Nurturing your beloved colony of dust mites

Or, finding the positive in your allergy report

I got the results back from allergy testing a couple days ago and it turns out that I’m extremely allergic to dust mites. I hopped online to figure out what to do and it appears the only effective way to “minimize” exposure is:

1. Burn your house down.

2. Move to a brand new house in the dryest spot in the country.

3. It must have only wooden floors, wooden or plastic furniture, and not a single plush object that dust mites may find appealing.

4. Make sure that whatever fabric is present is SO tightly woven that nothing larger than 10 microns can fit through it in order to cut down on dust mites and their “by-products” from infiltrating it (hello, vinyl bedding, curtains, and clothes).

5. Vacuum 5x a day with a HEPA filter vacuum while wearing a special breathing mask, but preferably your hired help can do this instead with all the money you have leftover after relocating and buying all new things.

4. Make sure every environment you’re ever in from now on has the same level of sanitization and sparse comfort.

These are impossible standards, of course. A much more realistic course is to just make friends with your new family.

First you want to learn everything you can about raising and keeping dust mites so you can be good and ready to service your new colony.

Dust mites LOVE humid environments. Anything less than about 45% humidity runs the risk of desiccating them, since they can’t drink water and instead absorb moisture through their bodies. The only way to kill them in the wash is to use the “sanitize” setting of 130-140 degrees F hot water. Bleach might kill them but won’t remove the allergens, necessarily. It doesn’t take much to keep their populations nice and healthy. The average 10-lb mattress is comprised of about 2 pounds of dust mites, according to Dr. Google.

They don’t bite people or cause issues, however, unless you’re allergic. They can be kindof cute, in a tardigrade kindof way.

Meet Jeremy.

His first ultrasound didn’t reveal too many details yet — we couldn’t even see the full front casing where his little buckteeth would develop:

He was an adorable baby, however. Look at that smile!

He didn’t stay put in the crib for long though. He was far too active to sleep all day. He had important work to do, like jumping on the bed. His favorite hobby was flinging his allergens into the air.

Jeremy, like any curious toddler, was not content to stay in one place, however. We recently found him exploring the curtains. Dust mites are very light and can easily be launched across the room when you flop down on your shared bed. They don’t mind. Any fabric will do as a fun playground, curtains, even tapestries hanging on the wall.

We are lucky that Jeremy is a sweet fellow but, like any population, troubled critters ARE out there and you may run the risk of them taking over your home.

IF you are unfortunate enough to have a rogue gang and a killer dust mite allergy the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has some great advice.

If you aren’t allergic, no biggie. Enjoy life as usual. Jeremy may be looking for a roommate so I can hook you up!

The happy week I did NOT burn the building down.

(File under "life goals")

Now that it's been a full week since I tried to burn my workplace down, I've finally stopped hyperventilating enough to share the story.

It was Friday and everyone had bolted early for the weekend. I love when the office gets quiet even if it does feel somewhat haunted. I can drown out ghost vibes with laser focus and was in a happy, productive groove when a new, unanticipated problem suddenly presented itself. 

I planned to stay late but I had not planned to be hungry.

(Now you know where my logo comes from.)

This new information (that I was about to die due to limited caloric intake) presented itself instantly, as it always does.

There is never a “lead in” to starvation.

Sleep comes on slowly and allows one to adapt to increasing drowsiness at a leisurely pace, leaving enough time to crawl into bed. Thirst also creeps up sluggishly.

But not hunger.

Hunger ambushes you into a perilous hostage situation.

The need to eat at regular intervals, despite being fairly predictable, escaped me. I had a hearty lunch and somehow this registered as never needing food again.

I started searching my cubicle for snacks but only found mouthwash and ibuprofen.

Not even a stray soy sauce packet! The entire space was a wasteland.

Now, there ARE vending machines in the building but they were several floors away and I didn't want to sneak past the guards on the way back with fistfuls of cheetohs as my bounty.

This was becoming a terrible dilemma.

Suddenly, with the razor-sharp instincts of a malnourished hyena in the middle of a long, bleak arctic winter, I remembered…


Two weeks ago someone brought a gigantic cookie the size of a pizza pie to the office Halloween party. Slices had been energetically carved off since then and it was mostly decimated but earlier I passed by the tray and noticed that not only was it still there, it WASN’T EMPTY.

