Sunday, July 23, 2017

IS COUNT DRACULA MY LONG-LOST RELATIVE?



Ever since the day I was born, I have been nocturnal.  My mom used to tell me stories about how when I was a toddler, I would sleep all day and stay awake all night, so the pediatrician told her to “entertain” me all day and keep me awake, that way, I would get tired and sleep through the night. My poor mother did everything but hire clowns to entertain me, but the end result was she would collapse from exhaustion at 9 p.m., and I’d still be wide awake and raring to go.

Through the years, my “backward time-clock.” as the doctors called it, gave me a lot of problems. For one thing, I lived so close to my high school, I could see into the classrooms from my bedroom window, yet I was late nearly every morning because I couldn’t wake up. That was because I never managed to fall asleep until about 4 a.m.

The same problem occurred when I tried to work a 9-5 job. To me, 9:00 in the morning was the equivalent of trying to make a “normal” person get up for work at 2:00 a.m., so I ended up finding jobs where I could work the graveyard shift. It was the perfect shift for me – but the options were limited. I mean, I wasn’t about to find a job as a dental receptionist that started at midnight.

When I wasn’t working, I always stayed up all night. Usually, I would go to bed just in time to wake up my husband for work.

This might explain why we never had any kids.

Thankfully, the dawn of the home-computer age was my salvation. I now can stay at home and work in my pajamas at 2 a.m., if I want, and not have to worry about punching a time card or trying to conform to what others deem as normal hours.

“You were born on Halloween, right?” one of my friends said to me one day when I told her I’d gone to bed at 10 in the morning and slept until 5:00 in the afternoon.

“Yeah, I was born on Halloween, why?”

“Have you ever thought you might be…part vampire?”

I shook my head. “Nah, I like my steaks and burgers cooked well-done.”

“Well,” she said, “You might want to stay out of the sunlight, just in case. You could end up turning into a pile of ashes, just like the vampires do when they’re exposed to sunlight.”

I remember laughing at her warning, but last weekend something happened to make me seriously begin to consider the possibility that one of my long-lost relatives just might be Count Dracula.

I had gone out for my daily morning walk with my dogs, which I usually do around 8 a.m., before I go to bed.  I walk the same two-mile route every day, and it takes just under 30 minutes.

Well, on this particular day, it was really hot and humid, even at such an early hour, so I was eager to get the walk over with. But I happened to meet one of my neighbors, also out walking, so we stopped and talked for about 20 minutes. By the time I got home, I was hot and sweaty, and ready for a cold shower and a good day’s sleep.

I took my shower, and when I got out, I started to feel pains in my arms – as if they were being poked with lit cigarettes.  I examined my arms and was shocked to see they were covered with big red welts. I also noticed some welts popping out at the base of my neck. Within minutes, I was intensely itching, and the splotches were getting bigger and redder.

Thinking I had a rare case of something like jungle fever, I headed straight to a walk-in clinic (well, I did put on my clothes first).

There, a doctor with a very serious expression examined me and said, “Hmmm,” a lot.

Finally, he asked, “Do you get much sun?”

“No, I’m nocturnal. I’m usually outside only early in the mornings.”

“Just as I figured,” he said. “You have PMLE.”

My mind raced as I tried to think what PMLE might stand for. I decided it probably was a shortened version of the word “pimple.”  I frowned, thinking heck, I could have diagnosed that myself.

“You’re saying I have pimples?” I asked him.

He shook his head and smiled. “No, PMLE stands for polymorphous light eruption.”

I just stared blankly at him.

“You’ve become allergic to the sun,” he said. “Have you noticed the pattern of your urticaria?”

“My what?” I dumbly asked, silently wishing this guy would speak English.

“Your hives,” he said. “I can tell you exactly what you were wearing when you went outside – a short-sleeved shirt with a V-neck.”

He was right.

“Your hives are only where your skin was exposed to the sunlight,” he explained. “You don’t have them anywhere else.”

“So you’re telling me that every time I go out in the sun now for longer than 20 minutes, I’m going to break out in hives?”

“I’m afraid so,” he said, “until you desensitize your skin to sunlight, over time.”

I immediately thought about this sience-fiction movie I had seen about “mole people” when I was a kid. They had lived underground in the dark for years, until their skin was so pale and pasty looking, they resembled ghosts. They then decided to go above ground to see what it was like in the outside world – and they immediately were fried to death by the sun.

“You should wear sunscreen – the higher the SPF the better,” the doctor said. “And at first, you should cover every inch of your body in clothing when you go out.”

I pictured myself having to dress like a nun – or a beekeeper - just to go to the beach. I figure I’d probably die of heatstroke before I had the chance to break out in hives.

“If you go out in the sun and expose your skin for short amounts of time each day,” he continued, “you probably will be much less sensitive within a couple months.”

“But by then, it will be fall!” I said.

“Unfortunately, that’s one of the downsides of living in a state that has four seasons,” he said. “And next summer, you’ll have to start from scratch again.”

I thought the hives would disappear immediately, but they turned into a rash that hung around for the next five days. I realized, with a deep sense of relief, that the only reason why my face hadn’t broken out was because I’d been wearing a hat – and foundation makeup. So at least I was spared from having to wear a bag over my head for a week.

So now I have no choice other than to be nocturnal – that is, until the colder weather arrives, when wearing long sleeves and pants won’t cause me to self-combust.

In the meantime, I’m going to research my ancestry and see if there just might be a couple vampires hanging by their feet somewhere on my family tree.


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