Patient zero?

I’ve been pretty lucky with my lack of allergies to any type of food, medicine, or miscellaneous product. Thankfully I’ll never know the horrors of scrambling for an Epi pen after consuming a Reese’s peanut butter cup or my lips swelling like balloons after applying chap stick. However, I’ve had one significant ordeal that I decided share in hopes to educate, inform, and entertain.
One Friday night after sleeping on my friends couch I woke the next morning particularly itchy and perspiring somewhat heavily. I chalked it up to dehydration and a heavy coarse blanket covering me after a night of excessive drinking.
I brushed it off and joined my friends in a light brunch that morning. I scratched and fidgeted throughout the entire meal and by the end I couldn’t wait to get home and shower. There must have been some type of weird fibers on the blanket that irritated something in my system. I was nearly crawling out of my skin by the time I got through my front door. Once in the bathroom I quickly peeled off my jeans, socks, undershirt, and dress shirt and was about to get into the shower when I noticed my entire body was covered in raised swaths of bumpy redness. This wasn’t good, maybe this was a strange reaction to drinking? But that’s never happened before? Maybe it was the couch and blanket I slept on? I hadn’t anticipated this inconvenience and had already set in motion plans to do a holiday bar crawl in the middle of DC in less than an hour and wasn’t going to be stopped by a little redness of the skin and itching. Lest we forget, “Rule number 71 no excuses, play like a champion.”
I took a quick body shower, threw on clean clothes straight out of the dryer, then put on my thrift store Santa Claus outfit, and like the irresponsible guy I am at times; I ignored the skin problem altogether and was out at the bars within the hour.
Upon arrival to the second bar of the day I looked at my group of about eight friends while scratching the back of my head,
“Has anyone else ever gotten an allergic reaction from Paul’s couch or blankets?”
Everyone erupted in laughter.
“No I’m serious, I think your couch might have bed bugs or scabies or something. Or maybe I’m just allergic to the fabric.” I said trying not to scratch my ankle.
“Practically everyone here has slept on that couch at one time or another and nobody else seems to be having that problem. Maybe you got a disease from a shirt you picked up at the thrift store.” My friend Paul said laughing along with the others.
“So I’m the only one that’s itchy as hell from using the tan blanket on the living room couch?”
Everyone nodded.
“It appears so buddy.” Paul said taking a big sip out of his large mug of beer.
The itching lessened as the day went on either because I was too drunk to care or I was just having too much fun to notice.
I finally got home after almost twelve hours of debauchery. I ate a little food and managed to pound a few glasses of water before sliding under my covers for a well deserved eight hour rest.
My eyes snapped open around 5:00 AM (only a few hours after I went to bed), my body was a swirling torrent of itch and discomfort. I can only describe it as the way a severe sunburn can really deeply itch like needles on nerve endings.
I tumbled out of bed and fumbled towards the bathroom. I turned the shower on and laid sideways periodically rolling around as the luke warm shower seemed to ease some of the discomfort. My entire body was covered in bright red raised hives in the pattern of my scratching motions. When I say everything, I mean everything. My toes were red, knee caps, thighs, balls, ass, shoulders, neck scalp, forehead, everything. I stayed in the tub for a long while and finally left its comforting safe haven after the hot water began to run out. I glanced at the mirror on my way out of the shower and gasped. I looked like I’d just had rough sex with drifter in a gravel parking lot. Blotches of bright red bumps and pinkish skin covered my face and the rest of my body.
I threw on my fresh towel and wiggled and itched as I took a seat in front of my computer. It was time to google the shit of this situation and figure out what the hell was happening to me. I began looking at google images and searching for pictures of anything that might be similar to what I had.
My search criteria got more strange and sinister as I continued browsing “skin rash” pictures. In my self diagnosis I began experiencing a heavy case of what is known as medicalstudent syndrome or hypochondriasis. This is when you inaccurately self diagnose and begin to believe that you have every disease you read about because you display one symptom associated with the illness. It also didn’t help that I was still drunk and nearing hangover territory, further increasing my list of symptoms as time went on and thus building my list of possible diseases.
