Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Itching

In some situations, small changes stop having small effects and result in sudden qualitative changes called phase transitions. For eg., the temperature of a solid keeps increasing as you keep heating it but after a point, if you supply it with a little more heat, the crystalline structure of the solid collapses and the molecules start slipping and flowing around each other i.e. it starts melting.

Phase transitions need not occur only in chemistry. They can occur in social systems too like spreading of fads and fashions, speculative bubbles, stock market crashes, etc. The occurrence of my stroke can also be described as a phase transition. One moment I was like millions of others preparing to go  to office and from a moment later, I was unable to scratch my nose on my own. Over time, I have developed a healthy respect for itching like Ogden Nash who said:
I’m greatly attached to Barbara Fritchy; 
I bet she scratched when she was itchy.
When my nose itches, I twitch my nose and surrounding areas (part of it is involuntary) which is the signal to Jaya about what the problem is. Over time this has  become the signal for any kind of itching in any place. Through trial and error, Jaya will find out the exact spot. I am usually given head bath about once a week. By the end of that period, my head will start itching which is signal for my next head bath. At this time if my head is scratched, it feels divine. There is actually a word for the part of the body where one cannot reach to scratch.

It is not surprising that strange itching problems catch my eye. There is an article by Atul Gawande where he writes about a phantom itch:                                                                                                            
“Scratching is one of the sweetest gratifications of nature, and as ready at hand as any,” Montaigne wrote. “But repentance follows too annoyingly close at its heels.” For M., certainly, it did: the itching was so torturous, and the area so numb, that her scratching began to go through the skin. At a later office visit, her doctor found a silver-dollar-size patch of scalp where skin had been replaced by scab. M. tried bandaging her head, wearing caps to bed. But her fingernails would always find a way to her flesh, especially while she slept.
One morning, after she was awakened by her bedside alarm, she sat up and, she recalled, “this fluid came down my face, this greenish liquid.” She pressed a square of gauze to her head and went to see her doctor again. M. showed the doctor the fluid on the dressing. The doctor looked closely at the wound. She shined a light on it and in M.’s eyes. Then she walked out of the room and called an ambulance. Only in the Emergency Department at Massachusetts General Hospital, after the doctors started swarming, and one told her she needed surgery now, did M. learn what had happened. She had scratched through her skull during the night—and all the way into her brain.
I didn't know you could scratch past your skull  into your brain! Then there is an itch which  occurs when you run.  And what about Morgellons syndrome?

1 comment:

  1. Glad that Morgellons syndrome is fiction.....Whew!!
    Gave me the creeps- Gawande's desciption...YUCK!!

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