A sliver of cookie was still left!

That would be JUST enough nourishment to sustain life for one more hour until I could escape and find real food.

Have you ever seen Naked and Afraid? If a single mealworm could save somebody's life, that cookie sliver could save mine.

I knew what I had to do.

Office parties are like shipwrecks. Free food is immediately decimated by the nearby wildlife. The North American Colleague is a voracious and vigilant creature. But somehow a single shard of confectionary goodness survived.

There was no way to tell, however, if the tray been closed properly in between feedings. This could be bad news, as we have mice at night.

Bravely fending off my demise required a quick calculation between life and one of TWO imminent deaths: 

1. Either DON’T eat the cookie, and die of starvation, or

2. EAT the cookie, and die of hantavirus.

I decided there had to be a third option. 

3.MICROWAVE the cookie to disinfect it from the myriad invisible mouse germs that must inevitably be blanketing it.

Satisfied with the plan, I snuck to the kitchen to nuke my prized morsel. I set it for one minute; scientifically calculating the delicate balance of time between desiccated cookie crumbs and hantavirus destruction.

Alas, I overestimated.

White smoke began pouring out of the microwave door like I had set off a volcanic reaction. I was positive this meant the cookie was on fire. I cracked open the door to check and more smoke billowed out. I panicked and tore out of the kitchen looking for help.

Since this story started with the spoiler that the building did NOT, in fact, burn down, I’ll fast forward a bit.

A guard came and saved my life, the building AND all the cheetohs in the vending machines. (I know, right? Miraculous!)

No one was injured from smoke inhalation, the charred cookie remains did NOT get a second chance to burn the building down by flaming up in the the trash can (thank goodness to a hearty soak in water), and your heroine slunk out of the building in shame, narrowly escaping starvation.

I lived to tell the story and even awkwardly learned to draw using my toes. (Just kidding, it only LOOKS like that. Trackpads make clumsy drawing pads.)

The end!

Me and my ($#@%!) bubbly personality

I decided this story would go much better with a visual. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to draw yet so the above will have to do.

Anyway, I'm standing in line at Marshalls buying a fake plant when the woman in front of me whirls, lighting up like a Christmas tree. "That is soooo pretty! OMG! Where did you find it?" 

"In the back," I point.

"Oh haha! You are SO bubbly! I love your personality! You know, I love this store. And HomeGoods too. I spent $1,000 there on house stuff. It's fantastic!"

"Yeah, I like that place too," I offered.

"YES! My husband and I were buying this teak wooden outdoor table and I thought $250 omg that's too much but we loved it and bought it anyway. THEN I called my friends from North Carolina, that's where we get ALL our furniture, and they priced it out down there, it would have been $1400! So see. That place is addictive."

Me (smiling weakly): "mmm hmm." (thinking WHY won't the cashier hurry the F*!@ UP!)

Her: "OH you are such a people person! Would you be interested in a makeover? I LOVE your skin. You would just love these products, they are amazing. I mean, look at MY skin. A few years ago it looked much MUCH older. Mary Kay cosmetics. They are the BEST."

Me: "That's nice but I'm not really into makeovers, I like doing my own routine."

Her: "OH it's not like that! I promise! We don't touch anyone, we're not licensed to touch anybody. So we just offer you any makeup you want and you get to pick out what you want to try for your makeover. Call me for an appointment! There's NO obligation and you don't have to buy anything, it's free to try all the stuff."

She pressed a business card in my hand, the obnoxious kind that needs to scream "SALES!" so loudly that it tents out into a miniature pamphlet.

Me: "uh, you know I basically work two jobs and just do not have time for anything else but thanks anyway."

Her: "TWO jobs? You should come work for me. I make 6 figures a year, then you wouldn't have to work so much. Don't you want to make six figures? I couldn't believe it the first year I made that. And they gave me a pink cadillac and everything. I've had 6 cars since I've been working for them. I miss the pink cadillac though, that was a good car." 

She stared wistfully out the window and I paid for my stuff and tried to flee. She ran after me.

