Last week I developed an irresistible urge to scratch my crotch - an urge that grew in intensity in subways, clothing stores and meetings at work. I wiggled around discreetly, pulling my pants this way and that way, hoping I could get them to rub against my ache. At a meeting, I even used the corner of a report as I passed it across my lap to get a little scratch in. I really wanted to rub myself up against something more solid, like a bookcase, but I didn't want to be seen as horny. I thought that would look bad. After a couple of days, I figured out I had my first yeast infection. I went to the Internet for more info. Several sites advised that sex could be painful, but I was aching to mount something. Being a furniture person, I went for the corner of the sofa. A believer in "safety first," I put a double layer of lacy cotton fabric over the arm. The ridges of lace provided great friction. I rode my troubles away.
After a few days of air and "sofa-surfing," I realized the problem wasn't going away, so I dialed 416-338-7600, Toronto public health. I told the friendly nurse that the information I had been reading repeatedly described something that looked like cottage cheese coming out of us, and said we would have an odour. I wondered if I had misdiagnosed myself. I confessed I had no discernable smell (I was very aired out by then), and that at best, what was coming out of me looked more like snow. Unfazed, the nurse said she experienced the occasional yeast infection herself and had never seen the alleged cottage cheese. We bonded. Two women, perfect strangers until our yeast infections drew us together.
I had taken one more step toward full womanhood. From now on, I could join in any circle of itchy sisters and hold my own.
The nurse had a friend who cured her infection with garlic, but I'd had a bad "garlic natural remedy" experience a few months back. I got a giant zit on my nose and followed a vegan's advice to put some crushed garlic on it to dry it up. The garlic worked, all right, but also gave me a rather crass dermabrasion. I sported a small red burn scar for weeks. I didn't want to take the chance of burning my vagina walls off, so I decided against garlic therapy.
The nurse's last words were, "yeast infections don't usually go away by themselves. You need to treat them."
"OK," I said, "I'll go to the drug store."
At the store I read several boxes of remedies. There was a one-day, a three-day and a seven-day treatment. I couldn't figure out which one to use, so I went for the middle choice.
Standing at the counter with this box brought me back several decades to my first pad purchase. The feelings arose like adolescent ghosts. I resisted an urge to conceal the box in the bulk of my coat.
The pretty sales clerk smiled at the woman before me and told her to have a great day, but only said "have a good day" to me and didn't smile at all. Obviously she was thinking I was a bad lady with a gooey hutch.
Was I bad, I wondered? What was I being punished for? I studied the possible causes in my head: the old peanut butter I ate Thursday? The fermented batter I used for my dosai on Wednesday? No, I know, the electrically heated car seat on the rental vehicle... I'd heard these infections thrive in heat. Maybe my lover gave me something during oral sex? Maybe I was eating too much maple syrup? Perhaps it was the stress of working with mentally unstable colleagues? Or was it all of the above?
I read the package carefully, and puzzled over the long flute-like tube. I was supposed to place something like a little white egg on the tip of the flute thing and stick it up my vagina. With one leg hiked up on the kitchen counter, I managed.
Afterward, I lay down. Then the worst burning itch I ever felt started. I went screaming into the bedroom, grabbed a cotton shirt and frantically rubbed my labia with it. (I'd become too raw for the bare hand.) I moaned. I cursed. I scratched. And did it all again. The cure was proving to be much worse than the cause.
The discomfort lasted close to two hours, which made me seriously question the sanity of the people who wrote up the instructions telling you to do this at bedtime. If I'd waited till 11 pm I would have been up scratching until 1 am.
On day two, I was feeling much better and debated discontinuing treatment. I was sure the only reason the box said to do it for all three days was because they didn't want us itchy women to save money by using this treatment for another infection.
My friend Jasmine, who is well versed in the art of fighting yeast infections, advised me to press on, explaining that if I stopped now I would be like the people who stop taking their antibiotics prematurely and don't truly evacuate the infection. I took her word for it. Day two's treatment was almost as bad as day one's, with the intense itching lasting almost two hours.
Day three came. This time I lost the egg. It fell out of me onto the kitchen floor. I rinsed it in hot water, hoping it wouldn't dissolve, and tried again, with success. Certainly it wouldn't be as terrible as the last two nights. But I'm not one to live on false hope, so I started the treatment around 7 pm so I would have time to recover. Sure enough, the burning and itching increased, but not as much as the last two nights. By 9 I was comfortable and relaxing with a cup of herbal tea.
It's day four now and I haven't scratched all day. I've been to a meeting this morning and didn't even think about sneaking in a scratch when a report crossed my path. Tonight I hope to speak with a friend, to share in this new bond of womanhood.