Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bugs and parasites

We have been at war with the mosquitos for weeks now. We keep thinking that soon it will be too cold for them, but they keep turning up, night after night, to torture us away from sleep. Are they living in the walls of our old building, as a friend suggested? Or coming in through some crack that I can’t find? Or infiltrating the apartment through the pipes and vents? The other night KC found a cockroach in the apartment, leading to yet another search for sources of entry or contamination. Could it be the boards rotting underneath our floor? Or somehow coming over from our neighbor’s place?

The other night I woke up twice thinking I would throw up, my mouth filled with saliva, sweating and shivering. Time to take the parasite medicine again, KC said. He grew up in a Korea where you took your parasite medicine once a year and they regularly examined students’ stools in school to make sure none of them had worms. Parasites, it seems, were a big problem back then. My in-laws, through habit, still take the medicine once a year, and the pediatrician tested my son for parasites at one point, so I guess the problem hasn’t really gone away.

After writing the above, I wondered if in fact taking parasite medication was a habit of older people, leftover from older times, so I asked around and found that it is still fairly common to take the medicine twice a year, at spring and fall. I even asked my pediatrician, who suggested that the whole family should take the medicine together spring and fall. She said that parasites are still commonly transmitted in schools. Eek.

I have gotten used to the idea of infestation and parasites, though they are still disturbing. I think of my experiences with bugs back home: ants, silverfish (in MD) and ladybugs (Ann Arbor). Lice and ticks were the big parasite-ish worry when I was young. I remember coming home from playing outside and having my mom comb through my hair, checking for lice and ticks.

I can no longer write the word “parasite” without thinking of William H. McNeil’s book Plagues and Peoples, a fascinating history of disease, or rather, a re-reading of history through the lens of disease. McNeil uses the term macro-parasitism to refer to the way in which the aristocratic land-owning class lived off the labor of the lower classes. Something one could feel easily here, I think, where there is such a sense of the privilege of the rich, where getting a job or finding out where the next subway station will be constructed is such a function of who you know, where you went to school, who your parents were, and how much money you have.

Bugs and parasites: interesting images of infiltration, of the enemy within, of danger lurking under the surface, of the mystery of our own bodies working against us. I don’t know if men feel this way, but it bothers me a lot that I don’t know what’s going on in my body. A friend recently had a miscarriage; her baby had died weeks before it was detected and she was so upset that she had been walking around, happily unaware that while she was preparing and glowing at the thought of a new child that child was already dead inside her. I understand that feeling; I remember seeing that ultrasound of the baby, heart beating, growing next to my ovary and threatening to rupture. How could I not know? How could I have packed those boxes, prepared my maternity clothes, wondered idly whether it was a boy or girl and not known that this wanted being was in danger and endangering me?

Time to go take the parasite medication. At least we don’t have bedbugs, like in New York. New Yorkers: stay home. I have enough bloodsucking bugs and parasites to deal with here.

Currently listening to: Beastie Boys Whatcha Want?

No comments: