Pandemic Itch

Until the pandemic mandate to avoid touching our faces, I thought I rarely laid a finger on that piece of anatomy other than to apply my daily vitamin E cream.  In accord with a universal truism, the minute something became forbidden, I had to do it. My head seemed to erupt in hundreds of itches all day. Scientific studies claimed the average to be sixteen to twenty-three times per hour. Humans are the only animals who do this. I theorized that viruses have taken over. Our skin had become more agitated because the clever symptom-free form of Covid19 stuck their tiny crowns onto our smooth surfaces and demanded we soothe the spots.  Innocently, we scratched and, with infected fingers, unknowingly spread the disease. What a cunning little virus.

When I first observed the places on my face that demanded an immediate scratch, I thought, This will be an easy case of mind over matter. I’ll relax, do a mini-meditation and tell the irritation to go away. Positive thinking worked on minor feathery agitations, but others shocked me with their virulence. They felt deep and insistent, as if rubbing the area raw might not quench the itch. 

I begin to seriously explore why certain fleeting facial aggravations became compelling. The nose proved to be the hot spot. Why? Perhaps my nostrils were extra sensitive, like a dog’s, although I’d never observed my former dogs scratching their noses. Probably the smart virus targeted a germy part of my countenance for tickle attacks with its usual expansion motives in mind.

Breaking down likely occurrences by time of day helped me to cope. I had no desire to paw at my face in the mornings. Perhaps, by afternoon, my visage had tired from the day’s work and begged for rest and comfort. Just take a moment and spoil me with a tender ministration, my nose seemed to say. And if you don’t, I’ll force you. To prove my theory, the prickly parts became worse in the late afternoon and evening when a major itch storm might hit at any moment. With no obvious cause, it felt like a tiny hair waved in a one centimeter circle near my left nostril. My will power, yelling, Don’t touch it, proved powerless. 

For months, I waged this battle, determined I could control these skin tingles with my mind. Every day I lost, scratched my face and washed my hands. At last, three and one-half months into the Covid19 era, I gave up on mind control. A simple solution occurred to me. In the afternoons and evenings, I carried a facial tissue at all times to wipe a suddenly distressed area, thus sparing my fingers possible contamination.

During the last two months, I began drawing self-portraits, experimenting with different art styles from realistic to abstract. But one drawing, against my conscious will, developed an enormous and elaborate nose. I inherited my mother’s beaky English snout with a knot in the middle, but it wasn’t nearly as large and uneven as the one I drew. Tempted to destroy the obnoxious drawing, something compelled me to keep looking at it day after day. 

All at once, I understood. This giant, stunning nose demonstrated how my proboscis felt in the late afternoons and evenings. It seemed like it had become bait and ballooned larger, attracting all the itches passing by. With Kleenex in hand, I laughed at the drawing, which no longer appeared dreadful, but weirdly amusing.

Oil Nose 1 by Kaethe Kauffman

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