Itchy grossness

There’s a fascinating article in The New Yorker, “The Itch” by Atul Gawande. It’s all about what causes itching, how we experience it, and what happens when it goes horribly wrong. HORRIBLY WRONG.

The case the article revolves around is so gross that I had to stop reading for awhile. Me, who is a connousieur of grossness, who is proud of how gross my story in the First Kiss anthology is. And yet I feel compelled to share. Since I am a good person I will share after the cut.

WARNING: If you are easily grossed out DO NOT continue reading. If you have ever had shingles DO NOT continue reading. I am not kidding about this warning.

The case subject is a woman who had shingles, which damaged the nerves in her forehead, and left her with an intense itch. She could not stop scratching. Various measures were used to stop the scratching but they did not work:

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.

Okay, I’m grossed out all over again. Gah! But you know what? That’s not even the worst thing about this extremely fascinating essay, the worst thing is it keeps making me itchy, and now I’m afraid if I scratch too hard I’ll go all the way through bone! Aargh!

But is most excellent article: the stuff about phantom limbs is totally fascinating. You should all read it. Just skip that paragraph. Though, um, for those of you who’ve read this far it’s too late, isn’t it? Sorry!

I go take another shower now.


  1. Crea on #

    Long time lurker, first time commenter.

    Darn it, I can’t read the article. I really want to, but I have chronic hives and if I think or read about about itchyness I get hives. And hives suck.

    Article is too tempting. Going to risk it.

  2. Jenny on #

    That article is extremely interesting. I love the mirror therapy. I was not as grossed out by the brain-fluid thing (maybe because I studied neuroscience?). Also the idea of sensor syndromes…come to think of it, I wonder if that might be what’s causing problems for my brother…

  3. veejane on #

    I think that woman’s fingernails need to be harvested for science. If she can get through her skull in a single night, without even trying, think what she could be doing in a diamond mine!

  4. Heather Harper on #


    Just wow.

    Can you say calcium deficient?

  5. Iris Messenger on #

    oh shoot … i think i’ll never be able to scratch an itch again — that’s incredibly gross, that bit about the brain fluid. *shivers*


  6. hillary! on #

    HAHAHAHAHAHA! That is so awesome! not the part about her scratching through to her brain. Actually no, I take it back. It is a little jokez. But I find things like that intriguing. I love being disgusted! You should do it more often.

    Actually if you’re brave enough and click on this link, you’ll see the only thing that has ever grossed me out.

  7. Iris Messenger on #

    hillary, that is eww … like, leaky brain-fluid eww … *shivers again*

  8. Edwina on #

    QUOTE: hillary! Says:
    June 27th, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Actually if you’re brave enough and click on this link, you’ll see the only thing that has ever grossed me out.

    ARGH! No! EW!!!! AARGGGGHHH!!!

    *puts on rubber gloves*


  9. emily beth on #

    EW EW EW EW EW EW EWWWWWWW! Okay, I’m going to read the rest of the article now.

  10. Merre Haskell on #

    I am making a mental note right now: Justine is much harder to gross out than me. If she warns me it’s gross, just BACK AWAY.

    Actually, I’m not so much disgusted as horrified. Distinctly different kinds of revulsion.

  11. hillary! on #

    Yeah, that picture is way gross, and I don’t even know what causes it. Which is what scares me the most.

  12. Renleigh on #

    AAAAAAAAAAAAH! I usually delight in being grossed out; I love the whole reading/cringing combo, but this is possibly the most terrible thing I’ve ever tried to read. It’s probably because I’m covered in mosquito bites and therefore itchy to start with. I just can’t make myself continue to read this, at least not until my itchiness with a legitimate cause subsides. It’s a pity, as I’m really quite interested in the science of itching.

    This reminds me though, I still haven’t gotten to read the gross first kiss story. Must track that down, I’m fairly confident I can handle it as long as there’s no itching or brain juice.

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