fungus among us

A mushroom walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Hey. We don’t serve your kind in here.” The mushroom replies, “Why not? I’m a fun-gi!”

I am not turning into an alien mushroom. There was a period of 48 hours in which I was informed I “probably had a massive bacterial AND fungal infection,” and the fungal part really creeped me out. I know that there are several varieties of microscopic creatures living in each human’s eyebrows, yadda yadda, but somehow the thought of tiny mushrooms sprouting up all over me just freaks me to the very core of my being.

Or maybe I should say to the very spore of my being.

Lame jokes aside, it all started with a bug-bite …

· · ·

I am a scratcher, both metaphorically and literally. It’s something I observe about myself, and intend to improve, but never really do. If I want something, and I can get it, I buy it. So it only follows that if I get bitten by a bug, and it itches, I scratch it. Seems simple enough.

But your moms and dads tell you, don’t scratch bug-bites. That’s how they get infected. They tell you and sometimes you listen, and then sometimes you don’t, because it just feels soooooo good to scratch it.

Mom, Dad, I’m sorry. I scratched it and you were right. It got infected. It turned into a scary UFO-crater, complete with grey bumpy terrain and a big red hole in the middle. It threatened to take up one whole side of my ankle, and then it held its size, as if to say, and now … we wait.

· · ·

I’m good at waiting, though. Patience isn’t my strongest suit, but it isn’t my weakest anymore. So I waited. And I put Neosporin on it, and kept it covered, and clean, and waited.

Scary UFO-craters don’t mind waiting right back. I found that out. They’ve got the time to spare.

After about a month of this – and obsessing each night I would fall asleep that I’d wake up and be covered in hundreds of scary UFO-craters – I gave up. It was time to see

<cue scary music>

a doctor.

· · ·

I worked in a medical library for years. I chilled with the med students, with the doctors and interns and nurses and EMTs. I heard the gross stories, I peeked at The Color Atlas of Dermal Horror and Anguish. I was, as far as I thought, down with that.

No, Halsted. No, you are so not down with that. You are the one who gets the shakes whenever doctor’s appointments are mentioned. Down with that is about the last thing you are down with. Next to hip lingo, of course.

With Chad’s help (read: “I’m not going to listen to you complain about this anymore”), an appointment was made for the Monday before Christmas. We went. It was not bad. No one prodded me, not even with those evil flat gagging sticks. The doctor even smiled at me.

And handed me a prescription for Cephalexin, “the most common antibiotic used to combat staphylococcus.”

I’ve heard of this beast. It’s the disgusting crap that overruns your home when you don’t use Lysol! But our house is clean … really clean, since we got hooked on that Orange Clean gig.

It was the bug-bite. The bug gave me staph. And here I have been saving their awful little lives whenever possible, particularly from their tortuous ends at the paws of Zen.

I am suddenly morally outraged at all insects, and arachnids too for good measure, because, well, I hate spiders.

· · ·

A week with the antibiotic passes. The scary UFO-crater shrinks a bit, unswells, and turns decidedly pink. I instead catch the flu, and pass it on to Chad and Mish. But I am no longer worried about this staph thing.

And then the bumps appear.

At first, to the paranoid mind, they are more bug-bites, tiny though, and there’s something not bug-bitish about them. There’s the fact that hot showers, which have always soothed my bug-bites in the past, only piss these little guys off. Then there’s the waking me up in the middle of the night to scratch them thing.

I slowly come to the sickening realization that these are not bug-bites. These are baby scary UFO-craters, so tiny they can’t be craters. They’re just … crats.

I am hatching. I am turning into something else, evolving a million human-evolution-years in a day, like Tom Paris in that “Star Trek: Voyager” episode. But more importantly, I am itching.

Itching like this is horrible. It’s the sort of itching that scratching makes worse, and I don’t mean guilt-wise. You know the kind. When you scratch this kind of itch, it’s like you’ve got Tabasco under your fingernails. It’s the kind of itching that makes me fantasize about gigantic rolls of sandpaper, and running through them naked, like some perverse human car-wash.

I bear the itching (and Chad bears with my complaining about the itching) until last Monday. We return to the doctor.

· · ·

“Ah,” he says. “It must be not only a bacterial infection, which the antibiotic was treating, but

<cue reverb>


Okay, fuck. I know what fungal means and I know it’s related to fungus and that in turn is related to “mushrooms”. I am turning into a mushroom. I will wake up tomorrow morning with a huge grey head and fins under my arms.

But it’s not too hard to imagine, really. I like dark places. Moist ones, too, if that translates into “near the ocean”. I don’t get nutrients directly from the soil but I certainly respect it. And hey — I love Alice in Wonderland which is of course a direct correlation between the Caterpillar and his mushroom and … me. Right.

(You try thinking clearly while you’re metamorphosing.)

“I am going to refer you to a dermatologist,” the doctor smiles at me, then Chad. “I am no expert on this,” and he gestures to my ankle. The scary UFO-crater must be waiting for the X-Files film crew to show up.

· · ·

“Sure, we have an available appointment on January 18th,” I hear as I choke on my Tuesday morning coffee.

“Um, it’s kind of urgent.” Aliens are using my ankle as a landing site and I am turning into a mushroom, woman. Work with me!

“Well,” she sniffs, “I can put you on our cancellation list, but I warn you … we do NOT leave messages.”

Don’t worry, hon. Alien mushrooms can’t receive them.

I hang up with the sniffy dermatologist’s office receptionist and call my doctor’s office receptionist, who is much nicer and finds me another dermatologist within fifteen minutes. I have an appointment for Wednesday morning.

Later that night, I eat mushroom soup in an attempt to piss off the inner fungus. It doesn’t work.

· · ·

We are up before the sun. The mushrooms are pleased. We hustle sleepily to the ferry, then onto a 14 bus which travels down Mission, far down Mission, until it drops us off nearly in front of the dermatologist’s office.

The doctor isn’t in yet when we arrive ten minutes late. I am nervous and frustrated and I’ve brought two books on Buddhism with me but neither of them sponsor Righteous Anger at Receptionists Because of Reasons They Cannot Control, so I do not read them.

When the doctor arrives, Chad and I go to examining room 2 and wait. I note the lack of intubation equipment, and defibrillators. Chad notes that I am weird.

Of course I am weird, dear. Alien mushrooms. They fuck with your mindwaves, man.

The doctor doesn’t see me first; a nurse does. She is nice to me, but speaks mainly to Chad, even though I’m the one giving her the inside scoop on my fungus. She oohs and aahs appropriately at my main scary UFO-crater, and mm-hms thoughtfully at the mini-craters. I like her instantly.

The doctor is a diminutive older man with dyed (obviously) black hair and big square Ed McMahon glasses. He smiles a lot and is quiet, pensive almost. He also speaks a lot to Chad, and I am beginning to get the idea that maybe they think I brought him as my translator. All of the staff seems to speak both English and Spanish. It makes sense to me, and I don’t really mind the utilitarian sexism, even though I should.

The doctor seems convinced that he has the solution: Prednisone pills and Betamethasone cream. This is no fungus, he and the nurse agree. This is an allergic reaction to either the Cephalexin I was first prescribed, or the flu itself, or maybe even both.

But no fungus. I slowly deflate. I guess that means no aliens either.

And you wonder why I don’t like doctors. All these reasonable explanations!

· · ·

So here I am. Weeks and weeks without writing journal entries, and I resurface to tease you into thinking I am turning into an alien mushroom, only to reveal that no. I’m still me, and pretty normal besides. I have a lot of catching up to do, but I figured this was a good place to start.

The other stories I have to tell are much more exciting …

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