I went to sleep Friday night knowing that I had gotten bitten. Itchy little bumps had formed on my legs, just below the kneecap. I scratched, as usual, and said to myself, “aw, hell.”
But I put it out of my mind and didn’t give it another thought.
I woke up yesterday morning in physical agony. Instantly, I knew. I’d been down this stretch of South Texan road before.
Like most of the United States, we have our share of mosquitoes–pretty but pesky little things that bite and when they do, it forms a little bump that itches for a few hours and then dissipates, usually never to enter one’s mind again. No harm, no foul.
Friday night, that’s what I thought I had. By yesterday (Saturday) morning, however, I knew better: these bites ain’t no mosquitoes.
These were bites made by chiggers. As someone who has sustained my share (and probably yours and that of your whole family and all your friends, too), I can tell the difference all too well, and it’s not pretty.
It’s an old familiar pattern, and I’m an old hat at it.
Chiggers are tricky. You can’t readily see them. You can, but only if you know what you’re looking at. You can’t feel them, either. So there’s no way to tell if you’re about to sit in or brush against a whole cluster of them. You can’t tell if they’re on you. Or, burrowing inside your skin.
Yes, you read that right: they chew a hole through your skin. They’re a tiny mite, small enough to get through the weave of your socks, small enough to crawl down into the space (or non-space, in my case) between one’s waist and the waistband of their pants. Wearing tight socks or tighter pants won’t keep them out, either; in fact, it only encourages them, making it easier for them to do Their Thing.
And Their Thing isn’t nice. It’s not as simple as a few hours of itching, apply some anti-itch cream, and you’re good to go.
Nope, you don’t actually know you have them until about 8 hours later. By then, they’ve borrowed deep inside your skin, and there’s no getting them out. They’re there to stay.
They secrete enzymes that dissolve the surrounding tissues, which, as if that wasn’t bad enough on its own, causes the immune system to respond. And the immune system responds in a huge way.
The itching, if you’re like me and you’re histamine-saturated already, will cause you to wake up itching intensely every morning for a week. Unlike mosquito bites, which pretty much stop itching as soon as you break the skin, these will go on itching and itching, long after the skin has been broken.
Let’s talk about those skin breaks. They’re awful. They bleed some, ooze some. The ooze dries in a sticky fashion, which never fails to adhere to my high socks, so every leg movement can hurt intensely, until the sock can be (extremely painfully) separated from the wound site. It’s a hundred times worse than ripping a band-aid off. Band-aid ripping is child’s play compared to this.
The wounds eventually become dime-sized, for me, and they ooze clear yellowish liquid for a long time, a good several weeks. This is probably prolonged by my high socks, which easily and frequently become adhered to the wound sites.
They also continue to itch throughout this entire time, so you’re constantly ripping open scabs in your sleep.
Don’t worry, though; in about 4-5 weeks, it’s all over with. The final scab does form, and eventually falls off (with your help, due to its size), like all scabs eventually tend to do.
Your leg (it’s usually the leg) will be left with a scar; in my case, the scars have become odd colors, but don’t mind that part because the circulation in my legs is a little abnormal. Mine have gotten darker, but yours may not.
Either way, though, it’s a bitch.
It’s going to be a long month. 😉
More information from the Wiki entry, which is decent. 🙂