Husbandio, my voice soggy with sarcasm. “At least I don’t have a human bot fly in my ankle.”
But for two days now, I have been semi-obsessively pressing on my ankle. While it does appear to be finally healing up, there is definite hardness under the cut. But that could be simply because my ankle bone lies right under the cut. And that’s a bone that has been fairly hard my entire life. If memory serves.
The verdict? I should be OK. Disaster averted. I should be able to keep my legs and dance and wear cute shoes (other than coral flip-flops).
I should even be able to take Buddy out snorkeling again. If he will let me. If I can promise him that this time I will be armed, not with blade-sharp words, but with patience and kindness and compassion. And thick-soled swim shoes. With ankle guards.