The scratch that itches

Is it okay to scratch where it itches?  Is it okay to scratch your head continuously while spending your day at a public library?  Why are you scratching?  Do you have head lice?  Are you off your anxiety medication?

What is the evolutionary function of itching?  How does scratching relieve an itch?  Why does watching someone else scratch make us feel itchy?  How does scratching send a signal to other people? Do we want to sit where a scratchy person has been sitting....?

I have two jobs.  Monday through Friday I work with preschoolers. Most Saturdays I work at a public library in an affluent neighborhood.  Still, we have regular library users who may not have a permanent home address, timely hygiene opportunities, or who may not be taking medications regularly. They may offend  sensibilities of the local residents. While these users may be eccentric and entertaining characters, the library staff worries and prays for their health and safety when they leave the stacks. In most public libraries users only need to be residents of the area to obtain a library card for borrowing privileges.  Libraries offer many services for non-borrowing visitors. And those visitors using internet computers and restrooms, reading newspapers, drinking coffee with sugar, and staying in air-conditioning on 100+ degree days are part of the marvelous, civilized, public-supported concept of libraries. Sometimes those visitors itch and scratch. Other times the privileged local kiddies have head lice. Itching crosses economic borders.

Back in the Monday-Friday classroom we attempt to teach children that nose-picking, hair-sucking, underwear-exploring and other scratching habits are socially unacceptable. We watch for the telltale scratching that signals a case of head lice. If a case is suspected or reported, the lead teacher straps on her spelunking head lamp and begins searching every student's head for nits. While she does this, I try to maintain normal class routine. Usually I begin to wonder if I might actually have head lice. Sometimes I want to scratch all my hair right off my head!

If you read these words, can your refrain from scratching?

  • mosquito 
  • eczema
  • chicken pox
  • stress 
  • anxiety
  • fleas
  • lice
  • crabs
  • hives
  • jellyfish
  • chiggers
  • poison ivy
  • poison oak
  • diaper rash
  • Oklahoma*

NORRIS: Is there such a thing as sympathetic itch, just by talking about it, you can actually trigger that sensation?
Dr. YOSIPOVITCH: Oh, that's an excellent point that has been shown in study where people, healthy people, sitting in a auditorium seeing a patient scratching and itching, about 60 percent of the people in the audience started scratching themselves. And it was documented
*The months between Thanksgiving 1987 and Thanksgiving 1988 are my Year of Itching Dangerously in Edmond, Oklahoma.  My three sons had chicken pox in succession, inside their noses, ears, and every other orifice. Our rental house was infested with fleas and then mice. I was pretty sure I was stressed to the max and  lousing my mind....  No, I meant losing my mind! Typo alert. Take Benadryl. 
 © 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Kim said...

Having worked in hospitals in 3 states I can outgross your stories with one hand tied behind my back (where it will not be scratching anything I promise). But I won't. Scratching works to relieve itching by giving the central nervous system a stronger sensation to which to attend than the original itch. Unless the original itch is really really strong then it doesn't work.

Collagemama said...

Thanks, Kim! Have a soothing day.


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