"See, there's my car now! Here, I'll press the keychain -- look, there are the lights! It's a Saturn."

Me: "That's very nice. I heard Mary Kay treats their salespeople well and I remember hearing that the best ones can sometimes get cars."

Her: "What? Salesperson? No, I'm not a salesperson. I don't sell anything. Everyone thinks I sell stuff, I don't. Mary Kay just gives this to me. You could have the same exact thing too you know. It's not just me, they treat EVERYONE this way. There are women making as much as me only two months into it."

Me: "No thanks, I love what I do and am not interested in anything else." (Thinking inside "yeah right! Mary Kay throws money at people for NO reason! Sure. Great business model, one sure to keep a company going for decades.") 

I can smell an MLM scheme a mile away. MLM = multi-level marketing and desperate followers have the intensity of religious zealots, except they worship get-rich-quick schemes instead of gods. NuSkin, A&L Williams Insurance, Herbalife, Amway... those are all flake companies that infect the weak-minded and turn them into hysterical humanoids that, like the cast of zombies in 28 Days Later, chase down every living soul left in the desperate attempt to suck out their lifeblood and turn them into one of their own.

Her: "OH what do you do? You love it that much! That's really great but you know who wouldn't want to make as much as me."

Me: "Um, I work with computers. Anyway I gotta go."

Her: "Well look at my website or call me if you change your mind. You wouldn't believe the stuff we have, the same lotion that J. Lo has for $600, we have and it's only $30. Vitamins A, C, & E. Antioxidants, very good for the skin. One time of trying it and you would be amazed. And you get all your money back if you don't like it. No matter what. Mary Kay just reimburses me, how's that? I mean, I have women all the time who try stuff and send it back saying 'I didn't really like this lipstick color' and that's fine. I could send it back to Mary Kay. Of course most of the time I just eat the cost because I make so much it's not worth the time to fill out the paperwork but still. You should try it!"

The whole time I was speed-walking towards my car, an ever-widening chasm between us, shouting as I got farther away. "OH be careful of that oncoming car! It was so nice to meet you. I hope to hear from you. I love people! I'm going into HomeGoods now, take care!"

Lesson learned: if you grunt the wrong way, someone might fall for your "bubbly" personality and try to recruit (infect) you. Warning!


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That time I fell asleep typing and then sold my notes

(If you happened to be in that fateful microbio lecture, I owe you one...)

I once had a special gig in school where I got paid to write up my notes for Intro to Microbiology. There were two outfits in town that paid students for notes and one said, “Well, we don’t normally hire the same note-taker as the other place because it’s good for students to have a variety to choose from, but no one else stepped up so the gig is yours if you want it.”

I was broke at the time and working two other jobs but I appreciated the side hustle. It happened to be the worst semester of my entire life. I had just moved to the area and everything was so much more expensive. I was the most sleep-deprived I'd ever been (well maybe except for the time I was a counselor at a sleepaway camp, which should really be called “awake-away camp," but I digress.)

One night I was up until the wee hours typing up my notes and I fell asleep right in the middle of typing.

Sitting up.

My head didn't loll, my fingers didn't fall away from the keys, my shoulders and arms didn't drop. I just kept typing. I fell asleep typing, woke up typing, and continued to type until I was done. I never realized I had fallen asleep. I never re-read the notes so I never saw the evidence that I was out cold for a few straight minutes.

The next day, I handed my notes in, got paid and went on my merry way.

Months pass.

The night before the final, I pulled out my notes to study and saw the following:

  1. Transformation

  2. Conjugation

  3. Transduction

    artificial protoplanst. Fusion and electro poradion and gun & micro injection. Profus kindks memeebrane stick and DNA transfer, elec open pores in cell sideface, gene gun -- coat projectile w/DNA & shot into cell. & hiccp injection pucure cell walls.

    Know the basis of how genes are transferred (figure 9.16, pg. 261 for example).

I typed this?

How did I not realize I'd fallen asleep? What was I trying to say?? 

2am and I just discovered (along with 299 other poor slobs from class) that an entire concept was useless!

I still have no idea what this was about. But I owe a few hundred students a beer!

Great. I'll call you from the emergency room when my eyes explode.

