17 March 2011

The sign of the comet

I’ve often said it is the variety in my U.S. Foreign Service job that keeps me enthralled, especially since I seem to have a rather short attention span. In my career, no two posts have even been similar, much less the same. The Czech Republic has been a huge change from my previous developing-country assignments and, with a more typical list of medical complaints, I admit I was getting a bit soft.

Then, the mites arrived! One of our young officers came to me with a profusion of itchy, whelped, pink bites on her posterior thighs. Honestly, I didn’t know what the cause could be, and since the bites were in a defined location, it didn’t seem like a major issue. That was in the morning. When she returned in the afternoon, the bites were weeping, enlarged and had taken on a purple hue. My comfort level dropped to zero, and we arranged for her to see a dermatologist immediately.

The dermatologist was less concerned, because she knew what the cause was—a severe reaction to mites! Mites? Where did they come from, and why now? It is winter in Prague. Do mites attack in winter? A bit skeptical, I forwarded photos to a dermatology consultant in Washington, D.C. His reply was, “Yep, mites.” The dead giveaway was the “comet sign” coming off one of the lesions. (A comet sign is a red streak leading away from the central area). The two dermatologists disagreed on the source. One believed the mites were related to birds, and the other thought they were connected to woodborers, but both were certain the lesions were caused by a severe reaction to mite bites.

This is where my job gets really interesting. If I was in a usual practice in the United States, I would refer my patient to a dermatologist, who would prescribe treatment, and we would be finished with the issue. Not so in the Foreign Service. The ongoing saga of investigating why there are mites in this officer’s home, determining which chemicals are safe—and OSHA approved—to treat the infestation, photographing and cataloging new bites as they have appeared, discussing with various embassy offices about what’s best to do—all have involved me.

I know more about mites today than I knew three weeks ago and more than I ever thought I would need to know. It is fascinating, really! And to the long list of “jack-of-all-trade” tasks the Foreign Service has required of me, I can now add exterminator!

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Judie!

    So sorry that it took me so long, but I wanted you to know that I have added your pin in Prague! I was proud to do so, for I have been reading your blog for forever, and I love to hear about the things you do!

    Please do me a favor and check your pin for accuracy. If I got anything wrong, let me know, and I'll be happy to fix it.

    Thanks so much for letting me add you to the map!