What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I’m nearing the end of my journey with fungal infection. If not a fulfilling experience (it wasn’t), it was a lesson in common sense.
The strain of infection that inflicts me is called seborrhoeic dermatitis, though I can barely write about it without feeling a paralysing need to scratch, nay, savagely dig my nail into my skin. There are simultaneous prickles shooting from behind my ear, shoulder blade, armpit and lower back, all seeking the company of hungry fingernails.
It began with a few spots on my neck about nine days before this itchy circle of yeast-y hell. I chalked the unbecoming red bumps up to having been patted down with foundation earlier. Being subjected to a photo student’s grand makeup visions whilst having sensitive skin is a mildly disastrous chemical reaction waiting to happen.
A small breakout usually disappears without too much fuss but this lingered and unfurled from my neck to my collarbone. Similar angry bumps spread their way underneath my arms, chest and back. When the ugly bumps persisted, and I tired of wearing strategically placed scarves, I called on a doctor at the walk-in clinic.
Pro-tip: Register with a GP
I had moved around enough times in London that sufficient proof of address was hard to come by. Still. I should have tried harder. It’s worth registering with a general practitioner if only to avoid being yelled at three times, in one sitting, by a nurse who could’ve easily been my displeased Asian mum every time I told her I got a B+ in an exam.
She glared at my rash and returned to her file. She snapped, “Why aren’t you registered with a GP?” I explained the difficulties I'd had, before apologising for the poor excuse. Her poised pen scribbled a few notes. “I’ll get the doctor,” she said, apparently having forgiven me.
The doctor poked his head in and inspected my skin from across the room.
“Is it itchy?”
“Fungal,” he told the nurse.
“Fungal,” she repeated, to me.
“Fungal?” I asked.
“Dab with dandruff shampoo and it’ll go away after two weeks,” he prescribed, already out the door. I called out asking what caused the rash.
“IT’S FUNGAL.” The doctor shut the door.
The nurse pulled up a few pictures from the internet to belabour the verdict. “See? Fungal.”
Scrolling through the images, she informed me that everyone has fungal germs dwelling in oil produced by skin glands. For most, it’s harmless but for some reason I reacted to my yeast germ, causing the skin irritation.
She scribbled ketoconazole on a scrap piece of paper. The antifungal drug is found in dandruff (a pesky fungus) shampoo and can be picked up from any pharmacist. Then she shooed me out.
Pro Tip: Ask your physician more questions.
I still didn’t really know what caused my fungal infection. My eating, sleeping, working, gym and party habits had been my usual sort, inclusive of all the off-moments.
Armed with a bottle of Nizoral, I was also unsure of how to proceed. The bottle shared instructions for treating dandruff – there were none for a fungal skin rash. So I dabbed. I squeezed the pink shampoo onto my index and middle finger and patted down wherever fungus had infiltrated.
By then, there was a substantial bit of rash on my upper body. I followed its trail, returning to the scene of the crime: my neck. I dabbed there again, for extra measure. It stung. I assumed this meant it was working.
Pro Tips: Dilute dandruff shampoo with water. Dab over irritated areas. Rinse off after 3-4 minutes*
The more I dabbed, the hungrier I was for the rash to be gone. It hurt. I applied Nizoral twice a day, eventually forgetting to dab; I was smearing the shampoo on, willing the fungus to die. Maniacal laughter, inwardly, served as my battle cry. This lasted four days before I returned to the walk-in clinic, defeated.
The rash was drying up and no longer itching. I took this as a sign of recovery. Then it got painfully dry. The skin on my neck, shoulders and sides were retreating back into a tight, tight formation. It felt like someone was trying to rip my skin off.
To alleviate the sting, I covered the inflamed areas with aloe vera, which gave me a moment’s rest before wanting to fling myself against the wall to displace the raging pain over my torso. I was red and pink and hot to the touch.
Looking for answers (I don’t trust the internet because it will lead me to believe I have testicular cancer), I tried that bottle of Nizoral again. The list of ingredients reveals hydrochloric acid.
*Read as Pro Tip: Don’t slather your skin with hydrochloric acid twice a day.
A nicer nurse fed me antihistamine for some relief during my second visit. A different doctor listened to my lament and told me where I went wrong, and what I should have done (dilute, dab and wash the Nizoral off). When he looked closer to study the atrocity I had applied to myself, I felt my skin hiss at him.
“Your skin looks very, very angry,” he muttered, mostly to himself. “Very, very angry.” Using a page from his medicinal stationary, he scrawled in writing only a pharmacist could decipher, my new prescription: a round of antibiotics for a week and a steroid, hydrocortisone cream.
A day after and I can gleefully say I’m on the mend. It itches like sodding hell but nothing an antihistamine cream can’t soothe.
Pro Tip: Petroleum jelly the areas where you may have accidentally burnt the fungal spots into oblivion and your skin has become a wrinkly, dry mess.
Working a liberal amount of Vaseline into offending areas every few hours helps moisturise my healing skin. All I have to contend with now are the gross flakes of dead skin (a skin-peeler’s dream) and refraining from drinking a glass of red whilst on antibiotics. The end of my fungal rash is nigh. I hope.
Bonus Pro Tip: Don’t tell friends over dinner that you have a fungal rash.