When I was five years old, I remember waking up one school morning, going into my Mommy and Daddy’s bedroom to greet them with a cheery five-year-old “gooooood morning,” when I perchanced to glance into my mother’s vanity mirror. The reflection that stared back at me was not the usual stunning visage that I had grown accustomed to, but rather a Disneyfied chipmunk-cheeked version. I had the mumps.
I don’t think kids get the mumps anymore, which is too bad, because you win a two-week vacation from school when you get the mumps. Although in retrospect, it wasn’t all that big a bowl of cherries for me. All I remember doing was sitting around watching '60s-era cartoons like Dodo, the Kid from Outer Space and Hercules. I felt a bit like a mump on a log, all mumped up and no place to go.
But I don’t want to write about the mumps because the mumps do not involve red spots (at least, none that I am aware of) and red spots is what this column is about it's right in the title! So I better write about red spots.
My first bout of red spots arrived in the form of chicken pox after the mumps went away. The immediate reaction of any child upon the onset of chicken pox spots is to scratch at them ferociously with about the same ferocity that National Geographic-trained lions use to attack a randomly selected gazelle. But of course, this is precisely what your mother tells you not to do not to scratch at the spots not to not ferociously attack a randomly selected gazelle, which would have at least taken my mind off of scratching the spots, for a while anyway.
So, like most enterprising young children, I devised a variety of clever ways to scratch at the spots without direct contact between them and my fingernails. There was the technique of vigorously and rapidly adjusting a patch of clothing (a shirt sleeve, a pant leg, a waist band) until I was satisfied with relief that my clothes were in the right spot. This technique also worked well with bed sheets. Then there was walking down the hall to the bathroom where I could drag my shoulder or arm or leg or stomach along the wall for relief; although I did attract some odd stares from my siblings. My parents began to express concern about the size of my bladder.
The chicken pox spots eventually disappeared faster than you could say “mumps” fifty thousand times and all was right with the world until I hit puberty. Due to an unfortunate glandular practical joke, I hit puberty about one year later than all of my friends. So when my friends made jokes like, “Is that a zit on the end of your nose, or are you trying out for a role in Pinocchio?” I had no idea what they were talking about. So when my glands finally kicked into gear, all at once it seems on or about noon on April 1, 1976, I was finally able to revel in appreciation of all those pimple jokes, now directed at yours truly. At least they weren’t itchy.
My acne problems finally cleared up once and for all towards the end of my final year of high school. I was able to admire my clear complexion for about one day because, the next morning, I woke up with red spots all over my body. What new bane had invaded my body now, I wondered? A trip to the doctor confirmed that I had the measles. Imagine, a young man about to graduate from high school and a childhood disease befell me three weeks before final exams, and more importantly, two weeks before the graduation dance! Because of my advanced years, I was at risk of going blind from the measles. Apparently, your eyes get overly sensitive to light when you get the measles when you’re older. So I had to spend the last two weeks of classes at home sitting on the couch wearing sun glasses and watching old episodes of Dodo, the Kid from Outer Space and Hercules on the Rerun Network.
Fast forward a quarter century to the present, then rewind about three weeks to our last camping trip at Fitzroy Harbour. We had a great time, bonded with the children and all that stuff. A couple of days after returning home, I noticed a few red spots on my belly. Scratching at them felt real good. A few days later, I noticed spots on my lower right arm, my upper right leg, and the right side of my neck.
“Don’t scratch at those spots like that,” is what my wife, a nurse, said. “You’ll only make them worse.”
A trip to the doctor confirmed that I had poison ivy, or poison oak. I could take my pick of poisons it seems. So after two weeks of applying a cortisone cream on my red spots, they are starting to fade. But the memory of the expressions on my children’s faces as they watched me rub my belly on the hall on my way to the bathroom will never fade.
Nick Burn is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, engineer, teacher, and is the principal behind the services of Statistics Courses. In his spare time (hah!), he enjoys camping, skiing and reading.
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