Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pretty pictures: Vanda cristata

I seem to have accidentally fallen into a blogging-hiatus hole. Among other problems to be detailed below, I'm really coming to despise the plant collection:1 they appear to be playing a game of chicken, to see which of them can have the most and largest problems without getting thrown in the trash. (Currently neck and neck for the lead: Agave desmettiana and Agave americana.)

Meanwhile, we've progressed from The Week of Sheba's Unexplained Itching to The Week of a Grandparent's Funeral to The Week of Contractors. A plan that was started roughly two years ago has finally started being executed, so we're getting some work done on the house, but our influence over which repairs, when they happen, and how they're performed is very minimal.2 So there are early-morning noises, and strange people coming in and out, and at one point the plant room door was replaced.3 The whole thing's been disruptive and unpleasant. It surely says something that the high point of the last three weeks was a funeral.

As for Sheba, she's back to normal amounts of scratching and biting since she started the flea treatment, which is great. Unfortunately, the improvement was accompanied by an ear infection4 and fantastic, amazing dandruff,5 so we don't seem to be winning on that front either.

The reader may recall that I've been itching quite a bit myself lately, and that it got dramatically worse at about the same time that Sheba's latest outbreak began, so it'd be logical to think that when she's doing better, I'm also doing better. But no. My problem was apparently never the fleas.6 The itching is pretty terrible on its own, but it also wakes me up at night sometimes, or keeps me from getting to sleep, which amplifies all the previously-mentioned minor annoyances. And of course I have no idea what is causing it or how to make it go away; so far, all I can really do is take Benadryl, which may or may not do anything for the itching, but at least knocks me out to the point where I don't have to be consciously aware of the itching anymore.

As I write this on Monday morning, this week has not yet made its particular flavor apparent. Depression? Loss of internet service and/or electricity? Bureaucratic runarounds? Car trouble? Whooping cough? Sinkholes? Plague of frogs? Robot uprising? Time will tell. Posting is expected to stay confined to once-a-week orchid posts for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, here are some bad photographs of a not-particularly-photogenic orchid.


1 Not hyperbole. I know I've said things like this before and then come back around to liking plants again, but it feels like we're surely coming to the climax of . . . something. Two years is a long time to keep a hobby that's costing more in aggravation than it's giving you in pleasure, and it's getting harder to believe that stuff might get better.
2 In mitigation: we're not paying for any of it, so it feels churlish to complain. (Not that that stops me, because since when have I minded being thought of as churlish?)
3 Not so terrible in and of itself, but they started when it was 39F / 4C outside, and involved a lot of people just standing around while there was a giant hole in the wall of the plant room, cold breeze blowing freely in and out, so I was understandably worried. (I spent the majority of that day in my office with the door closed trying to pretend that it wasn't happening.) It doesn't appear to have harmed any of the plants yet, but this wasn't that long ago, so they could just be slow to react.
4 Not diagnosed by the vet, but the smell is awfully familiar, and obviously emanating from her ear, so.
5 If I were a dandruff connoisseur -- and you know that one has to exist, somewhere -- this would be the best week of my life. Right up there with the first time I ever saw The Breakfast Club, probably.

^ This .gif is also a pretty good representation of how I feel when my itching gets really bad.
6 (which might explain why I never saw any)


Liza said...

oh you poor dear. Itching is the worst. I had shingles a few years ago - on my forehead - and after the intense pain fried my nerve endings, the nerves were too weak to register pain, so they registered itch. Which I found out doctors have no idea how to treat. So I tried everything topical - caladryl, aveeno baths, etc. But since the itch was on the inside, none of those worked. I drank a lot of alcohol which was not good but I felt it was necessary at the time because you can't sleep when you itch. So you have my full sympathies. What have you been trying? Have you seen a doctor?

Do you think there's a chance you're allergic to the plants?

mr_subjunctive said...


No doctors so far. I've tried benadryl and chlorpheniramine maleate (both antihistamines), showering more often, showering less often, changing soap, and changing laundry detergent. It's hard to determine whether any of those work, because the itching is intermittent even when everything is kept exactly the same. Yesterday was almost completely itch-free, for example, but Saturday night was so bad I couldn't sleep. Nothing seems to cause it consistently; nothing seems to cure it consistently.

