Like most little kids, when I was little, I loved to play outside. We lived in a more rural area, and that afforded my friends and me endless places to play. We rode horses. We explored hiking trails and trekked through streams. We got grubby and sometimes muddy. One Monday, I woke up with an odd marking on my arm. It was a circle, sort of reddish and about an inch wide. It itched a little bit. Since it wasn’t there before, I decided to show it to my Mom. She called my school and then the doctor’s office. Then she told me not to scratch it. Well, now I really wanted to scratch since she had told me not to. When I tried to not think of scratching, the ring felt all the more itchier. I felt desperate to scratch it! The longer I waited, the worse it was. I scratched just a little bit. Oh, that felt so good. At the doctor’s office, I sat on the exam table. Dr. Stewart looked at my arm with a concerned look on her face. Then, she said “It’s ringworm. Do you have it anywhere else?” She took a little scraping from my arm.
Ringworm? “No,” I said. I had only looked at my arm. “I don’t think so.” “Let’s check you out to be on the safe side,” she said smiling. I took off my shirt and pants and sat there in my underwear. I felt awkward. The doctor looked at my back and front. She said “Ok, you do have it back there,” pointing at my butt. Ringworm? “I have worms?” I asked horrified. Worms? Living in my skin making red blotches? “You don’t have worms,” Dr. Stewart said smiling reassuringly. “Ringworm is actually a fungal infection.” Fungal? Like fungus? That’s no better! “I have fungus?” I asked just as horrified. “It is a fungal infection,” Dr. Stewart said. “I am going to prescribe you a topical lotion to apply to the ringworm. You can get it from the drugstore. That will help kill the fungus. In the meantime, you need to stay home from school and avoid touching anyone to avoid spreading it. It is very contagious. Try not to scratch it because it can spread.” She took off her latex gloves and tossed them into a trash bin. “How did I get this fungus?” I asked determined to know where to avoid. “You can get it from all different things,” Dr. Stewart said. “Showers, outside, pets, other kids, locker rooms, swimming pools. It’s everywhere and perfectly normal.” She now sounded like it was no big deal. Very contagious? No, no big deal. A fungus infecting my skin? No, no big deal. And what was this about it being everywhere? How come it never attacked me before this? What was I going to tell my friends? I couldn’t see them until my fungus had cleared up. And of course, now that I had again been directed not to scratch it, that was all I wanted to do! Especially on my butt. At the drugstore, as my Mom looked for the antifungal lotion, I felt an irresistible urge to scratch. I needed to. It was horrible. It was all I could think about. Mom found the anti fungus lotion and then decided that she needed some other stuff. I followed her around the store as she searched for her other items. Mom kept remembering other things that she needed and continued her shopping. I was in agony. I just wanted to scratch my arm (not to mention my butt) and go home and put on the cream and get this fungus gone! I looked around to see if other people were buying everything in the pharmacy like my Mom. I noticed that nobody else was around. I could just scratch a little bit. I scratched my arm. It felt good to scratch. Nobody was around. I reached back and scratched my butt. Oh! The relief! Until I saw my friend Alex looking down the aisle at me! “What are you doing?” Alex asked. “Why are you scratching your butt?” Noooooo! She saw me. And I was sure that now everyone in the store knew what I was doing. Butt scratcher in aisle 3! “I have an itch,” I said not wanting to elaborate. I really didn’t want to tell my friend about the fungal infection. It sounded too gross and embarrassing. “What are you doing here?” I asked Alex. She should be in school. “We had to get some stuff,” Alex said. “Come on Alex,” her mother called. “I found your cream.” “Ok, Mom!” Alex said. “What is the cream for?” I asked Alex. “I have a fungal infection,” Alex said showing me her arm. “You have ringworm?” I asked. “Sh!” Alex shushed me. “I don’t want everyone to know! Don’t tell anyone!” “It’s alright,” I said smiling. “I have it too.” I lifted my sleeve and showed her my ringworm. Alex smiled. “I have it on my belly too. Do you have it on your butt? Is that why you were scratching?” She was laughing. “Whats so funny? You have ringworm too!” I could not believe that she was laughing. “I’m not laughing at you,” Alex said. “I am laughing because I was so afraid of anyone knowing that I had such a gross sounding problem. I mean fungus? In my skin? Ew! I feel better now. Maybe we got it from the same place.” “Yeah, I don’t feel so bad either,” I said. “At least we get to stay home for a couple of days.” “Yes! That’s kinda cool,” Alex said. “I mean, were not sick or anything.” It was true; I did feel better. I still was itchy. The cream helped with that, and in less than a week the ringworm was gone, and we were back at school. The real reason that I felt better was that I knew that I was not the only one who had it. And because I realized that there was nothing to be embarrassed about. I wasn’t gross; there was nothing wrong with me. One of my best friends had the same thing. Alex and I talked about our ringworm every day, letting each other know about the progress the antifungal creams made. We also did make a pact to not tell other kids about our ringworm, simply because while it was nothing to be embarrassed about, neither of us wanted anyone at school knowing that we had a fungal infection named for worms. As an adult, I do not feel embarrassed about bugs, or infections or any of those things. As a field biologist, I have plenty of exposure to fungi and other icky stuff which I don’t feel so icky about anymore. I also remember how these things made me feel and resolve to be compassionate when I have kids, and they come home with ringworm or some other exciting and unnerving conditions.