One time I had a particularly vicious itch that wouldn’t go away, and I didn’t know why. All I knew was that the affected area was extraordinarily itchy and an angry shade of red. Being that it was in a particularly private and embarrassing spot, I eschewed seeking the proper medical assistance in favor of slathering my crotch with whatever ointment or lotion I could get my hands on. The redness spread like a bonfire doused with gasoline, and I constantly felt like flaying the flesh from my privates in the hopes it would bring some relief. Finally, I signed up for sick call and tried not to make matters worse before I could see some trained medical professionals and have them thoroughly inspect my sad malady.
The reason I’d been reticent to display my package in Healthcare was because the nurses are almost all women, and I suppose I’m still kind of old-fashioned in that I think I should get to know a lady first before I show them my goods. Or maybe I’m just naturally shy. Either way, it was my own private nightmare made real to be standing in a tiny exam room with my pants and boxers around my ankles while two female nurses inspected me like a piece of bad meat. There were two nurses because prison policy aims to ensure that no funny business happens between an inmate and a nurse. But there was nothing sexual or sensual about this—it was purely a clinical perusal.
The first nurse examined me with both interest and disgust before turning to her confederate, who had been busying herself with ransacking drawers in search of something. “Have a look at this.” Before I knew it, they were both leaning over with their hands on their knees—at eye level with my wilted willy.
“Wow,” the second nurse exclaimed, “never seen a case quite this bad before.”
“How long did you say you’ve had this?” the second nurse asked. She didn’t look up, so it seemed like she was addressing my privates directly, as if they had some serious explaining to do.
I managed to mumble, “A week and a half or so. I think.”
She nodded in response, still not meeting my eyes, before shaking her head and adopting a look that conveyed how much of a sad shame she felt the situation was. The silence strung itself out for a while, and I felt like a butterfly pinned in place, an exhibit displayed for the edification and amusement of others. It was a torturously lengthy amount of time to feel exposed and grievously violated. Finally they gave me the okay to cover myself back up. Then they gave me their diagnosis: jock itch.
After the nice nurses were kind enough to explain to me that what I was dealing with was a fungus—the same one as athlete’s foot—I was actually more than a little flattered. It characterized me as an “athlete,” and I had been consistently working out, hard, for the better part of a year, so being called an athlete in any capacity as opposed to a tubby slob was a great compliment. My weight inevitably fluctuates, so I wasn’t about to scoff at being momentarily considered slim. An athlete! At my heaviest—due to overeating and lethargy—I was 315 pounds. The day the nurses saw all that I had to offer, I was 185 pounds. Not too shabby, really—plenty of hard work involved.
I was given some ointment for the jock itch. Due to the extent and severity of my case—the redness covered my entire crotch and a good deal of my upper inner thighs—I was told to apply it morning, noon, and night. Three times daily. This was not necessarily as easy as it sounds. My cellie at the time was a young Latino guy who called himself Shorty. He hadn’t been down long, and it was clear he hadn’t yet learned to become comfortable living in a confined space. Even if he’d been my best friend in the world, though, I still wasn’t about to advertise my embarrassing ailment to him. Call it a touch of vanity on my part, but I decided to keep my itchy issue to myself. This meant I had to put a sheet up and pretend to poop a few times a day so I could hide behind the barrier and covertly apply the ointment. Aside from the obvious privacy issues inherent in living in a toilet/closet combo with another man, I also had a whole other set of problems.
Skin. I’ve got tons of it. Too much of it. Hanging loose, extraneous and ugly, like a plucked, uncooked chicken with grooves of smooth pink stretch marks appearing at random. The place where my legs meet my trunk seems to be ground zero for these phenomena. According to the directions on the tube, this ointment had to be rubbed in very well. This became difficult when my extra skin wouldn’t stay put. I had to pull it taut to apply the much-needed medicine to the fungus-ravaged region. What this means is that at five thirty in the morning, while shrouded in semi-darkness, I would perch on the edge of the toilet with my legs spread wide, and double over for a better view. By which I mean a better look at where exactly the red rash was because there was nothing at all pretty about the view. I was holding a palmful of privates and extra skin in my left hand, trying to keep it all taut, while diligently attempting to rub the ointment in with my right hand. Once all my contortions were complete and my goal achieved, all I had to look forward to was the repeat performance at noon and night. Such was my plight as a newly christened “athlete” in prison.
It was a full week of thrice-daily treatments before all the skin down there was a uniform shade of flesh tone. Even with soothing relief on hand, I had to endure a long week of fighting not to rub and scratch at myself. While that’s not a pleasant mental image, this still wasn’t the worst itchy situation I’ve experienced. I suppose my prison environment is teeming with possibilities for adverse skin reactions. So many rashes, fungi, and infections; so little time.
This excerpt is from Candy and Blood, available on Amazon.com now.