The diagnosis comes down as though a house has fallen on top of me. How could it be? How on God’s green earth could I possibly have…scabies? On my legs?
I look at this doctor, who surely must be a quack. He is, after all, working out of a shabby storefront located within an even shabbier strip mall, surrounded by local tacky tourist outfits. He is tall and very stern with me, as though I had done this to myself.
In his pathetically broken English this doctor explains to me that this is very common in Dominical, especially among the surfing crowd. Flop house slumlords did not always launder their sheets and towels properly much less at all, and, well.
“Well what?” I ask incredulously as though he is accusing me of sleeping around in these flophouses with world-traveling surfers who consider the world’s oceans to be their outlet for personal hygiene. Delilah is thankfully outside the office, playing with a local shopkeeper’s little girl. My eyes are on her closely. “What are you trying to say to me?” I whisper. I am visibly shaking.
“Miss, I need for you to calm down here,” the doctor starts. I am relieved that he can speak my language fairly well; at least I have that going for me.
I hold up one hand as hot burning tears begin their traitorous and familiar trail down my cheeks. “You wait a minute. You are telling me that I have bugs crawling around underneath my skin and that you are automatically deducing that I caught them from sleeping around in local squat huts? This is out of control.” I am stuttering now out of sheer anger and frustration.
Sympathy has finally found its way into the doctor’s eyes as he sits next to me on the bed. In his thickly accented English, he speaks to me softly but I know he is trying very hard now to get his point across to me, “Listen. This is Costa Rica. Everything grows here. Nothing dies.” He waves his hand around the hot and airless room. “Even tiny bugs have much longer life spans here than anywhere else on earth.” He touches my leg with one gloved hand. The itching flares up again and I push his hand away to scratch. He stops me and shakes his head. “No. No more scratching. Look at these dark red, almost bluish streaks on your legs.” He points out the large swaths of discolored skin. Why did I not see this before?
“What’s that?” New alarms begin to go off inside my head. I see Delilah outside, playing. She is safe.
“You have an infection now. Your blood is infected with so much scratching. In Costa Rica, an infection can be very, very bad. You need shots now.” He starts to get up.
I grab his wrist, which is warm and damp. “What are you saying now? I have scabies on my legs and my blood is infected?” I lay back down onto the hard pillow with a thud, drape my left arm over my eyes and begin to sob. The tiny room smells faintly of mildew, but also of something else. Fear? Disgust?
The doctor gently pulls his arm away and he is silent. He disappears around the curtain. I look up at the smudged, flesh-colored wall where two “Honors of Distinction” plaques are jury-rigged to the damaged plaster. They are suspended crookedly by ugly bent wires. They look as though they’ve been printed off the Internet, I think.
The doctor returns with not one but three needles full of slightly yellow fluids.
“I need three shots for this? Why?” My tears suddenly stop. I am scared to death. The doctor shakes his head and unceremoniously sticks a thermometer into my mouth. He tells me to stretch out my left arm as he swabs the inside of my elbow down with great dramatic strokes of rust colored iodine. It smells bad.
I sit up and strain to look outside where I can see Delilah still playing happily with her new friend. Something they are doing must be very funny because peals of joyful laughter find their way through the cracks in the glass to my ears. The corners of my mouth turn up only slightly and only for a second.
The beeping indicates that the thermometer has done its job and the doctor pulls it out. Sure enough, my temperature is one hundred and three degrees.
How could I have not have known that I have a fever? What’s going on in this country? I want to go HOME!
The doctor explains to me that maybe as my body adjusts to the heat and humidity I might have simply thought that I am hot, nothing more. Then without warning, he sticks the first needle in, then the second, then the third. I have no time to react.
The doctor walks away and throws the dirty needles into the office waste basket. I notice with a sick feeling that he doesn’t have a place for used needles here. God, where am I?
He is speaking again. “The purple streaks should begin to fade within one week, and here are two prescriptions for the pharmacy. One is for the itching and the other is a twenty-one-day run of antibiotic. Also, and this is very important, so listen carefully. Scabies are incredibly prolific and will quickly and easily spread.” With panic rising in my throat once again, my thoughts immediately travel to Delilah. “You will need to go home and wash everything in hot water with lots of bleach. I mean everything. The pillows, the mattresses, your clothes, sheets, rugs…you understand me?” He stands where he is and sticks out his hand, which also holds his tab. Seventy-five U.S. dollars. (The clinic is free to locals). “Good luck, miss,” is all he says. Thus, I am dismissed.
Just glad to be finished, I hand the doctor cash and walk out into the hot Costa Rica morning. Delilah rushes to me when she spots me, and I gratefully envelope my daughter in my arms.
“You okay, Mommy?” Delilah’s huge innocent eyes search my face and arms for any boo-boos. She runs her tiny fingers over the bandage that covers the needle marks. The iodine is seeping out from underneath the cover, and a concerned Delilah stops her fingers here.
I crouch down to see my daughter eye-to-eye. “Oh, baby girl. Mommy’s just fine. Let’s go home, okay?” I am trying desperately to stop the tears from exploding but am failing miserably.
“Why are you crying, then?” Delilah then begins to tear up as well. At four years of age, she is extremely sensitive and has an an acute and unusual sense of empathy.
Not answering for fear of losing it completely, I entwine my fingers through my daughter’s and together we walk to the car parked a few blocks away in the dirt parking lot. I believe then that had it not been for my sweet and loving daughter Delilah, I just might go mad. I am missing Landon and Beck terribly and I feel sick from all the traumas. As I maneuver our way around the giant potholes, trying to avoid the countless homeless dogs that are such ubiquitous fixtures here, Delilah says the one thing that causes the damn to break.
“Can we go home now, Mommy?” she says in her tiny baby voice, so full of innocence and as though it is an option, “I don’t like it here anymore.”
The floodgates open and I cry, “I don’t either, baby girl. I don’t either.”
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