Back when I had a dog...

Maybe it was brought on by whatever disgusting filth the dog rolled in. Maybe colonies of fecal bacteria disbursed from his ruffled and soapy fur like little aeronautic Gossamer spiders wafting through the air during last night's emergency bath. Or maybe the germs just splashed on my face. Whatever the cause, I now have pinkeye. 

Halfway through the work day, I noticed my eye clouding over and burning. By day's end, it was raging red. No doctor's office was open by then but I live across the street from a CVS Minute Clinic and stopped there on my way home.

I walked in and the nurse stared in horror at my right eye. "What brings you here?" she asked.

"I think I have pinkeye."

She leaned forward and stared intently, eyes narrowed into little slits, assessing contaminant risk. Then with a slight measure of panic but still focused keenly on my oozing orb, she reached behind her and produced a bottle of antibacterial gel.

"Here," she said, and glorped a hefty pile of gel onto my hands. "Rub it in" she commanded. Then she took a handsome helping of the stuff for herself.

"Ok, now can I have your drivers license and insurance card?" she said, sighing in relief, face relaxing.

I gave her my insurance information, self-conscious of my infected fingers reaching into my wallet, positing bacteria along the way as I felt around. I handed her the cards and she eyed my hand as if I were one of The Infected* before gingerly taking them.

The nurse then handed me a form, and froze, hands outstretched, realizing too late she had proffered her only pen to the diseased being in front of her. "You can KEEP the pen!" she hastily added, and I immediately understood this was not a gift so much as a command.

She began examining me. "Yep, it's pinkeye. Now what will you DO with your eye makeup?" She stood back, arms crossed defensively and waited for the correct answer.

Um. Lick it before applying heavily? 

"I guess I will throw it all out and just buy new stuff," I said shyly.

"That's RIGHT!" she said. "But what will you DO in the meantime, WHILE you're using the medicine?"

I wished she would just spout out the canned recommendations instead of putting me through grade school question & answer period. But I complied. "I won't wear any, I guess."

"VERY GOOD!" she sang. I passed.

Then she tested me for a sinus infection by pumping air into my ears, a new experience for me. "If your eardrums flap in the wind, then your sinuses are clear," she said. If there was fluid behind them, they would be completely still. "We're testing for this because it's a common cause of pinkeye." I passed that with flying colors, at least. 

"Are you sure you weren't around anyone with pinkeye recently?"

"No one I know has pinkeye," I responded.

"This is a VERY. CONTAGIOUS. condition. VERY. It's very odd that you would have it without being exposed to it."

I shrugged. "Beats me."

Her eyes narrowed again. "Is there anything else you need to tell me?"

I wanted to say, "yes, I forgot my hall pass" but demurred. "Oh! Last week I had dental surgery. Could that have anything to do with it?"

She brightened, happy that my oral trauma might lay claim to the disease overtaking my head. "Possibly!" she purred. "YES and your lymph nodes are all swollen too. I bet that's it!"

Thanks, I wanted to tell her. Glad to bring you so much joy. 

She wrote me a prescription for Vigamox and sent me home. "Put drops in BOTH eyes!" she called after me urgently. "Even if you don't think you need to, DO IT!" 

The first time I put the drops in, my eyes burned like I'd thrown acid on them, and then turned even more red, but not a blood-vessely-red, more like a scarlet-fever-chartreuse. Not an ounce of white existed. 

I stared at myself in the mirror trying to refrain from clawing at them to relieve the itch. Then I called the pharmacist just to double-check that I wasn't having some kind of allergic reaction. After an extended pause, he put down his bong to look it up online.

"hmmmmm... hold on a minute, let me see... (long silence) Nope, doesn't seem like it's supposed to be painful and itchy when you put the eyedrops in," he said. "But try again tomorrow and if it's still a problem, go back to the clinic."

Great, I thought. I'll call you from the emergency room when my eyes explode.

This morning though, I was okay. The drops aren't bothering me anymore and even seem to be working. But it's loads of fun to walk around work red-eyed and teary and watch my coworkers either prepare to run from The Infected or place silent bets on my condition.


*Just see the movie "28 Days Later"!

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