My Google searches were going something like this:
alcohol allergies
drunk rash
food allergies
skin rash
whole body ringworm
STD rashes
diaper rash
couch rash
blanket disease
poison ivy
chemical poisoning
skin eating bacteria
skin disease
skin cancer
brain tumor

I was able to rule out a fair number of possibilities when finally I came   I across a WebMD page about skin rashes. Looking at the listing of symptoms which fit, I scrolled down the page at the possible causes for the reaction and one particular bullet jumped through the screen at me: Soaps, detergents, shampoos, perfumes, cosmetics, or lotions. Bingo.
I realized instantly what was going on. I’d been wearing clothes for two and a half days from a load of laundry I had done with a different kind of detergent. I could see myself pouring the detergent into the laundry laughing hysterically at my future self. It was so obvious now. There were strong red outlines where my socks, undershirt, jeans, and underwear had been particularly flush against my skin.
I’ve never really given much thought to changing detergents. I’ve used the grand spectrum of liquid detergents over the span of college to my adult life. But on my last load of laundry this past Thursday I wanted to use up the remaining bit of detergent in the Costco size bottle next to washing machine to free up some space and used the unfamiliar brand of detergent instead of the stuff I’d been regularly going with.
At that moment I also became aware that my bare ass was on top of a towel from that recent load.
I leapt up and gathered a pile of clothes that may or may not have been from that wash and marched downstairs to do two large loads of laundry wearing shorts I hadn’t worn in six months and a ripped shirt I found in my closet, just to be safe.
After two days of using different creams and powders all over, my condition had not improved. I was also taking heavy doses of Benadryl (which is a drowsy medicine that turns you into a zombie) in the afternoons and evenings just to avoid scratching and so I could sleep in peace. After having to cancel a date with a girl I was seeing at the time, I realized that this rash was going to completely compromise any form of intimacy until it was completely cleared up. What the hell did people in the middle ages do when this kind of thing happened?!
After the morning of day four I succumbed to calling my health care provider to make a doctor’s appointment and ponied up the $40 co-payment.
I ambled into the doctor’s office bowl legged and upon the doctors first glance at my midsection she said it was one of the most severe allergic skin reactions she had ever seen. For some reason I took a little pride in being “the worst.” Like there was a measure of toughness or even coolness associated with looking like some type of small pox infected retard instead of seeking proper medical attention right away.
She prescribed an oral steroid to which I attempted to make a joke, “so about how soon should I expect to see those massive results in my workouts at the gym like all the jacked guys talk about?”
She looked confused. My doctor was an old woman of Indian descent and I’m not sure why I thought she might have understood where I was going with that joke.
“That was a steroid joke.” I said looking downwards, “When will these rashes go away?”
She smiled, “You’re a healthy young man your body recovers faster than someone my age. If you rest up, it could be as soon as two weeks or as long as six weeks. If things don’t start to improve in two weeks you can come back in.”
I let out a long sigh. “Could be six weeks, great.” I said slowly turning over my forearm to look at the bumps spiraling up my arm.
She recommended more rest and wished me luck. I thanked her and got my $50 prescription downstairs at the pharmacy.
I had to cancel two more dates with the girl I was seeing and eventually I had to tell her I had been forced to cancel our dates due to the giant full-body rash I’d developed from using a different detergent. It’s a pretty terrible excuse no matter how you spin it even if it’s true. I’m nearly certain she was convinced I was buying time to hide some type of herpes outbreak or maybe she thought it was such an emasculating way to be put out of commission that she didn’t want anything to do with me. She stopped returning texts and was clearly done trying to get together by the time the rash disappeared just under three weeks later.
After my experience, I was thinking about how detergent brands do their marketing. Maybe the kind I briefly switched to might want to change their marketing strategy some day. Something more honest and in the Dos Equis format might actually be helpful to consumers… at least I wish I had seen this ad before I used it:
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