Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Worm That Turned

Squeamish readers may wish to avert their gazes from this week's tale of woe which concerns graphic, stomach churning scenes of parasitic infestation. You've been warned.

A couple of weeks back, a small red trail running just under my skin started to emerge from a blister that I had on the side of my foot. After a week or so it had stretched all the way over to the top of my plate of meat. "Something is alive in there!" I eventually fathomed. I had visions of a multiheaded hydra bursting forth from my foot, teeth gnashing before slithering up my leg and sinking its fangs into my family jewels. Clearly something had to be done.

I had vague childhood memories of watching news reports from Africa during which emaciated guinea worm infected tribes people would puncture their skins and attempt to remove said worms by winding them around twigs, taking special care not to break them. A panicked Google search threw up a number of possibilities. Strongyloides Stercoralis (threadworm) appeared to be the most likely parasitic infestation that my foot squatter went under the name of. Apparently such a worm can enter through the human foot after a, "Fecal contamination of soil." Hmmm. I'd just like to assure anyone reading this that my housemates and I never, well very seldom anyway, defecate in the back garden, usually preferring the comfort, extensive magazine library and general plumbing facilities of the bathroom.

No matter though, recriminations could come later. My immediate priority was to drag my sorry behind down to my local, low-budget health centre in Mampang. I entered the surgery and the newly qualified young female doctor immediately perked up. Something had come along to alleviate the tedium of the usual diarrhea and acid reflux cases that she dealt with. A bule with an alien worm buried in him no less, ruining the porcelain beauty of his lilywhite dermis.

"Ooooh! I've never seen a real one of these before," she exclaimed, not particularly reassuringly I thought. After promising that the red trail advancing with reckless abandon across my foot was not in fact filled with a 5 inch long worm but was merely the trail left behind by a much, much smaller beastie, I relaxed a little. She prescribed me some Combantrin, an antiparasitic tablet that everyone in this country should probably take a handful of twice a year, and then sent me along to the emergency room to have the thing killed.

I started to feel uneasy again. How would they dispense with the wee critter? Lethal injection? Sharp blow to the back of the head? In the end, the top of my foot was liberally and excruciatingly sprayed with ice spray, the stuff that nancy boy footballers have applied when they damage their sensitive ligaments on the field of play. Great, I now had a dead frozen worm inside my foot, a massive ice spray induced migraine and a team of rubbernecking medics surrounding me, all wanting a look at my unusual fauna.

It was time to head home to lick my wounds (not literally of course, that would have been hideous). In the great struggle for survival though, here embodied by miniscule worm versus man, man had won, and it felt good. The war will continue though and nature will persist in being bloody in both tooth and claw until our plucky little planet suffers the heat death some 5 billion years from now.

My worm horror did remind me of something that Britain's great TV naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, once said. When challenged about his championing of evolution and asked how he could not believe that such beauty and perfection as can be found in a butterfly's wing or a peacock’s feather was not made by God, Sir Dave pondered a moment. "At this moment," he eventually said, "there will be a child in East Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent Creator." Thankfully, my worm hasn't left me in need of a white stick but Attenborough, perhaps the missing link between Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins in the great evolutionary chain of popular evolutionists, had made a telling point.

This year is the hundredth anniversary of Darwin's death, however his theory of evolution (theory meaning fact in scientific language you understand) shows little sign of gaining a worm like foothold among the genuflecting faithful of countries such as Indonesia (or indeed the debasement of science by America's creationist militants).
Bird flu and swine flu lurk in the wings ready to pounce and unleash pandemic chaos. Why? Because they evolve. It's Tamiflu or prayer folks; probably both for many, you may as well cover your bases ay? In the meantime, let's hope that those foot worms don't undergo a vigorous process of natural selection and end up putting us all in wheelchairs. Personally, I’ll be wearing sandals from now on when I go for a squat in the bushes.