Out of the Blue
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
“Aren’t I a few decades too young for this?” I asked the ER nurse, aghast.
“It can happen at any time,” she said.
“Isn’t this what,” I persisted, “like, Nixon had?” Post-White House?
It had all started on Monday night, when hives – a few – arose on my ribs. Eh, I thought. It had happened before: once when I was a teenager, and once in college. In both cases the hives also ran down my arms.
The first time, my mother took me to the pediatrician. He gave me a list of common food allergens and said I could try eliminating one at a time. (I thought it might have more to do with the huge chocolate-buttercream Easter egg I had eaten in one day.) In any case, the hives vanished in a few days that and the next time.
So, when the recent rash worsened and my ribs began to hurt, I just bought Benadryl, and ignored a creeping fatigue. On Thursday night I felt obligated to help the Rec Center prepare for a weekend competition. As I walked in the door, I suddenly realized I was having trouble taking a deep breath.
Did I go to the doctor the next day? Still no! I had work to do, a son’s basketball game to see. Maybe I’d developed an allergy to nylon, I reasoned. I’d also been on the Rec Center treadmill a lot lately, sweat trickling down my ribs: Maybe that was an irritant?
On Saturday the pain was deep and constricting; I watched another basketball game. By the time I went home, began Googling, incurred a suspicion, and realized potential side effects – blindness, stroke and facial drooping – and that antivirals should be taken within the first 48 hours, it was night. I drove myself to the ER.
“Oh,” said the nice doctor. “You have shingles.”
He added, “I can’t believe you waited six days.”
I was given an antiviral, Prednisone, a Vicodin tab or two to take when I returned home, and prescriptions for more.
“Oh, I don’t think I’ll need to fill that,” I said grandly of the Vicodin scrip. “I don’t like stuff like that.”
“You might be pretty miserable,” the nurse said. “You might want half a tab.”
The next morning I could hardly wait for the pharmacy to open. I gobbled all my pills, stood frozen in pain waiting for their effect.
I was taking five antivirals a day; over a dozen pills daily in total at first.
“You’re like Hunter S. Thompson,” said a co-worker.
I took the Vicodin for three weeks.
I read all about shingles, a common after-effect of childhood chicken pox. One website noted that while various ages can be affected, people are more at risk over age 60 or if they had chicken pox before age 1, which I did.
I had previously heard of a vaccine in an ad on the loudspeaker at City Market, but barely paid attention.
The pain was not surface but deep in the nerves, a barbed-wire garrote. It moved and raced around, was needles and burning, sometimes cramps; sometimes sickening. I hunched like Quasimodo.
“Maybe you’re being possessed, Mom,” Roy, 15, would say as I stiffened.
A week later, stranded in Los Angeles with my other son, due to a canceled flight, I accidentally chose a motel in a bad part of town, and realized I was having a hard time sorting out legitimate fear and concern from some physical feelings that normally convey information and instinct. Sometimes the sensations felt like – even creating – sorrow.
The pain reduced from clawing barbed wire to shallow razor blades. It took two weeks to get some moments pain free, and return to any exercise.
I was taken aback, and not just by the pain. I go around counting on health, feeling I somehow deserve it, for exercise and a good diet. But out of the blue, health can be taken away. At least I have it back, and know to feel lucky.
“Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at aosius@hotmail. com.
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