LeishMan 11: Becoming “The Face of Leishmaniasis”August 8, 2018
At one point in the middle of my relationship with Leishlie, a friend suggested we write to the Animal Planet show “Monsters Inside Me.” I had never seen the show, and I was not too interested in showing off my huge face wound at the time, but Shay like the idea… and here we are today.
Somehow Shay’s generic comment on AnimalPlanet.com found its way to the right people, and we were soon doing Skype interviews and sending photos and planning the shoot.
By the time the crew from Optomen Productions, who makes the show for Animal Planet, arrived I had been two months free of the Ambisome treatments. But during the entire time I had been going to wound care appointments. Because of the depth of the skin wound, it was treated like a burn wound. I went to a couple appointments a week for various treatments, including a silver nitrate application and a treatment that sent ultrasonic pulses through a saline mist to stimulate blood flow. The wound began to heal, but it was a slow process.
Four people came out to Oregon from NYC to make the show. We spend a couple days retracing my steps here in Oregon, visiting my doctors and recreating the scenes of them inspecting me and diagnosing me. We took some shots of Shay comforting me, and of me looking out the window hopelessly, wondering when, how, if I could get treatment.
I had a good time acting… as myself… from a few months ago.
But the even more fun part was recreating parts of our trip to South America. Since I had come back with the wound as the sole focus of our experience, we finally got to tell some of the more exciting and entertaining stories of the adventure. We went out to the Fern Ridge Reservoir and recreated my discovery of the pimple with clouds in the background of the rear view mirror to simulate the endless clouds of Uyuni. Also along the shore we simulated the Heath River and my day photographing butterflies while getting bitten by sand flies.
We recreated the party in Cochabamba where a friend told me I should get my oozing wound checked because she once had MRSA. We used our friends from Oregon as stand-ins for our friends from Bolivia!
We even recreated the morning after Carnaval, when I woke up super hung-over to find the wound had greatly increased in size.
It was all really fun making TV!
Then we did some interviews to tell the whole story. The producers were talented; they directed my responses by asking their questions with the emotional response they’d like me to mirror. So the “tell us about the oozing wound” with a crinkled nose and mock disgust helped me dive into the gruesome details, and the somber, “Were you afraid you were going to die?” allowed me to reflect about my own mortality. On-camera. They interviewed me half in the dark, with my wound side dramatically revealed late in the show as “I’m still dealing with the parasite today.”
The show aired first in Europe, and friends of mine from Poland and Finland got in touch to ask if I was OK. They called the show “A parasite ate my face,” and now I’m still the #1 search result. The story – but mostly these photos – went viral. My parasite-infested face popped up in Indonesia, China, India, Europe, South America.
I went to South America to find myself as a young journalist, a young man exploring the world with his partner.
I came home and became famous for “A parasite ate my face.”
That’s probably why you’re reading this now.
Even years later, re-runs pop up and I see myself poking at my face. But I don’t regret it. I’m glad I’ve been able to be “the face of leishmaniasis” and have helped dozens of people who’ve gotten bitten by sand flies or find mysterious wounds to get advice, to ask different questions of their doctors, and to try different ways of treatment.
I hope the scar I carry can always come with the fond memories of our adventures, and if scars are experience, I hope my experience can help others get help sooner and keep their scars smaller.