Some poking around on-line suggests that the problem might be that I prefer hot showers, so I suppose cooler showers is the next thing to try.

Paul VA said...

Whats going on with the Agave desmettiana and Agave americana? Scale? Agaves are usually so trouble free

mr_subjunctive said...

Liza again:

I just realized that I didn't answer the allergic-to-the-plants question.

I don't think I am. Some of the plants (notably the Pandanus, Ficus, and Agave) leave me itchy for a while after I deal with them or get stabbed by them, but that's always been the case. I itch on days when I don't deal with the plants at all, and I don't itch on some days when I do, so it'd be tough to make a case for that.

Paul VA:

Really persistent scale, that forever seems to be just on the verge of going away but then isn't. Also some lower leaf drop and leaf-tip death, which is possibly because I can't put them in spots with good light, for fear of spreading scale to the other plants that are there already.

It's the uncertainty that's the problem: they're never so bad that I completely give up, but they're never completely better either.

Liza said...

The inconsistency part is weird. What about all the times you've taken hot showers and not itched? Very weird indeed.

Well good luck. I'm sure it's no fun.

Scale's no fun either.

Davis Sue said...

How careful were you when you were treating the plants with imidacloprid? It IS a systemic for animals as well as plants, and lasts for quite a while in the body. If you are sensitive to it, it might be why you're itching.

mr_subjunctive said...

Davis Sue:

Well, we can't rule it out; I washed my hands a lot during the application process for all the plants, but I didn't wear a respirator or anything like that. The timing of onset is also slightly consistent with imidacloprid exposure: I first started itching in July, after I dosed the first batch of plants in May. I applied a bunch more imidacloprid in September, and then had a really bad November. I put it on all the plants during the first half of November, then, so I guess if I start itching really, REALLY badly just after New Year's, we'll have a theory. I'm not aware of anything having to do with imidacloprid or the immune system that would cause a two-month delayed reaction like that, but there are a lot of things about imidacloprid and the immune system I don't know, so that maybe isn't a meaningful objection.

The biggest argument against the theory is probably this page, which says that yes, imidacloprid-containing preparations are known to cause skin irritation in people and animals, but also says that in rats, 90% of a dose is exreted via feces and urine within 24 hours. If rats and people metabolize imidacloprid similarly, I should have only the slightest trace of imidacloprid in my system now, and it should definitely spike on the days when I deal with the plants.

In conclusion: we can't rule it out, but it seems like sort of a long shot.

Of course, all the theories seem like long shots, at this point. So.

mr_subjunctive said...


Well, and I've always taken really hot showers (save for occasional overheating emergency showers during the summer, which are merely a little warm), so if hot showers are the problem on their own and there's a direct cause-and-effect there, then I should be able to match up showering and itching directly, which I can't.

It does sometimes seem like there's a connection, but that cuts both ways: there have been times when I didn't really start itching until after I'd showered, and other times when I was super-itchy until I showered and then I was fine.

Bad Kitty said...

It's none of my business but some medications make people itch. Yes, really. I tried a new one recently that made my scalp itch like crazy (it also didn't work, thank goodness, so I don't have to put up with that anymore. My head is itching just remembering that!).

It doesn't sound like the imidacloprid, unless you are getting re-dosed when you handle plants, but it is something I thought of as well. There are studies that link some pesticides with neurological problems so it's not out of the question that imidacloprid could trigger your nerves to feel itchy.

Then again, maybe it's the scale. Stress can certainly make the body do strange things and it sounds like the scale infestation has taken what was a pleasant stress lowering hobby and turned it into a stress increasing hobby.

Maybe it's time to scale back your plant collection (sorry, couldn't resist the pun). Let me know if there's anything you want to get rid of....

mr_subjunctive said...

Bad Kitty:

The stress theory makes at least as much sense as the imidacloprid theory, and for the same reasons, since the imidacloprid is directly related to the biggest source of stress in my life. Though this would be the first time my body has ever responded to stress by itching. Usually I just get headaches, or my stomach gets weird.

