Scabies! The Unwelcome Guest

This happened when I was imprisoned, on a transfer from one jail to another, temporarily in a holding facility for transferees.

By Colin McGregor, Prison CFF de Laval

Laying on the upper bunk of a 10 x 7 foot prison cell, I was itching like crazy. So was my cellmate.

Red welts had developed all over our bodies, especially prominent at the base of our legs and arms. My cellmate was suffering worse than I. His welts reached all the way to his abdomen. At night, we were scratching so much that we were sometimes awoken by the other’s scratching.

Scaroptes Scabiei

“These stupid doctors won’t see me!” he complained. “What is this bordel?”

That Friday, the prison’s medical team called his name over the loudspeaker. Swearing like a sailor – well, to be reasonable, like a prison inmate – he got up to go.

A few minutes later I was called to the health care centre. Which was weird, as I had not asked for an appointment. I’ve had skin problems for most of my life…

I walked to the centre where two nurses, horrified, looked at my bloodied ankles.

“La gale,” they said. Scabies.

That illness you never want to have, especially when you are living in close quarters with others. We instantly became the least popular people in the prison, my cellmate and I. That’s a feat, given that prison is by definition filled with unpopular people.

Scabies is a disease that infects the skin. It starts with a little bump, then spreads through bloody red welts. It resembles a lot of other skin diseases, like shingles.

Scabies is sort of a horror story. It’s caused by a tiny 8-legged brown insect that looks, under a microscope, a bit like a turtle. You can’t see “Scaroptes Scabiei” with the naked eye.  Their females burrow under your skin, then lay eggs.

Think of the scene in the movie Alien when an animal pierces an astronaut’s abdomen. Same thing.

These insects can burrow 1/5th of a centimetre per day, and live under your skin for several weeks once they hatch. Now nobody can tell if your skin condition is actually scabies. The insects are too small to be detected. But in prison, that’s the operating assumption when you get welts.

In prison they have a protocol for people like me. Everything you touch has to stay in a plastic bag for seven days – if it isn’t burned. Hot showers help cook the little mites. Never was there a better argument for regular hot showers.

So my cellmate and I took hot showers away from the rest of the inmates, who were none too thrilled to be anywhere close to our presence. We would cover our welts with a very expensive cream.

My cellmate had a theory as to how he had contracted presumed scabies.

“This is YOUR FAULT!” he screamed at me, day and night.

He had just been sentenced to his first prison term, now this. A lot to digest. I didn’t blame him for being mad, especially since I theorized he was in denial and this was all HIS fault.

I tried not to scratch at night, to not wake him up.

After two weeks, the skin eruptions just went away. Was I invaded by microscopic brown turtles? We will never know.

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