And the livin’ is easy
Mosquitos are bitin’
And the cotton is high

Paraphrased from George Gershwin

Oh dear! These little fellas are causing me all kinds of problems. (I understand that it’s the male mosquitos who make that irritating buzzing noise, perhaps to distract us, while the quiet female stealthily nips in for a nip.) I’m sure I’m not alone, but this summer, the first time since the transplant that I’ve been around mosquitos, or they’ve been around me more to the point, I am reacting very badly to bites.

I don’t know if it’s due to my new immune system. Maybe my generous stem cell donor has also given me an inherited allergic reaction? Or it could be down to my immune system being compromised and therefore unable to cope with the onslaught of mosquito venom.

I’m sure they must be a tasty treat for some creatures along the food chain, but really, other than that, what on earth are the benefits to the world of mosquitos? Would the planet be a poorer place if they died out, instead of the Bengal Tiger, for example?

According to the NHS Choices website:

Insect bites and stings usually clear up within several hours and can be safely treated at home.

Hah! Not for me!

They also say:

Bites from midges, mosquitoes and gnats often cause small papules (lumps) to form on your skin that are usually very itchy. If you are particularly sensitive to insect bites, you may develop:

    • bullae (fluid-filled blisters)
    • weals (circular, fluid-filled areas surrounding the bite)

Bullae – yes! Weals – no! Well, that’s one less thing to deal with, I guess.
Finally, and this is more like it, in the section entitled ‘Allergic Reaction’:

Most people will not have severe symptoms after an insect bite or sting but some people can react badly to them. You are more likely to have an allergic reaction if you are stung by an insect.

No, not me. Mine is from bites… definitely, bitingly, bites!

If you have a large localised reaction (LLR) after being bitten or stung by an insect, a large area around the bite or sting will swell up. The area may measure up to 30cm (12in) across, or your entire arm or leg could swell up.

That’s more like my experience!

The swelling will usually last longer than 48 hours but should start to go down after a few days. This can be painful but the swelling will not be dangerous unless it affects your airways.

Phew! It’s not dangerous. Nor is it painful to be honest, just distractingly, almost unbearably ITCHY!!!

mosi-guardI tried all sorts of preventative measures, like Mosiguard, which I bought before going away. It’s “a naturally occurring extract of lemon eucalyptus oil” that you roll on like deodorant. It stinks! And it wasn’t terrifically effective.

mosquito_repellent_wristbandI tried a wristband which my aunt generously lent/gave me, where you insert a waxy block infused with mosquito repellent into a little pocket in the band. I didn’t realise it was a wristband, so I wore it around my ankle – that’s where I was getting bitten.
It was a bit tight and no, it didn’t stop the little bleeders.

I also used citronella oil, whose smell I really like and reminds me of summer, but was equally ineffectual. And I refuse to use anything with DEET – it’s just too nasty!

So, what can I do? I think I just have to deal with the consequences of being bitten…

IMG_1457IMG_1471While I was on holiday in Italy I had matching blisters on each foot. I managed not to scratch or pop them and fortunately they both healed without too much trouble. But each foot itched like crazy for days, especially at night, despite antihistamine cream.

As you can see above and here below, my ankle bones pretty much disappeared with the swelling.


This was after I’d already had a blister on my left foot in the first few days of the holiday that the same aunt kindly punctured with great care and a sterilised needle. It healed beautifully.

IMG_1463IMG_1480But it wasn’t just my feet… Check out the swollen neck that almost looked like a goitre and this attractive reaction on my leg. Swollen became an identity, not just a word. Not to mention, did I mention the ITCH that I had to resist, resist, resist the urge to scratch for DAYS!!!

I saw my doctor a couple of days ago and mentioned the bite reaction problem, in the hope that she’d suggest or prescribe something effective. She did prescribe Cortopin steroid cream to help soothe the itching – it didn’t!, along with Citrizine antihistamine tablets to help reduce the inflammation – it didn’t either!

IMG_1809Allow me to introduce my most recent proud exhibit, which I didn’t even have to go abroad for. This beauty was caused by delightful home-grown critters, right here in the UK. Maybe it’s not obvious, but it’s my lower arm. Immediately below the elbow (below the doorknob) you will see that it is swollen. What you cannot see is that it is almost continually itchy… and hot!

Nothing, I repeat NOTHING helps, the itch is everything, all pervasive, omnipresent. The itch is god! Of course, if I scratch, when I just can’t help myself and have to surrender to the power of the itch, the relief and the pleasure from scratching is immense.

20130810-031224.jpgBut scratching brings its own problems of course – even when I make sure not to actually scratch the bite itself and not to break the skin – like this wound, which oozes clear watery pus and seems to be taking forever to heal, despite being alternately left uncovered to get fresh air, and being protected by careful application of a sterile dressing or plaster.

Yesterday, I took one of my new Citrizine tablets around 6:00pm. I was still itching at 11:00pm when I went to sleep. Not only did it not stop the itch, nor reduce the inflammation, but the ‘drowsiness’ they warn can happen, did happen… I managed to sleep right through my alarm this morning, only waking around 9:30. I’ll remember that the next time I can’t sleep.

I’m trying to be brave and obedient and put into practice some things I learnt on a recent mindfulness course, allowing myself to just be with the feeling of itch without necessarily having to respond to it. Not always so successful! It’s a bit like being left in a room with a great big chocolate cake and no one around to see you take a bite. And then there are the times when I just abandon all semblance of restraint and give myself over to wholehearted, delicious scratching and revelling in the relief it brings.