Though if I get stress headaches, I generally wind up taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen for them, and some painkillers are known to cause people to itch too, so who knows. Too many variables. (No, my itching doesn't seem to be connected to consumption of painkillers either, but I haven't been paying attention for very long.)

Tom said...

Last time I had an absurd itching, it was scabies that I got from riding mega-bus (at least that was the most likely cause of it). Is your itching generally worst at night?

mr_subjunctive said...


Yes. (Generally starts between about 9:30 and 11 PM, though some nights there's nothing at all, and other nights it starts at like 5 PM.) Though I usually don't have any red marks or crusty areas, as per Wikipedia / Google image search. That wouldn't rule it out entirely (apparently some people can be completely asymptomatic, even?), but considering that I almost never go anywhere or do anything, it seems like it'd be tough for me to catch.

Claude said...

just a thought... my herbalist friend recommended willow bark tea for excessive itching. Which kinda makes sense since Aspirin was originally made with willow bark, and aspirin makes nerve endings less sensitive.

I know ibuprofirin or acetominiphin is usually recommended instead nowadays, but Aspirin thins blood, relieves pain, and does a few other things that the others don't. The only time I get the itchies is in the winter, and it's more related to dry air than anything else... but if you're in a house with that many plants, I'd think the humidity would be high enough...

Tom said...

When I had my run-in with the damn mites it never really developed any redness or crustiness. It might be something to consider if it continues to get worse? Or just go spray yourself with pyrethrin since that's what they give you for it lol

mr_subjunctive said...


After researching some more, I'm inclined to think that I don't have scabies, though like with all the other theories, I can't quite rule anything out. One source I consulted noted that although the itching is worse at night with scabies, because that's when the mites are most active, most types of itch are worse at night, especially while trying to sleep, because one has fewer things to be distracted by then. Another noted that it's rare for scabies to go after the scalp or face, but I definitely have scalp itchiness sometimes.

Did it itch every single day? Was it consistently in the same places? Did it get worse over time? (How much time?)


I was feeling a little itchy tonight, so I took an aspirin for the hell of it, and it got better, though 1) it often fades on its own after a few hours even if I don't do anything, and 2) I also lotioned up my legs, because that often seems to help (usually within about 20-30 minutes, though it gets worse before it gets better), so I'm not sure if the aspirin gets any credit for the improvement or not.

We're getting to the point where I'm thinking that actual health care professionals should probably be brought in, if for no other reason than to check out this scabies idea, which is beginning to alarm me. (The idea of mites crawling around under one's skin does have a way of gripping them mind.)

The Last Capitalist said...

For the itch, try TechNu. Anything that will make Poison Ivy Itch go away (and it does) should work. :-) Have you checked for bed bugs?

WRT the orchid - you got a ribbon - what more you want? :-)


mr_subjunctive said...

The Last Capitalist:

There are no signs of bedbugs (no marks on my body, the husband's not itching too, we're not seeing droppings in the sheets, no sightings of the bugs themselves).

The orchid isn't mine; I took the pictures at an orchid show in the Quad Cities in March.

Anonymous said...

I always have a hard time throwing away plants unless they are clearly dead. However, if they are causing you more aggravation than pleasure, I think it's ok to throw the agaves away.
Better to focus ont he plants that make it fun than to stress over the ones that make it miserable.

Geoff Lewis said...

Itching, RLS, mood swings, insomnia, that's me. I get prescribed clonazapam, buproprion and pramipexole to good effect. Drinking used to work, but I quit. At 50, I've killed or witnessed the slaughter of more plants than most people I've met, by dint of working for years in nurseries / greenhouses. Houseplant-wise: "You have failed to please me sufficiently" I say imperiously to my declining houseplants on their way to the bin. Keeps the remaining plants in line, I like to think. Selection pressure, and opens up room for new plants to try. Fresh start and all that. I toss and replace an orchid every two weeks, changing substrates, fertilizer etc. along the way. Someday, they'll stop with this seppuku. Drosera capensis - same thing.

Tom said...

It did itch every day, it got worse over time as they spread and it was always worst at night and early morning. It took them a while to start getting bad though, which is why it took me almost a month to go in and figure out what the rash even was.