The itch



Wikipedia’s entry on itching goes as follows:

Itch is a sensation that causes the desire or reflex to scratch. Itch has resisted many attempts to classify it as any one type of sensory experience. Modern science has shown that itch has many similarities to pain, and while both are unpleasant sensory experiences, their behavioral response patterns are different. Pain creates a withdrawal reflex while itch leads to a scratch reflex.

My own scratch reflex has been horribly over-employed these last two nights. I wonder if it has anything to do with a change of climate, being currently in a temperate dry place rather than the cold wet place where I normally reside? I came here to do some work, and while I have managed to do a fair bit of writing, I have probably done just as much scratching, often in the more personal or inaccessible zones of the body. I haven’t scratched like this since having scabies a long time ago.

The doctor back home told me it might be a side-effect of the medication I am on (great, I thought, another side effect to go with the fatigue, loss of appetite, anaemia, depression and rage). He also told me – get this – to try not to scratch.

Well, as you can imagine, I laughed like a cretin, since the very essence of having an itch is – as the Wikipedia entry makes clear – to activate the scratch reflex. You think, I’ll just give it a little scratch, and the next thing you are at it like a monkey. When you use your fingernail to scratch the spot where the irritant is, you not only remove the irritant but you irritate a whole shedload of other nerve endings. This means your itch itches more, hurts more, and you consequently scratch more. So my doctor’s advice was actually very helpful, if only I was able to heed it.

All I could do last night was take a valium and keep my hands clenched together under the pillow, in an attempt to exercise the kind of self-control that would do credit to a monk dedicated to obliterating the demands of the flesh.

There is, I suspect, a literary aspect to this scratching business. In fact the whole thing reeks of metaphor, if only because writing itself at times resembles an act of scratching. Initially one writes in order to relieve an itch. However once the process has begun, the initial itch is replaced by something quite monstrous. Then we find it impossible to stop scratching. I wonder if this has anything to do with being on the seventeenth draft of a novel?




6 Comments on “The itch

  1. Happy New Year to you and yours as well. I don’t always get to read your posts as quickly as they come out, but I always print them and get to them as soon as I can. I appreciate your thoughts and writing, and look forward to what’s ahead this year. Take care and keep writing! Beverly Nelson.


    • Thank you Beverly, and same to you. Thanks for reading Blanco’s ramblings. Enjoyed your Chuck Hagel piece on FB. People over here haven’t heard about Chuck, but dare say they will now. All best for 2013. Rx


  2. Wonderful. I guess it has to do with the seventeenth draft, yes. I just finished Walking on Bones and I loved it, loved it, loved it. You know how there are writers that inspire writing and others that don’t (I think you wrote about this once). Well, you are definitely inspiring to me. The world of the senses and the way it opens to something larger, almost impossible to grasp is awaken by reading you, and the memories of long lost lives of mine(alas). Had to tell you so that you keep on scratching because reading is also an itch.
    ps do you feel like trying melissa compresses (is that the plural of compress?) You boil water, make a ton of melissa tea and apply it kindly to the itch. Corn starch is also supposed to be good. I hope relief comes soon.


    • Aw shucks, come on, it isn’t that good. I can’t really do the treatment you suggest. Rabos – where I am – is a bit remote. I might find a poultice from some Pyrenean cow dung or something instead. Hope you are good, enjoying the southern summer. R


  3. Sounds awful, I’ve been there myself. Not Rabos, the scratching.

    Ice / moisturiser (even sun cream) / or just wear gloves at all times like a snooker referee. Scratch using your knickles rather than you fingernails. Or just take loads of valium / codeine.

    All the best / happy new year


    • My codeine/tramadol intake is already bordering on the ridiculous. The gloves idea is fun, but all my loves are fingerless, which rather defeats the object. I mean all my gloves, that was a genuine typo. The itch is only really a problem at night, so probably best just to knock myself out with more valium or something else from the medicine chest. Problem then is that you scratch in your sleep and wake up all bloody, as though you had committed murder and must then find the remains of your victim. Happy New Year, yes. Actually it is the coming of the Magi today, at least it is in Spain. Epiphany.


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